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A reference list of 5000 years of Chinese coinage

NumisdocNumismatic encyclopedia

Written on December 9, 2012 • Last edit: June 13, 2013 • Comments (0)

Introduction

The Chinese coin system spans thousands of years and suffers from short-lived states issuing coins with little circulation. Hence, this article can only hope to document the most common issues. Also, the coinage system was never constant. The Qin and Han coins were based on weight, and later coins uses the same term to different meanings.

Currency Names

There are three currency used, the Tongbao, Yuanbao and Zhongbao.
  • Tongbao (通寶)
    The Tongbao means "circulating currency", and is the most basic unit. It almost always denotes a value of 1 cash, unless a mint mark at the back states otherwise.
  • Yuanbao (元寶)
    The Yuanbao means "precious currency". The history of this unit is far more complicated. Yuanbao was originally interchangeable with the Tongbao. During the Song Dynasty the Yuanbao was sometimes originally interchangeable with Tongbao, and sometimes a larger currency pinned to the Tongbao. It was phased out during the Ming Dynasty.
  • Zhongbao (重寶)
    The Zhongbao means "heavy currency". They are generally worth 10 cash, subject to change depending on the mintmark.

The Yuanbao and Zhongbao are generally classified as 2 cash and 10 cash, although the exceptions are almost equal to the rule. The system is similar to how the amount of shillings to a pound sterling changes over time.

Script

The Song Dynasty coins are unique in the aspect that many coins of the same era and value has multiple scripts (fonts). The Song Emperors were particularly scholarly and many personally wrote the calligraphy to be inscribed on the coin. There are generally three scripts:
  • Regular
  • Seal
  • Running/Grass

Naming the coin

Numista uses this formula:

x Cash - Temple name (Era name - script)

If the emperor only used one Era name (for example the Tang, Ming and Qing emperors), omit the Temple name for the Era name.

For Qing Dynasty coins with minting office at the back:

x Cash - Era name (Mint)

Chinese emperors have a number of names:
  • Era name
    The Chinese calendar is calculated according to the era an emperor chooses, e.g. the third year of Kangxi. Tang and Song emperors usually have multiple era names, whilst Ming and Qing emperors generally have just one.
  • Temple name
    The Temple name is conferred onto the emperor after death, as a critique of his reign. It follows the format __ zu (forefather) or __ zong (ancestor). Hence, taizu would mean "grand forefather". Due to many emperors of different dynasties having the same Temple name, the dynasty name usually precedes the Temple name. Hence, taizu of Tang, Song, Ming and Qing all refers to different emperors.


Qin

The Qin Dynasty was the result of the Qin State conquering the other Chinese States, resulting in the first unified entity and coinage in China. Its rule lasted two emperors, from 221BC to 206BC. Pre-Qin coinage involved a confusing system of shells, knives, spades, coins and metal lumps. These coins are generally only identifiable by specialists.

Coins:

The only Qin coin minted was the Ban Liang (半兩). The Ban Liang refers to the weight - half a teal. It is worth noting that the Ban Liang existed from the Pre-Qin era all through the Han Dynasty. Due to the overwhelming amount of mint varieties and errors, the only way a layman can identify a Qin Ban Liang is by size, not without errors.


Han

The Han Dynasty overthrew the Qin Dynasty and lasted from 206BC - 220AD. The throne was briefly usurped by a royal relative Wang Mang, establishing the short-lived Xin Dynasty from 9-23AD. Historians regard the Xin Dynasty as part of the Han Dynasty.

Coins:

Han
  • Ban Liang (半兩)
    The Ban Liang survived to the Han Dynasty, before gradually being replaced by the Wu Zhu. Han Ban Liang are generally, but not without exception, smaller than the Qin Ban Liang.
  • Wu Zhu (五銖)
    The Wu Zhu refers to an ancient weighing system; the coin weighs five Zhu. This was the primary coinage of the Han Dynasty. There exists a San Zhu (三銖) weighing three Zhu. There are variances to the Wu Zhu, with extra characters inscribed to denote minting in a special area or in a special metal. Such variances are rare and valuable. The most common is the Yong Ping Wu Zhu (永平五銖).
  • Nameless Coins
    There is a small, nameless coin circulating in the Han Dynasty, generally attributed to the regency of Dong Zhuo, although they existed before his regency.

