In the early stages of coinage development, especially in Egypt and Mesopotamia, the stamps on the coins made of electrum, an amalgam of gold and silver, revealed little about when they were exactly produced, who produced them or the precise region they belonged to. As the art and industry of coin manufacture progressed, later period silver coins manufactured by the different states in ancient Greece not only mentioned the specific worth of the currency, but also carried details in the form of emblems regarding their origin and ownership. In fact, the most prominent among them were the coins produced by the affluent Greek state of Athens.
Glancing though the coinage history, one will find that while the rulers and aristocracy in Athens and other Greece states began producing metal coins, especially with silver and bronze, the Chinese too developed coinage around the same period. In fact, diminutive and round shaped coins made with bronze and bearing a square perforation in the center can be easily identified as having originated in the Far East. The basis of coinage design and use came up in China around the fourth century BC and extended over a vast geographical area that included China, Japan, Central Asia, Korea, Vietnam and regions of South-east Asia. Over the years, stockpiles of such coins have been unearthed during archaeological excavations as also otherwise by the common people establishing the fact even that people of this region had long distance trade relations with the Middle East, Africa, Australia and South Asia even during the primeval period. Records show that people in the region continued to produce small coins with square holes in them till they espoused the Western method of coin manufacture in the early part of the twentieth century. It was from this time that the people in China and neighboring areas began making coins that were punched with images instead of holes in the center. Although the present day coins from the Far East resemble any modern Western coin or that found anywhere across the globe, they still bear the basic characteristic of the small ancient coins that many Chinese authors have described as the 'little brothers'. In fact, this type of bronze coins has always been very popular among the people in the region and is still in use as talisman or mementos in the temples of the Far East.
Guanzi, the 'Book of Master Guan' that refers to a Chinese minister who breathed his last in 645 BC, is the first available record of the Far East money. However, the book was compiled in 26 BC, six hundred years after the death of the minister. The 'Book of Master Guan' states that the ancient monarchs attached great importance on issues that were quite difficult to justify from a distance. Interestingly enough, the book says that while the kings valued pearls and jade most as a form of money, gold was considered to be an average currency. On the other hand, even spades and knives were considered as a form of currency, but were considered to be inferior to all other forms of money prevalent at the time. In fact, the people believed that one could not wear or eat money, but money was important to meet an individual's daily requirements, especially food, clothing and shelter. According to the 'Book of Master Guan', the primeval monarchs accumulated stockpiles of riches that enabled them to rule over their subjects and, possibly, also bring harmony in the world.
Like in other ancient societies of the world, people in the primeval Far East also bartered food grains, cloth, animals, natural products, ornaments as well as metals for the items of their requirement. In addition, possession of specific articles such as cowrie shells was considered to be a representation of affluence. In fact, records retrieved from the Chinese engravings dating back to the thirteenth century BC described the cowrie shells as riches that were primarily used as rewards or gifts. All these notwithstanding, the first metallic items that were actually used as a form of coin or currency to make payments for products and services were spades and knives made of bronze. To be precise, the 'knife money', if it may be called so, were issued for the first time by the Zhou kings in the late seventh century BC or the early part of the sixth century BC.
Interestingly, the issuance of the 'knife money' happened during the same time when the first coins were produced in the West. The bronze spade or knife money issued by the Chinese kings were designed according to different agricultural instruments, but were much smaller in dimension and made of delicate or thinner metal. These 'coins' also had inscriptions on them stating the place of their origin, the name of the clan owning them and also their weight signifying the value of the 'money'. Barring the Chu dynasty in southern China who issued bronze money in the shape of cowrie shells and the Qi dynasty in eastern China that issued bronze money in the shape of miniature knives, use of 'spade coins' was widespread the entire remaining part of China during the next three centuries. A major development took place in China in the third century BC when Qin shi huangdi united all the rival states always at war with each other and made the use of the prevalent Qin currency mandatory all over the newly founded Qin Empire. The coin prevalent in the Qin Empire was a small round bronze coin with a square hole in the center. This coin possessed a double character inscription and weighed around a 'banliang' that was equivalent to half of an ounce.
