China, the Asian super-giant is marking its presence in every sphere of global politics, economics, sports, culture and several other fields for some decades. However, China was a resourceful country in the past too. The ancient and mediaeval Chinese Empires known as the Middle Kingdom in their history was no less influential in ancient polity. In those days, India, China, and Turkey dominated the global politics and European powers were mostly marginalized. The tide changed only with the Great divergence in Europe in the 17th and 18th century. We will discuss here some of the interesting facts about Chinese currency systems in ancient and mediaeval age when China was in its full glory.
Chinese issued the first recorded instances of banknotes back in 2nd century BCE. The notes were made of white deerskin and measured approximately 1 sq. foot each. It was also the Chinese who introduced the paper currency in the world of trade and commerce. The first instance of issuing a paper currency is from 9th century CE China.
The main medium of exchange for the ancient Chinese was copper coins. Almost all the dynasties issued copper coins of various shapes and sizes. The shape of some of these coins was very unusual. They included coins issued in the shape of knives and spades. The spade shaped coins were first used in the early part of the Han dynasty, and the design was later imitated by several other dynasties in the subsequent years.
Along with the notes and the coins, several other forms of currency were also used extensively in the rural areas. These included the extensive use of cowry shells by a large number of ordinary Chinese. Cowry shells were first used in China as a medium of exchange in the 3rd millennium BCE. To counter the limited number of natural cowry shells, artificial cowry shells made of bone, bronze, and even stone were issued on many occasions. Cowry shells made of bronze can be considered as bronze coins. They were issued during the “Warring States” of porno mexicano period (475-221 BCE). These coins had some strange figures inscribed on them such as the face of a monster or an ant.
Gold coins were also not rare in ancient China. The first dynasty to issue gold coins was the Chu dynasty. These gold coins carried the inscription “Ying Cheng”; where Ying denoted the capital of the Chu state and Cheng was the monetary unit. The coins were round in shape and contained a square hole in the middle.
Coins with such holes in the middle were abundant in ancient China. The Ban Liang coins which became the legal tender of the united China in 3rd century BCE had similar square holes in the middle. However, some of the coins carried round holes in the middle instead of square holes.
All these coins were minted following the indigenous Chinese technology. It was only in the late-19th century that the Chinese state introduced minting in a western style. They brought some minting machines from Britain and cast some copper and silver coins from the mint of Guangzhou.