Wang Mang coinage
Wang Mang established a complicated system of spades, knives, and shells. There also exists seven coins that were circulated. These coins set the system of reading in the order top-bottom-right-left. Besides Xiao Quan Zhi Yi, Da Quan Wu Shi and Huo Quan, all other coins are exceedingly rare.
  • Xiao Quan Zhi Yi (小泉直一)
    This coin was worth 1 cash.
  • Yao Quan Yi Shi (么泉一十)
    This coin was worth 10 cash.
  • You Quan Er Shi (幼泉二十)
    This coin was worth 20 cash.
  • Zhong Quan San Shi (中泉三十)
    This coin was worth 30 cash.
  • Zhuang Quan Si Shi (壯泉四十)
    This coin was worth 40 cash.
  • Da Quan Wu Shi (大泉五十)
    This coin was worth 50 cash.
  • Huo Quan (貨泉)
    The name means "commercial coin". It was widespread and popular, ultimately surviving after the Han was restored.

Three Kingdoms - Jin - Northern and Southern Dynasties
A period of anarchy existed from 220-280AD. China was briefly unified under the Jin Dynasty (265-420). However, most of the Jin Dynasty was under another anarchy named the Northern and Southern Dynasties (N&S), where multiple Dynasties claimed rule. Coins of this period suffered from low mintage and circulation, and are valuable now. Common coins include:
  • Zhi Bai Wu Zhu (直百五銖)
    These were minted by the Shu state of the Three Kingdoms period, minted from 222-265) It was worth 100 Wu Zhus.
  • Yong An Wu Zhu (永安五銖)
    These were minted by Northern Wei from the N&S period, from 386-534. It denotes a Wu Zhu minted during the Yong An period.
  • Chang Ping Wu Zhu (常平五銖)
    These were minted by Northern Qi from the N&S period, from 550-577.
  • Yong Tong Wan Guo (永通萬國)
    These were minted by Northern Zhou from the N&S period, from 579-581. It was worth 12 Zhu.


Sui - Tang

The Sui Dynasty unified China for a brief period from 581-618. The Tang Dynasty overthrew the corrupt Sui and established the next stable dynasty, from 618–907. However, a brief period of anarchy ensued from 907–960, known as the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period.

Coins:

Sui
The only coin minted by the Sui was the Wu Zhu, with no markings. It is tidier in font and smaller than the Han Wu Zhu.


Tang
Tang coins started the use of era names, but the coins were not minted for every era. Rather, the same era was minted for a long time. Tang coins are read top-bottom-right-left, with few exceptions.
  • Kaiyuan Tongbao (開元通寶)
    The first cash to move away from weight, but denoting a value of 1 cash. This was not an era name, rather denoting the "start of an era". This coin was minted for the most of the Dynasty's reign, from 618 to at least 845. Mint marks are abound on the back of the coin, with the most common being a crescent moon to the top. Other mint marks include crescent moons, stars (dots), peaches (thick dots) to characters. Depending on the position and combination of the mint marks, the price of the coin can differ from worthless to extremely valuable.
  • Qianyuan Zhongbao (乾元重寶)
    One of the first coins to inscribe the era name. This coin was worth 10 cash. A wider version with two rims on the back is worth 50 cash. Minted from 756-762 by Su Zong.

Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms
  • Zhouyuan Tongbao (周元通寶)
    Minted by the Later Zhou Dynasty from 951-960.
  • Tangguo Tongbao(唐國通寶)
    Minted by the Southern Tang Kingdom from 959-975
  • Datang Tongbao (大唐通寶)
    Minted by Emperor Li Yu of the Southern Tang Kingdom from 959-975.


Song

The Song Dynasty took power from the anarchy, its dynasty lasting from 960–1279. The Song Dynasty, however, was plagued by frequent attacks by the Jin and Liao minority kingdoms.
Song coinage is the most complicated in all Chinese coinage. Most coins have different scripts, whilst the definition of Tongbao, Yuanbao and Zhongbao changed significantly over time. The reading order exists in top-bottom-right-left and top-right-bottom-left orders.