According to records, the 'banliang' seems to be the longest surviving coin the China as it remained in circulation from the third century BC to 118 BC and the coin was used in different weights for different values of money. Around 118 BC, the Han emperor Wudi introduced a new and historically significant type of coinage that virtually put an end to the Qin coinage in China. The new Han coinage introduced by emperor Wudi were inscribed with the word 'wuzhu', which when translated to English literally denotes 'five grains' in weight. The Han coin was extensively used in mainland China and was later in circulation even in the bordering areas of the country as the emperor expanded his territory. Following the fall of the Han dynasty, the empire once again broke up into a number of smaller provinces around 220 AD. While the 'wuzhu' remained the most widely used coin in China during this period, many independent states also began to issue their individual coinage. The 'wuzhu' was finally rendered outdated when the Tang emperor Gaozu unified these smaller states into a large empire around the sixth century AD. Gaozu designed and introduced a new coinage system known as the 'Kaiyuan tongbao' some time around 621 AD.
In some ways, the new coin issued by emperor Gaozu was similar to the coins in circulation in the Far East during the fourth century BC. However, they were also distinctive from the earlier coins too. The 'Kaiyuan tongbao' was a small round bronze coin with a square hole in the middle, but instead of the double character inscription in the earlier coins signifying their weight, the new coin had a four-character imprint that specified the date or period of its issuance as well as the coin's worth as money. Significantly, the new inscriptions were imprinted from the top to the bottom and left to the right of the square hole. The inscriptions 'Kai yuan' meant 'the new beginning', while 'tong bao' denoted 'circulating treasure'.
In fact, these forms of coins were known as the 'Far Eastern cash' and were in circulation for over 2000 years. From the artifacts recovered during archaeological excavations at different ancient cultural sites in China, we know that the ancient Chinese were very much conscious about the prevailing coinage system in the West. They were aware that the people in the West produced coins with precious metals such as Byzantine gold solidi and Sasanian silver drachms bearing pictographic inscriptions. Such coins have been by and large retrieved from the ancient tombs and the western parts of the country. In antiquity, bronze was never used in producing coins as the metal was considered to be precious and generally used for making very sophisticated and huge containers for the monarchs' and aristocrats' ancestral worship. The religious and social status associated with the ancient bronze vessels was to certain extent deterrence in using the metal for making coins. Nevertheless, with the advent and widespread use of the coinage system, the Chinese to accepted the universal concept of making coins with bronze and this may be described as a fall-out of cultural and trade associations of the people of this region with those in the Middle East, Egypt, and Mesopotamia.
Making bronze coins was not an easy task for the early Chinese. While the metal itself was considered to be valuable both in the sense of its availability, worth and use as manufacturing vessels for sacred use, they required a simple process to manufacture the coins simply because they had to be produced in huge quantities to be available all the time throughout the vast expanse of the empire. Archaeological excavations in ancient Chinese civilization sites have unearthed huge stockpiles of such bronze coins that prove primeval China produced huge quantities of coins. For instance, recovery of 'wuzhu' coins weighing around 45 kilograms from a single location along the north-west border of the ancient empire during archaeological excavations establishes the fact of mass production of coins in that era.
Akin to their characteristics, the Chinese continued with their unique form of coinage system even when their communication with the other people from the Western hemisphere who used coins increased through long distance trade and commerce during the later stages. The Chinese were content with their relatively low valued bronze coinage system as it best suited their basic activities that primarily included the mass circulation of the coins and using them to make payments for all types of products and services. It was only the merchant class that often resorted to hoarding copper coins for their value as a precious metal and these people were actually loathed upon by the commoners or such unethical practice. However, no one bothered to interfere with their unscrupulous business as long as the functioning of the monetary system was not effected by such activities.
