Chinese Cash Coin
design of this small copper alloy coin, round with a square in the
middle, originated in China in the fourth century BCE. Its
round shape symbolizes the dome of heaven and its square center symbolizes
the Earth. It was believed that heaven communicated with Earth
through the emperor who governed the people and issued the coins.
The square hole was also functional. In order to quickly finish
the rough edges of the cast coins, a square rod was inserted into
their center which held them firmly in place while they where filed
smooth. Once issued, the hole enabled people to thread them
in strings of 100 and 1,000 for ease in carrying and trading.
For thousands of years, these coins were produced
in varying sizes by more than 30 different mints throughout China. Unlike
the European coins which often had political or religious figures
represented on their sides, the only design on the cash coins was
the Chinese lettering noting the ruler and the mint were they were
manufactured. With the increase of interregional trade, a problem
arose: the currency from the different regions was incompatible.
During the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the Song dynasty tried
to resolve this problem and open up 'free markets' by issuing paper
money and by forbidding the export of coins in many Chinese regions. During
this period, the export of even one string of cash coins brought
the death penalty.
This cash coin (circa 1735) details the reign
of one of the longest ruling and most brilliant emperors in China's
history, Ch'ien-Lung T'ung-pao, who was born in 1711 and died in
1799. On one side is the emperor's name and on the reverse
side is the name of the Boo Yuwan (Beijing) Mint.
The term "cash", as applied to these coins,
is a Western word derived from the Indian word "karsha", meaning
'copper coin'. With the growing acceptance of paper money in
China, the use of cash coins moved out to Japan, Korea, Vietnam,
and Southeast Asia where they are still in common use today. The
Chinese refer to this coin as 'tsien'.