The denomination stated below are those without mint marks.

Coins:

Taizu
  • Songyuan Tongbao (宋元通寶)
    Minted from 960-976, in regular script.

Taizong
  • Taiping Tongbao (太平通寶)
    Minted from 976-989, in regular script.
  • Chunhua Yuanbao (淳化元寶)
    Minted from 990-94, in regular, seal and running scripts.
  • Zhidao Yuanbao (至道元寶)
    Minted from 995-97, in regular, seal and running scripts.

Zhenzong
  • Xianping Yuanbao (咸平元寶)
    Minted from 998-1003, in regular script.
  • Jingde Yuanbao (景德元寶)
    Minted from 1004–1007, in regular script.
  • Xiangfu Tongbao (祥符通寶)
    Minted from 1008–1016, in regular and running scripts.
  • Tianxi Tongbao (天禧通寶)
    Minted from 1017–1022, in regular script.

Renzong
  • Tiansheng Yuanbao (天聖元寶)
    Minted from 1023–1031, in seal and two variants of regular script.
  • Mingdao Yuanbao (明道元寶)
    Minted from 1032–1033, in seal and regular script.
  • Jingyou Yuanbao (景佑元寶)
    Minted from 1034–1038, in seal and regular script.
  • Huangsong Yuanbao (皇宋元寶)
    Minted from 1039–1054, in multiple variants of seal and regular script.
  • Kangding Yuanbao (康定元寶)
    Minted at 1040. In regular script.
  • Qingli Zhongbao (慶歷重寶)
    Minted at 1041–1048. In regular script. Worth 10 cash.
  • Zhihe Yuanbao (至和元寶)
    Minted at 1054–1055. In seal and regular script.
  • Zhihe Tongbao (至和通寶)
    Minted at 1054-1055. In seal and regular script.
  • Jiayou Yuanbao (嘉佑元寶)
    Minted at 1056–1063. In seal and regular script.
  • Jiayou Tongbao (嘉佑通寶)
    Minted at 1056-1063. In seal and regular script.

Yingzong
  • Zhiping Tongbao (治平通寶)
    Minted at 1064-1067. In regular and two variants of seal script.
  • Zhiping Yuanbao (治平元寶)
    Minted at 1064-1067. In regular and two variants of seal script.

Shenzong
  • Xining Tongbao (熙寧通寶)
    Minted at 1068-1077. In regular and seal script.
  • Xining Yuanbao (熙寧元寶)
    Minted at 1068-1077. In regular and seal script.
  • Xining Zhongbao (熙寧重寶)
    Minted at 1068-1077. In regular and seal script. Worth 2-5 cash.
  • Yuanfeng Tongbao (元豐通寶)
    Minted at 1078-1085. In regular, seal and running script.

Zhezong
  • Yuanyou Tongbao (元佑通寶)
    Minted at 1086-1094. In seal script.
  • Shaosheng Tongbao (紹聖通寶)
    Minted at 1094-1098. In seal, running and regular script.
  • Shaosheng Yuanbao (紹聖元寶)
    Minted at 1094-1098. In seal, running and regular script.
  • Yuanfu Tongbao (元符通寶)
    Minted at 1098-1100. In seal, running and regular script.

Huizong
  • Shengsong Tongbao (聖宋通寶)
    Minted at 1101. In regular and seal script.
  • Shengsong Yuanbao (聖宋元寶)
    Minted at 1101. In regular and seal script.
  • Chongning Tongbao (崇寧通寶)
    Minted at 1102-1106. In regular script. Worth 5 cash.
  • Chongning Zhongbao (崇寧重寶)
    Minted at 1102-1106. In regular script. Worth 10 cash.
  • Daguan Tongbao (大觀通寶)
    Minted at 1107-1110. In regular script.
  • Zhenghe Tongbao (政和通寶)
    Minted at 1111-1117. In seal and regular script.
  • Chonghe Tongbao (重和通寶)
    Minted at 1118-1119. In regular and seal script.
  • Xuanhe Tongbao (宣和通寶)
    Minted at 1119-1125. In regular and seal script.
  • Xuanhe Yuanbao (宣和元寶)
    Minted at 1119-1125. In regular and seal script.