It may be noted here that even the ancient Chinese sporadically used precious metals like gold and silver to produce coins. However, the gold and silver coins produced by the Chinese were not meant for mass circulation and were usually used as gifts presented to people engaged in the imperial courts. In fact, silver was used to produce the first coins in Japan, but they soon adopted bronze as the principal coinage metal since using silver for the purpose was quite expensive. Copper was actually discovered quite late in Japan, around 708 AD. The metal was so important to the Japanese that even the name of the ruling dynasty was changed to 'Wado' that translated to English literally denoted 'soft copper' and this even was inscribed as 'Wado kaiho' in the first copper coins produced in the empire.
Characteristically, the form of the ancient Chinese coins was very significant. It is interesting to note that in the primeval times, the Chinese believed that the earth was square and the heaven was hemispherical or dome shaped. They also believed that heaven (read the gods) was in touch with the earth (read people) via the 'Mandate of Heaven' and its representative - the emperor who not only ruled over them, but also was responsible for issuing coins for the people's use. Thus, the process of producing coins mirrored the Chinese people's belief regarding the shape of the earth and heaven and this was represented by the roundness of the coin as well as the square hole in its center. The ancient Chinese were of the belief that by issuing coins, the emperor was fulfilling his responsibilities by creating an emblematic bond between the earth and the heaven. In fact, even the ceremonial objects like the jade cong manufactured by the ancient Chinese employed the similar round and square shapes in their designs. According to records, since the regime of the Han dynasty, the yin-yang, wu xing theory formed the focal point of the Chinese way of life. And the coins issued by the emperors were considered to be the perfect illustration of this theory - the two sides of the coin representing yin and yang and symbolizing the five directions or 'wu xing' - north, east, west, south and the centre.
It may be mentioned here that even the square hole in the middle of the coins were also useful while the coins were manufactured as well as in their circulation. Several thousand such coins were produced at the same time using multiple tier frames and when the casting was completed, the coins were removed from the molds to level their uneven edges. In fact, a four-sided metal rod was placed in the square hole of the coins to hold them firmly and make the filing process easier and faster. And when these square holed coins were in mass circulation, the holes enabled people to tie them with strings in sets of 100s or 1000s coins avoiding the trouble of counting them again and again during transactions.
Similarly, the imprints on these coins were also significant as they denoted the period of their issuance, the reigning dynasty, their value in cash and at times, even the area of their circulation. In Chinese, the base unit of the coins' value was denoted as 'wen', while the Japanese identified it as 'mun' and Koreans as 'mon'. Interestingly, although the terms are different and are pronounced differently, they all mean the word 'writing' in all the three languages. Significantly, the bronze coinage 'cash' prevalent in the Far East regions has no link whatsoever with the Chinese custom. On the contrary, the term has been drawn from the Indian word 'karsha' denoting a 'copper coin'.
The imprints on the early day Chinese coins were always inscribed in their customary scripting technique and were usually part of one or more of the four prominent lettering - pattern, seal, running or clerk. In fact, historical records of China frequently mention the name of the calligrapher responsible for designing the inscriptions. This is more pertinent when the inscriptions were under the direct ownership of the reigning emperor or governed by him. It may be noted here that calligraphy or handwriting is considered to be one of the finest form of art in the Far Eastern regions and it is said that during the reign of the Song dynasty in China prevailing from 960 AD to 1127 AD, several prominent calligraphers like Ouyang Xiu and the renowned poet Su Shi were requested to offer calligraphy for inscription on the coins of that era. A specific instance is the Huizong emperor who himself provided the calligraphy or lettering for all the coins issued by him. From the 'Kaiyuan' coins we come to learn that the Chinese script was familiar as well as widely used all over the Far East region.
