Ancient Chinese coinage
includes some of the earliest known coins. These coins, used as early as the Spring and Autumn period
(770–476 BCE), took the form of imitations of the cowrie shells
that were used in ceremonial exchanges. The Spring and Autumn period
also saw the introduction of the first metal coins; however, they were not initially round, instead being either knife shaped
or spade shaped
. Round metal coins with a round, and then later square hole in the center were first introduced around 350 BCE. The beginning of the Qin Dynasty
(221–206 BCE), the first dynasty to unify China, saw the introduction of a standardised coinage for the whole Empire. Subsequent dynasties produced variations on these round coins throughout the imperial period. At first the distribution of the coinage was limited to use around the capital city district, but by the beginning of the Han Dynasty
, coins were widely used for such things as paying taxes, salaries and fines.
Ancient Chinese coins are markedly different from their European counterparts. Chinese coins were manufactured by being cast
in molds, whereas European coins were typically cut and hammered
or, in later times, milled
. Chinese coins were usually made from mixtures of metals such copper
, from bronze
: precious metals like gold
were uncommonly used. The ratios and purity of the coin metals varied considerably. Most Chinese coins were produced with a square hole in the middle. This was used to allow collections of coins to be threaded on a square rod so that the rough edges could be filed smooth, and then threaded on strings for ease of handling. Read more...