Qinzong
  • Jingkang Tongbao (靖康通寶)
    Minted at 1126-1127. In regular and seal script.
  • Jingkang Yuanbao (靖康元寶)
    Minted at 1126-1127. In regular and seal script.

Gaozong
  • Jianyan Tongbao (建炎通寶)
    Minted at 1127-1130. In seal and two variants of regular script.
  • Jianyan Yuanbao (建炎元寶)
    Minted at 1127-1130. In seal and regular script.
  • Jianyan Zhongbao (建炎重寶)
    Minted at 1127-1130. In seal script. Worth 10 cash.
  • Shaoxing Tongbao (紹興通寶)
    Minted at 1131-1162. In seal and regular script.
  • Shaoxing Yuanbao (紹興元寶)
    Minted at 1131-1162. In regular script.

Xiaozong
  • Longxing Tongbao (隆興通寶)
    Minted at 1163-1164. In regular and seal script. Worth 2 iron coins.
  • Longxing Yuanbao (隆興元寶)
    Minted at 1163-1164. In regular and seal script.
  • Qiandao Tongbao (乾道通寶)
    Minted at 1165-1173. In regular script. Worth 5 cash.
  • Qiandao Yuanbao (乾道元寶)
    Minted at 1165-1173. In regular script.
  • Chunxi Tongbao (淳熙通寶)
    Minted at 1174-1189. In regular script.
  • Chunxi Yuanbao (淳熙元寶)
    Minted at 1174-1189. In seal and two variants of regular script.

Guangzong
  • Shaoxi Tongbao (紹熙通寶)
    Minted at 1190-1194. In seal and regular script.
  • Shaoxi Yuanbao (紹熙元寶)
    Minted at 1190-1194. In seal and two variants of regular script.

Ningzong
  • Qingyuan Tongbao (慶元通寶)
    Minted at 1195-1200. In regular script.
  • Qingyuan Yuanbao (慶元元寶)
    Minted at 1195-1200. In regular script. Worth 5 iron coins.
  • Jiatai Tongbao (嘉泰通寶)
    Minted at 1201-1204. In regular script.
  • Jiatai Yuanbao (嘉泰元寶)
    Minted at 1201-1204. In regular script.
  • Kaixi Tongbao (開禧通寶)
    Minted at 1205-1207. In regular script.
  • Kaixi Yuanbao (開禧元寶)
    Minted at 1205-1207. In regular script. Worth 3 iron coins.
  • Jiading Tongbao (嘉定通寶)
    Minted at 1208-1224. In various regular scripts.
  • Jiading Yuanbao (嘉定元寶)
    Minted at 1208-1224. In regular script. Worth 10 cash.
  • Shengsong Zhongbao (聖宋重寶)
    Minted at 1210. In regular script. Worth 5 cash.

Lizong
  • Baoqing Yuanbao (寶慶元寶)
    Minted at 1225-1227. In regular script.
  • Dasong Yuanbao (大宋元寶)
    Minted at 1225-1227. In regular script.
  • Dasong Tongbao (大宋通寶)
    Minted at 1225. In regular script. Worth 10 cash.
  • Shaoding Tongbao (紹定通寶)
    Minted at 1228-1233. In regular script.
  • Duanping Yuanbao (端平元寶)
    Minted at 1234-1236. In regular script.
  • Duanping Tongbao (端平通寶)
    Minted at 1234-1236. In regular script. Worth 5 cash.
  • Duanping Zhongbao (端平重寶)
    Minted at 1234-1236. In regular script. Worth 5 cash.
  • Jiaxi Tongbao (嘉熙通寶)
    Minted at 1237-1240. In regular script.
  • Jiaxi Zhongbao (嘉熙重寶)
    Minted at 1237-1240. In regular script.
  • Chunyou Tongbao (淳佑通寶)
    Minted at 1241-1252. In regular script.
  • Chunyou Yuanbao (淳佑元寶)
    Minted at 1241-1252. In regular script.
  • Huangsong Yuanbao (皇宋元寶)
    Minted at 1253-1258. In regular script.
  • Kaiqing Tongbao (開慶通寶)
    Minted at 1259. In regular script.
  • Jingding Yuanbao (景定元寶)
    Minted at 1260-1264. In regular script.