Often a character was modified slightly, almost imperceptible, to make them denote the place of their production and minute distinguishing signs were put on either side of these coins. According to a Chinese myth, one of the early such small signs was an imprint made with a fingernail by the region's well-known courtesan Yang Guifei during the regime of the Tang dynasty. However, the most noticeable marks on these coins are those that are found on the overturned side of the coins bearing the names of the mints that produced them in the Manchu script as well as the Chinese letterings on the coins produced during the Qing dynasty that ruled China from 1644 AD to 1911 AD. The Koreans also developed a detailed method of marking the coins for the Sang p'yong t'ong bo coins described earlier in this article. Initially, when they were issued in 1633, these coins were blank on the overturned side, but later, in 1678, when as many as 50 different authorities were entrusted with the responsibility of issuing coins, the first or second character of the authority issuing the specific coins were imprinted on the reverse side. And from 1742, small marks were added on the reverse side of these coins to identify the furnace that minted them. In addition, these coins also possessed a sequence numeral.
What many describe as the 'defining period' for calligraphy on coin imprints was witnessed during the 'Six Dynasty' regime in China prevalent from 222 AD to 589 AD. Prior to this era, only seal script was used on coins, but later coins had inscriptions with other letterings too. It is important to mention here that during the 'Six Dynasty' regime, Buddhism from India and Central Asia had a great impact on the Chinese art. In fact, the influence is noticeable in the prominently curved strokes in the calligraphy or letterings inscribed on the 'Xiaojian sizhu' coins, also known as the 'four grains coins of Xiaojian'. The calligraphy found on these coins is analogous to the human figures in flowing gowns and ribbons seen in the Chinese Buddhist wall paintings from the era. It may be said that the spread of Buddhism was one of the main reasons behind the commencement of the coinage system in Japan. In fact, the remarkable interest of the Japanese in Buddhism, the importance they attached to this religion as well as the great demand for Buddhist statues, bells and other artifacts relating to the religion from the middle of the sixth century AD gave rise to an enhanced communication and trade between Japan and China bringing the people of both these Far Easter empires closer. And in such a situation, both sides found it suitable to make and receive payments in coins. This is also because the customary Japanese way of making payments in rice was not only cumbersome in long distance, but also often not acceptable to the Chinese traders.
Coins turned out to be a very significant type of currency in China soon after their development in the region and performed an assortment of fiscal utilities. Like in the instance of the Western regions, coins were widely used in all types of business dealings and usually payments for commodities were articulated as well as paid in coins. Records from the Chinese imperial history make frequent reference to prices, especially when there is a plentiful harvest and the prices are low and when there is a scarcity of commodities owing to drought, floods or wars and the prices are abnormally soaring. It has been found from the historical records that though the '1-cash coin' continued to be the elementary value across the entire Far East region, the buying capacity of the 'cash coin' differed from time to time depending on the neighborhood situations. For instance, the listed costs for horses depict a substantial variation at different times. During the regime of the Han dynasty that continued from 206 BC to 220 AD, the cost of a horse was 4,500 in ready money, it soared to 25,000 in cash during the regime of the Tang dynasty in 636 AD, came down to 20,000 again during the reign of the Northern Song dynasty that prevailed from 960 AD to 1127 AD and sky-rocketed to 90,000 in cash during the Mongol Yuan dynasty's rule between 1206 AD to 1367 AD. Again in 1362 AD, the early period of the Ming dynasty, the cost of a horse dropped to as low as 10,000 cash.
Data of the period obtained from other sources, however, state that apart from coins, the payment for purchasing a horse could also be made by exchanging commodities or cattle. For instance, during the Western Han dynasty that reigned between 206 BC and 24 AD, one could obtain a horse in exchange of three cattle and during the Tang dynasty a horse was available by bartering two cattle. During the regime of the Ming dynasty in 1362, a horse could be got by exchanging just one cattle. Hence, historians are of the view that thought coins were in extensive use in China and all payments were basically expressed in terms of coins, it was not essential that the payments were always made in coins. Often, after fixing the price of an item in terms of coins, people made payments in other forms that were equivalent to the pricing in coins. In other words, people always did not involve the use of coins while making payments. Nevertheless, the fact that payments for all commercial transactions were expressed in coin value is itself proof of their importance in the Chinese society and economy.
