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Home > Display > Gallery of Chinese Coins
Gallery of Chinese Coins
China is among the earliest countries in the world to use coins. Taking the advantage of its super collection, Shanghai Museum provides a historical overview of Chinese currency in this 730 square meters gallery. More than 7,000 specimens show a historical development of ancient coins and economic exchange between ancient China and foreign countries. The light grayish background sets off primitive simplicity of these ancient coins. In addition, there is a special show room for ancient central-Asian coins from Silk Road generously donated by Mr and Ms. Roger and Linda Doo.

Primitive Currency
Shell was used as a kind of money during the late Neolithic period. They continued to be used during the Shang and the Western Zhou dynasties and bronze weight metal coins appeared.
Zhou dynasty
Cast bronze coins appeared during the Spring and Autumn period and took in the form of a spade with a hollow handle. Spade coins cast by Zhou royal family show two level or bevel shoulders, two arc feet and a hollow handle. These coins continued to be used during the Warring States period. Spade coins with two square feet appeared from the mid Warring States Period.
Spring and Autumn to the Warring Stats periods
Coins prevailing from the Spring and Autumn to the Warring States period include State Jin' s spade coins with two shrugged shoulders, two pointed feet and a hollow handle; State Han's spade coins with a hollow handle, spade coins with two square feet; spade coins with unusual form, and round coins; State Wei's spade coins with two square feet, round coins and straight knife coins; State Zhao's spade coins with two pointed feet, with two square feet and with two round feet, straight knife coins, round coins and knife coins duplicating those State Yan; State Yan's knife coins including those with a needle head, a pointed head and Yan-shaped, two square feet, round coins with a square hole; and State Qi's large and heavy knife coins. Both gold and bronze cast coins were used in State Chu. Gold coins were commonly called "Jin Ban" and measured by weight. Bronze cast coins include two kinds: "Yibi" and new spade. Coins "Banliang" prevailed mainly during the period of State Qin.
Han dynasty
In 118 B.C., coins "Wuzhu" (five "zhu", a "zhu"-a weight unit approximately 0.66 gram) were cast. The currency system "Wuzhu" had since been established. After the Eastern Han, the currency system "Wuzhu" was undermined by the appearance of various inferior coins. At the end of the Western Han, Wang Mang waged four reforms of currency system. The reforms failed due to the fact that the grading category was too complicated. However, coins of this period were well known for their elegant style and fine workmanship.
Three kingdoms, Western Jin, Eastern Jin and Northern and Southern dynasties
Kingdom Wei initially used cotton and silk textiles as currency and then readopted the "Wuzhu" system. Both Kingdoms Shu and Wu issued large bills, leading to further devaluation of the currency. During the Western Jin and Eastern Jin, "Wuzhu" remained its dominant role but was disrupted by appearance of various inferior coins. Almost all reigns during this period cast their own coins, sometimes gave different names instead of "Zhu" and "Liang".
Tang, Five Dynasties and Ten States
"Wuzhu" coins were continuously used in the early Tang dynasty. The emergence of "Kaiyuan Tongbao" coins in A.D. 621 marked the end of the "Zhu" and "Liang" currency systems.Coin casting and circulation entered a chaotic period during the period of Five dynasties and the Ten States. Inferior quality lead and tin coins were circulated in the market. The "Duiqian" currency system (two coins with same name, size and weight, but differ in script) of the Southern Tang dynasty continued during the Song dynasty.
Song dynasty
During the Northern and Southern Song dynasties,coins graded as "Xiaoping", "Zhe-er", and "Dangshi" were all cast with reign marks of emperors. Large numbers of "Duiqian" coins were also produced. Iron coins together with bronze ones were first circulated in the Southern Song dynasty and tiron coin casting reached its peak during Jia Ding Reign of the Southern Song dynasty.In the Southern Song dynasty,excessive release of paper notes led to their devaluation, so the imperial government in Lin'an (today's Hangzhou) later used bronze and lead plate coins to replace paper notes.Meanwhile, the Liao, Jin and Xixia dynasties had their own currency systems and cast round-with-a-square-hole coins imitating the shape of the Song coins.
Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties
There were two types of bronze coins in the Yuan. One carried both Chinese and Mongolian inscriptions. The Yuan dynasty had two large-scale casting events in A.D.1310 and A.D. 1350 respectively.There were five grades of bronze coins circulated during the early Ming dynasty:"Xiaoping", "Zhe-er", "Zhesan", "Zhewu" and "Zheshi". Coin works occurred throughout the country. Paper notes were a main currency form in the early Ming dynasty. From the mid-Ming period,silver became the main currency in term of ingots with various standard sizes. "Yinliang", also made in silver, was widely used during the Qing dynasty. In 1884, Jilin became the first province to produce silver dollars. Since then, minted silver dollars gradually appeared in other provinces together with silver ingots.
Foreign currencies
Along with the development of foreign trade, foreign silver dollars began to circulate in China from the mid-Ming.After the Opium War,foreign banks appeared in China.The Oriental Bank,the Mercantile Bank and the Chartered Bank of India , Australian Bank as well as China's banks started to release their own paper notes in China after A.D. 1845.
Ancient coins on Silk Road
Silk Road was an important route of economic and cultural exchanges between the East and West from ancient times. Along with the development of trade and business on Silk Road since the 2nd century B.C., a lot of coins from Central Asia, Western Asia and Europe flowed into China and were circulated on the market.
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