Yuan dynasty coinage

The Yuan dynasty was a Mongol-ruled Chinese dynasty which existed from 1271 to 1368. After the conquest of the Western Xia, Western Liao, and Jin dynasties they allowed for the continuation of locally minted copper currency, as well as allowing for the continued use of previously created and older forms of currency (from previous Chinese dynasties), while they immediately abolished the Jin dynasty's paper money as it suffered heavily from inflation due to the wars with the Mongols. After the conquest of the Song dynasty was completed, the Yuan dynasty started issuing their own copper coins largely based on older Jin dynasty models, though eventually the preferred Yuan currency became the Jiaochao and silver sycees, as coins would eventually fall largely into disuse.[1][2] Although the Mongols at first preferred to have every banknote backed up by gold and silver, high government expenditures forced the Yuan to create fiat money in order to sustain government spending.[3]

Coins of the Yuan dynasty.

Inscriptions on the obverses of the coins appeared both in Traditional Chinese characters and 'Phags-pa script, and coins appeared in denominations of 2, 3, 5, and even 10 wén, the larger denominations led to a debasement of the currency which caused inflation.[4]


After the Mongol Empire began their campaigns against the Western Liao, Western Xia, and Jin dynasties, they started to cast their own copper cash coins with the inscription "Da Chao Tong Bao" (Chinese: 大朝通寶). It is currently unknown if these coins were already cast under Genghis Khan or if production started under Kublai Khan during the Yuan dynasty as these coins are undocumented and rare. Production of Yuan dynasty copper coins with the "Zhong Tong Yuan Bao" (中統元寶) coins commissioned by Kublai Khan started concurrently with the issuance of paper money which was backed up by silver sycees.[5]

Prior to the establishment of the Yuan dynasty, Möngke Khan created the Department of Monetary Affairs in 1253 to oversee the issuing and creation of paper money, this was to ensure that the nobility would not cause more inflation by overprinting money.[6] The Yuan dynasty would see the introduction of the bimetallic standard, copper would be used for short distance, and silver for long distance transactions.


Kublai Khan, Temür Khan, and Külüg KhanEdit

Kublai Khan asked his advisor Liu Bingzhong about the usage of coinage and with a Yin and Yang metaphor Bingzhong claimed that no peace could exist within the Yuan empire if coins continued to be used and advised for the exclusive circulation of mulberry bark paper money.[7]

A "Zhida Tongbao" (至大通寶) coin issued under Külüg Khan.

The "Zhongtong Yuanbao" coins were only cast for 3 years (1260 to 1263), later coins would again be issued under Kublai Khan.[2] In the year 1285 Liu Shirong advocated for the creation of the Zhiyuan Tongbao (至元通寶) cash coins, stating that the Mongols should follow the examples of the Han and Tang dynasties in the production of copper-alloy cash coins, and that these cash coins should circulate concurrent with silk and paper money.[8]

For the entire duration of Temür Khan coins were only symbolically cast for religious institutions.[2]

Under Külüg Khan the Yuan dynasty’s treasury was almost completely depleted which eventually led to Külüg Khan issuing a new banknote called the "Zhi Da Yin Jiaochao" () which coincided with the minting of "Zhida Tongbao" (至大通寶) coins, which are the most commonly cast Yuan era coins.[2] Under Külüg Khan the levels of inflation rose to 80% as the government kept printing more banknotes due, and in order to ensure the government’s control on the currency Külüg Khan banned the usage of silver and gold coins, and stopped the circulation of silver certificates in favour of fiat banknotes.[9]

Ayurbarwada Buyantu Khan and the cessation of productionEdit

Ayurbarwada Buyantu Khan completely ceased the production of coinage in favour of paper money and made it illegal to use coins for payment, however the private production of copper cash coins would persist despite these laws.[2] Because the khans of the Yuan dynasty were Buddhists they allowed Buddhist temples exemption from taxation and granted them special rights to cast bronze statues, and mint their own coins for religious offerings.[2] During the periods that paper money was considered to be less valuable due to inflation people would use these "temple coins" () as substitute currency.[10][2]