For a larger part, China remained a land-locked country with some distance trade and communications with other Far East countries like Japan and Korea. However, when the 'free markets' were opened up by the rulers of the Song dynasty, it not only augmented international trade rapidly, but also led to an increased requirement for money to be circulated across the empire to support long distance business transactions. However, the main problem was that China was split into small independent states many of whom used dissimilar and occasionally mismatched currencies. Worse still, there were many regions in China that even prohibited the export of bronze coins. Hence, it was found that paper currency was one way to overcome the problems arising out of the different types of money. Paper money not only facilitated inter-regional as well as international money exchange, but also solved the problem arising out of using low value metals like iron for making coins. These heavy iron coins were inconvenient to use, especially when they were required in large quantities. In addition, the Song dynasty was often in difficulty owing to foreign military activities and this stretched the government's finances. The use of paper money in such circumstances was definitely a boon for the regime as it was cost effective and helped to minimize government expenses on account of minting coins with bronze.
With the inception of paper money, prices of goods and services were now expressed in terms of the paper currency and the bronze coins in use thus far gradually turned into an article of trade or commodity. In addition to the paper currency, with the boost in tea and salt trade, even coupons obtained by the traders as evidence of paying the charges while on their way to the capital to exchange them for the commodities at the tea and salt depots also turned out to be another form of money. In fact, in the initial days of paper money, all such notes were basically issued in individual capacities to make payments, grant loans or barter receipts with a stipulated time frame. Actually, the first paper money, as what we find now, was circulated by Jin in 1189. These were basically exchange certificates officially issued with no time restraints. Later, paper currency was widely as well as absolutely during the regime of the Mongol Yuan dynasty that prevailed in China between 1206 and 1367 since exchange or articulation of coins or money made of valuable metals like gold, silver and even bronze were strictly prohibited.
When the Mongol rulers invaded and brought Korea under their rule in the thirteenth century AD, they also imposed the use of paper money throughout the subjugated territory. It is interesting to note that while the Mongols were completely successful in replacing the earlier cash coins with paper money in most regions of the Far East, their efforts in this direction failed miserably in the Western countries. For instance, the Mongols' move to introduce the use of paper currency in Iran did not yield the desired results. On the other hand, as a result of the increasing recognition of paper money throughout China, the cash coins were forced out to the other Far East regions such as Japan, South-east Asia, Korea and Vietnam. China also revoked the prohibition on exporting its coins in 1074. Earlier, when the ban was in effect, exporting even a small series of the Chinese coins was enough to invite a death penalty.
It is important to mention here that the demand for the Chinese coin was the greatest in Japan. By the turn of the tenth century AD, the Japanese had virtually lost all faith in their own coins and instead preferred to import coins from China. As a result of large-scale imports of Chinese coins both by the government and the private parties, illegal trade in Chinese coins became rampant. Consequently, the Japanese government faced severe economic problem as such unscrupulous activities by the pirates made it tricky to sustain its control over money. Initially, in 1179, the Japanese authorities attempted to tackle the vexed problem by fixing the prices of commodities and services on the basis of the coins imported from China. However, when they failed in their endeavor, the Japanese authorities eventually imposed a prohibition on import of Chinese coins in 1193. By this time, it had really become difficult for the Japanese government to control the sum and forms of coins circulating in the country. When the Japanese authorities failed to make payments for a large amount of coins exported from China, they tried to pay the debts by shipping swords and sulfur to China. This was said to be a type of Japan's tribute trade with China.
The introduction of paper money as well as lifting the ban on export of Chinese coins also had a different type of ramification in China. As the prices of payments increasingly began to be expressed in terms of paper currency during the reign of the Southern Song dynasty that lasted from 1127 to 1279, people found it lucrative to use the copper coins in ways other than a currency. Many people melted the copper coins to manufacture copper vessels and musical instruments. As a result, the lesser amount of copper coins also led to a reduction in the buying worth of paper currency during this era. China faced more troubles in 1401, when the rulers of the Yi dynasty in Korea duplicated the paper money issued by the Ming dynasty of China. As a result of this economic disaster, paper currency forced coins out of use and especially to Japan. Consequently, the Koreans too were compelled to adopt a different tactics and began using cloth as a form of money.
