Chinese Coins

Chinese Means of Payment from Ancient Times to the Present


This exhibit presents the methods of payment throughout the rich and ever-changing history of China with its enormous and endless diversity.
Despite the fact that the country is divided by mountains and rivers, China was unified over a period exceeding 2,000 years by a centralized empire and a common culture. Although the country was not separated from the world, it developed a unique cultural tradition that had a great effect on the entire region.
Until recently China was predominately an agrarian country whose economy was mainly based on produce. The land was cultivated by families who tended to be isolated and self-sufficient. However, from ancient times Chinese farmers were dependent on the market economy for purchasing tools and supplies. Commerce developed (at the end of the Neolithic period in the second half of the 2nd century BCE) due to surplus agricultural produce, the result of a wealth of local resources. At first barter provided almost all of the population's needs. Big payments were made by means of merchandise and raw materials such as silk, tea, rice, etc.
The first coins which served as currency were in the shape of a spade and a knife, and appeared at the turn of the 6th and 7th centuries BCE, close to the appearance of the first coins in the West.
In the 3rd century BCE the Qing dynasty united the country and Qinshi Huangdi became its first emperor. Among the reforms his dynasty initiated was a new and unified coin that slowly penetrated all the country's regions. The new coin was round and in its middle was a square hole, a form that was maintained for some 2,000 years. According to ancient Chinese tradition the circular outline of the coin symbolizes heaven, while its square center - the earth. In addition to its symbolism, the central hole served for stringing several coins on a cord, thus creating higher denominations - a common practice that stemmed from the low value of the single coin. In fact, the square hole originated from the need to stack coins on a square rod, thus making it possible to file them all together on a stone.
Unlike coins in other countries, the Chinese coins do not bear pictorial images; they carry inscriptions with symbolic significance and were designed to increase the emperor's prestige. The inscriptions create a model and serve as a means of identification; in most cases they include the name of the period, value of the coin and the minting location. Unlike Western coins cast mainly in gold and silver, Chinese coins are made mostly from bronze by a traditional 2,000 year-old casting technique,
The study of currency, monetary systems and the appearance of the different coins provide us with important evidence of the numerous political, social, economic, and cultural changes that took place in China during the different periods.


Curator: Cecilia Meir

Opens: November 23, 2010

Closes: March 5, 2011