Duzong
  • Xianchun Yuanbao (咸淳元寶)
    Minted at 1125-1127. In regular script.


Jin

The Nüzhen minority was organized as a kingdom during the Song Dynasty, posing a great threat to the Song. They minted coins heavily influenced by Chinese coinage.

Coins:

  • Zhenglong Yuanbao (正隆元寶)
    Minted at 1158.
  • Dading Tongbao (大定通寶)
    Minted at 1178.


Yuan

The Mongols conquered China, and subsequently established the first foreign/minority dynasty in China, lasting 1271-1368. Yuan coins are extremely rare due to the low mintage figures.

Coins:

  • Dayuan Tongbao (大元通寶)
    Minted at 1309. Exists variety in Mongolian script.
  • Zhizheng Tongbao (至正通寶)
    Minted at 1341 -1370.


Ming

The Han race regained control of China under the Ming Dynasty. It is the last Han Dynasty, from 1368–1644. Emperors henceforth had one era name and is usually known by that name. The Ming discontinued the use of Yuanbao.

Coins:

Ming
  • Dazhong Tongbao (大中通寶)
    Minted at 1361-1367.
  • Hongwu Tongbao (洪武通寶)
    Minted at 1367–1398.
  • Yongle Tongbao (永樂通寶)
    Minted at 1402–1424. Japanese coinage once struck this coin separately as the Ming used this as a trading currency.
  • Xuande Tongbao (宣德通寶)
    Minted at 1425–1435.
  • Hongzhi Tongbao (弘治通寶)
    Minted at 1487–1505.
  • Jiajing Tongbao (嘉靖通寶)
    Minted at 1521–1567.
  • Longqing Tongbao (隆慶通寶)
    Minted at 1567–1572.
  • Wanli Tongbao (萬曆通寶)
    Minted at 1572–1620.
  • Taichang Tongbao (泰昌通寶)
    Minted at 1620.
  • Tianqi Tongbao (天啟通寶)
    Minted at 1620–1627.
  • Chongzhen Tongbao (崇禎通寶)
    Minted at 1627–1644.
  • Zhengde Tongbao (正德通寶)
    The Zhengde Emperor reigned from 1505–1521. However no circulating coins were produced during his reign. Coins bearing his era name are minted from late Ming to early Qing, with modern reproductions. They are lucky charms, with auspicious depictions on the back.

Rebels
The rebels to the Ming Dynasty were mostly Han, instead of minorities. Many of them produced a good number of coins. These coins have low mintage figures.

  • Yongchang Tongbao (永昌通寶)
    Minted at 1644-1645 by the rebel Li Zicheng.
  • Dashun Tongbao (大順通寶)
    Minted at 1644-1645 by the rebel Zhang Xianzhong.
  • Xiwang Shanggong (西王賞功)
    Minted at 1644 by the rebel Zhang Xianzhong.
  • Zhaowu Tongbao (昭武通寶)
    Minted in 1678 by the rebel Wu Sangui.
  • Liyong Tongbao (利用通寶)
    Minted in 1678 by the rebel Wu Sangui.


Qing

The Manchus were let into China by Wu Sangui and established the last imperial dynasty, 1644-1911. Qing coinage reached a uniformity not present in previous dynasties. The coins followed the formula of having the era name followed by Tongbao. For coins worth more than one cash the denomination was stated as Yuanbao or Zhongbao, with the value behind.
All Qing coins have the board/province of minting on the back, in Manchu (sometimes with Han) text. These are on the right and left. The value, if any, are on the top and bottom.