It is quite interesting to note that the coins in the Far East region have often been utilized for reasons excluding precisely fiscal. Hence, while discussing the history of money, it is imperative to talk briefly about this feature too. This aspect is important as it helps to broadly describe and comprehend the traditional as well as cultural milieu in which coins were issued and articulated in China and other Far East regions.
Records from antiquity state that there are specific categories of Chinese coins that have been considered auspicious and lucky for people possessing them. Actually, in every instance, the historical details related to the inscriptions on the coins enlighten us on the reasons that have made people believe that these coins are lucky charms for them. The 'Zhouyuan tongbao' coins issued during the latter part of the tenth century AD and are still available in substantial numbers are an excellent example of this exciting trend. The real Zhouyuan coins were exquisitely produced with bronze derived from the statutes of more than 3,000 Buddhist shrines and when translated to English, the writings on these coins stand for 'universally - new beginning, circulating treasure'. These coins were circulated during the regime of the Xiande dynasty that again denotes 'perceptible virtue'. Going by these inscriptions and significances, people began to believe that these specific coins may well help them in treating diseases and help during child birth. Owing to such beliefs, these coins became immensely popular and later a section of people began producing their replicates in large quantities solely with commercial purpose.
The coins that are used as talisman or lucky charms having messages or pictorials were commercially produced keeping in view different objectives and occasions. For instance, there are coins that are used as good luck charms for weddings, first bath of an infant, long life and even the New Year. They became so popular that objects resembling these coins were produced for playing chess, betting and also in drinking games. Coin-shaped lucky charms were also exploited for exorcism. Although it may appear to be incredible to many, in antiquity, people often placed coins on the tombs with the belief that it will help the dead or their ancestors in their next life. When the use of real coins for such purposes was prohibited, people used replicated money. The fact that duplicate paper dollars worth several millions are set afire during the Chinese New Year celebration all over the world every year even now bears testimony to this fact.
As far as the history of the Chinese monetary system is concerned, there has been a raging debate on two specific issues. The first is regarding the benefits and drawbacks of coins - if they should be absolutely substituted by valuable and functional goods like cloth and grains. The second topic of debate has been regarding the right to issuance of money - whether the government should solely be responsible for its production and circulation or the private parties should be permitted to do the same. In a sense, the deliberations are both realistic as well as moral. In their writings, many Chinese intellectuals and officials have expressed their anxieties over money. According to them, the issuance of money had the influence to alter the human relations and hence, money possessed the latent power to devastate the prevailing social system anywhere.
While the above mentioned views are true to a great extent, it has been also found that when the coins were banned by the authorities as a result of such ethical anxieties, it gave rise to a different set of problems as people were forced to use grain and silk as a form of money to make payments. Silk was woven so delicately that it did not last long and was of little value as a form of money in business transactions. On the other hand, grain used as a substitute of money was weighed when it was wet and hence was much heavy and proved to be quite costly. At the same time, grains could not be stored beyond a specific period and hence, proved to be as 'ineffective' a form of money as silk.
Those who have faith on the Confucian theories are of the opinion that money by itself does not embody either good or evil. They also opine that apart from the state, even private parties may perhaps, or ought to be given the permission to mint coins. On the other hand, legal authorities are always doubtful of human character and consider that the authority to issue coins or money should be essentially wrested on the state to avoid any kind of misuse or counterfeiting.
Years afterwards, in the nineteenth century, subsequent to two critical hostilities with overseas powers - the Opium War and the Sino-Japanese War, the Chinese scholars were compelled to mull over the Western fiscal notions and procedures. This was followed by Yan Fu's (1853-1921) translation of the 'Wealth of Nations' authored by Adam Smith into Chinese in 1901. Although Yan translated Smith's work, he did not agree with the author on several issues, including Smith's hypothesis on the value of labor. In fact, Yan was of the view that the value of any commodity depended only on the connection between its supply and demand. In the translated work, Yan added special rejoinders to openly express his opposition to Smith's views, adding, 'Value is a direct issue'. Two ostensibly analogous things are in line and numbered. But if they comprise only labor, the things stand cut off and their worth would not change in due course.' Before Yan translated Smith's work, Zheng Guanying (1841-1918) authored the book 'Words of Warning to a Flourishing Generation' in 1892 complaining the dishonest practices of the foreign banks in China and promoted the idea of setting up Chinese banks, owned by the state as well as private firms, in the country. In his book Zheng wrote that till then there was no system in place to authenticate the financial base of the silver bills issued by the foreign banks either by the Chinese or foreign authorities. He alleged that the issuers of such silver bills did so entirely on their impulse and did not have any consideration vis-à-vis the quantity of the silver bills that were circulated at that time.
Since the 1860s, the British colonial government in Hong Kong has been persuading the Chinese authorities to espouse the Hong Kong dollar as the official currency of the region. In fact, from time to time, the Hong Kong government had been suggesting the Chinese authorities regarding the use of different patterns and value of coins produced in Hong Kong. Initially, the Chinese authorities were not too keen on adopting the Hong Kong currency, but in due course, the Governor-General of Guangdong and Guangxi asked for authorization to produce silver dollars on machinery imported from the West. Eventually, in 1889, permission was granted and a new Western style mint was set up in the Canton province of south China with machinery and personnel from Birmingham. The new mint began producing silver coins in different foreign denominations - 5 cents, 10 cents, half dollar and dollars. This led to the introduction of a new currency system in the Chinese economy and by the end of the 1880s, southern China was virtually flooded with small silver coins in the denomination of 5 cents and 10 cents that were brought into circulation by the British colonial rules of Hong Kong.
In fact, the silver coins issued by the Hong Kong government in China were considered as bullion, while the copper cents that carried a value of 10-cash pieces were regarded as cash coins. The silver coins were held in esteem for the value of the precious and the copper cents were exchanged for the silver as per the prevailing silver-copper price in the market. In the 1900s, following an unanticipated series of occurrences, the Chinese government agencies in Canton began to sell their silver coins at marked down prices and this made shipping these silver coins to Hong Kong a lucrative business for many. Meanwhile, the Hong Kong authorities had sold off the machinery of their mint to the Japanese Osaka Mint and subsequently, from the 1870s Japan began to mint as well as circulate its personal silver dollars.
As the nineteenth century moved ahead, China, especially its southern region, experienced an augmented effect of imported or foreign pecuniary systems. As a result of this, it became increasingly difficult for the imperial rulers to tackle the supremacy of foreign currency in their economic system. When we look back at the happenings in southern China vis-à-vis the monetary affairs of those times, it does not come as a surprise that the region was basically the bastion of the pro-independence anti-monarchists who eventually removed the imperials from the seat of power in 1911.
Foreign merchants began setting up their commercial banks in different Chinese cities soon after the First Opium War that continued from 1840 to 1842. Many of these foreign commercial banks even circulated banknotes or paper money for use within the Chinese territory. Among these, a number of foreign commercial banks like the Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation even released silver dollars and silver ounce banknotes, while those like the Imperial Bank of Russia issued bills in foreign denominations. In due course, the Chinese authorities felt the necessity to release their personal silver ounce and silver dollar designated exchange bills and finally set up the Zhongguo tongshang yinhang or the Imperial Bank of China in 1897. Simultaneously, the imperial Chinese government also set up offices in different provinces of the empire with the purpose of issuing silver coins and these offices released an innovatively fashioned dollar notes. Apart from the government, a number of old fashioned securities organizations like money exchange shops and pawn brokers' offices too issued paper currency in their private capacity. While these private institutions were involved in circulating paper money for several centuries, even many government organizations in China like the railway offices began issuing paper currency during this period.