Coins:

Qing
  • Shunzhi Tongbao (順治通寶)
    Minted at 1643–1661.
  • Kangxi Tongbao (康熙通寶)
    Minted at 1661–1722.
  • Yongzheng Tongbao (雍正通寶)
    Minted at 1722–1735.
  • Qianlong Tongbao (乾隆通寶)
    Minted at 1735–1796.
  • Jiaqing Tongbao (嘉慶通寶)
    Minted at 1796–1820.
  • Daoguang Tongbao (道光通寶)
    Minted at 1820–1850.
  • Xianfeng Tongbao (咸豐通寶)
    Minted at 1850–1861.
  • Xianfeng Yuanbao (咸豐元寶)
    Minted at 1850–1861.
  • Xianfeng Zhongbao (咸豐重寶)
    Minted at 1850–1861.
  • Tongzhi Tongbao (同治通寶)
    Minted at 1861–1875.
  • Guangxu Tongbao (光緒通寶)
    Minted at 1875–1908.
  • Guangxu Yuanbao (光緒元寶)
    Minted at 1875–1908.
  • Guangxu Zhongbao (光緒重寶)
    Minted at 1875–1908.
  • Xuantong Tongbao (宣統通寶)
    Minted at 1909-1911.

Boards/Provinces
Mint Transcription City Province
ᠪᠣᠣ ᠴᡳᠣᠸᠠᠨ Boo Ciowan Beijing Beijing
ᠪᠣᠣ ᠶᡠᠸᠠᠨ Boo Yuwan Beijing Beijing
ᠪᠣᠣ ᠠᠨ Boo An ? Anhui
ᠪᠣᠣ ᠵᡝ Boo Je Hangzhou Zhejiang
ᠪᠣᠣ ᡷᡳ Boo Jy Baoding Hebei
ᠪᠣᠣ ᡬᡳ Boo Gi ?
?
Hebei (1851-1861)
Jilin (afterward)
ᠪᠣᠣ ᠵᡳᠶᡝᠨ Boo Jiyen Tianjin Tianjin
ᠪᠣᠣ ᡩᡝ Boo De Chengde Hebei
ᠪᠣᠣ ᡶᡠᠩ Boo Fung Shenyang (Fengtian) Liaoning
ᠪᠣᠣ ᡶᡠ Boo Fu Fuzhou Fujian
ᠪᠣᠣ ᡥᠣ Boo Ho Kaifeng Henan
ᠪᠣᠣ ᠨᠠᠨ Boo Nan Changsha Hunan
ᠪᠣᠣ ᡠ Boo U Wuchang Hubei
ᠪᠣᠣ ᡤᡠᠩ Boo Gung Kunshan Jiangsu
ᠪᠣᠣ ᠴᠠᠩ Boo Chang Nanchang Jiangxi
ᠪᠣᠣ ᠰᡠ Boo Su Suzhou Jiangsu
ᠪᠣᠣ ᡤᡠᡳ Boo Gui Kuelin Jiangxi
ᠪᠣᠣ ᡤᡠᠸᠠᠩ Boo Guwang Canton Canton
ᠪᠣᠣ ᡤᡳᠶᠠᠨ Boo Giyan Guiyang Guizhou
ᠪᠣᠣ ᠵᡳᠨ Boo Jin Taiyuan Shanxi
ᠪᠣᠣ ᠵᡳ Boo Ji Jinan Shandong
ᠪᠣᠣ ᠴᡠᠸᠠᠨ Boo Cuwan Chengdu Sichuan
ᠪᠣᠣ ᠰᠠᠨ Boo San Xi'an Shaanxi
ᠠᡴᠰᡠ Aksu Aksu Xinjiang
ᠪᠣᠣ ᠶᡳ Boo Yi Ili Xinjiang
ᡴᠠᠰᡥᡤᠠᡵ Kashgar Kashgar Xinjiang
ᠪᠣᠣ ᡩᡳ Boo Di Ürümqi Xinjiang
ᡠᠰᡥᡳ Ushi ? Xinjiang
ᠪᠣᠣ ᡨᠠᡳ Boo Tai Taiwan
ᠪᠣᠣ ᠶᠣᠨᠨ Boo Yonn Kunming Yunnan
ᠪᠣᠣ ᡩᠣᠩ Boo Dong ? Yunnan
ᠪᠣᠣ ᠵᡳᠩ Boo Jing ? Hubei

Rebels/Republicans
  • Taiping Tianguo (太平天國)
    Minted 1853-1864 by the Taiping rebels. Many versions exists.
  • Hongxian Tongbao (洪憲通寶)
    Minted 1916 by Yuan Shikai.
  • Minguo Tongbao (民國通寶)
    Minted 1912 by Yunnan province government. Exists in 1 cash and 10 cash varieties.