Toghon TemürEdit

For 40 years the production of coins would not continue until the reign of Toghon Temür who started casting coins again in 1350 alongside his new series of banknotes.[2]

There are three basic typed of the Zhizheng Tongbao (至正通寶) cash coins.[2] The first type has the Earthly Branch, indicating the year of casting, written in 'Phags-pa script located above the square centre hole situated on the reverse side of the cash coin.[2] The Zhizheng Tongbao cash coins with the reverse inscription "寅" (meaning 1350 in the Chinese calendar) are the rarest because they began to be cast in November 1350 meaning that their production period was relatively short.[2] This type was cast in values of 1 wén, 2 wén, and 3 wén.[2]

The 'Phags-pa words on these Zhizheng Tongbao cash coins represent the following years:[2]

List of production marks
'Phags-pa Traditional Chinese Hanyu Pinyin Year of production Image
yín 1350
mǎo 1351
chén 1352

In some variants reverse side of the cash coin displays the Mongol word for the Chinese cyclical calendar characters "Geng Yin" (庚寅, gēng yín) which indicates that these cash coins were cast somewhere in the year 1350.[2] These cash coin typically have a diameter of 33 millimeters and tend to have a weight of about 8.8 grams.[2]

The second type of Zhizheng Tongbao cash coins have the Earthly Branch of their year of production above the square centre hole on the reverse side, and the nominal value of the coin below the square centre hole.[2] For example, the words "戌十" (xū shí) would denote that the cash coin was produced in the year 1358 and a nominal value of 10 wén.[2] The denominations of this type were cast as 2 wén, 3 wén, 5 wén, and 10 wén.[2]

The third type of Zhizheng Tongbao cash coins have the Earthly Branch representing the year of production above the square centre hole on the reverse side, and the nominal weight of the coin below the square centre hole.[2] For example, the 'Phags-pa transliteration of the word "亥" (hài) written above the square centre hole to denote that the cash coin was produced in the year 1359 and the words "壹兩重" (yī liǎng chóng) inscribed below the square centre hole which translates as "1 tael in weight".[2]

In 1350 chancellor Toqto'a attempted to reform the Yuan dynasty currency by printing out more paper money and creating large "Zhizheng Zhibao" (至正之寶) copper coins which were inscribed with the promise that these coins were backed in paper money (權鈔, quán chāo, which translates as "equivalent to paper money"), and that these would be in equal value.[2] The calligraphy of the inscription for the Zhizheng Zhibao cash coins was done by the court poet Zhou Boqi.[2][11]

The reverse side of the Zhizheng Zhibao cash coins have to the left of the square centre hole the traditional Chinese characters indicating the nominal value of the coin, for example, the equivalent of wǔ qián (伍錢, "5 qián") in paper money.[2]

List of Zhizheng Zhibao (至正之寶) denominations
(in paper money)
Traditional Chinese Hanyu Pinyin Image
5 fen[12] 伍分權鈔 wǔ fēn quán chāo
1 mace[12] 壹錢權鈔 yī qián quán chāo
1 mace, 5 fen[13] 壹錢伍分權鈔 yī qián wǔ fēn quán chāo
2 mace, 5 fen[13] 貳錢伍分權鈔 èr qián wǔ fēn quán chāo
5 mace[13] 伍錢權鈔 wǔ qián quán chāo

As the paper money was made out of inferior material it would often be easily damaged making it hard for the people to redeem, this led to rebellions in the southern regions which in turn caused the Yuan government to quickly print more money in order to finance its military expenditures, leading to a decreasing confidence in paper money causing hyperinflation.[13][2] Eventually entire carts filled with banknotes were needed for simple transactions leading to the people disregarding paper money as currency and eventually barter had become the norm as coinage had already become a rarity.[13][2]

After the rise of the Ming dynasty the Northern Yuan dynasty didn't continue to produce cash coins. The usage of paper currency under the Yuan further inspired other countries such as Korea, Japan, and various states of India to develop their own paper currencies.[14]

List of coins issuedEdit

A Da Yuan Tong Bao (大元通寶) coin written in 'Phags-pa script held at the Great Wall of China Museum Beijing.

Coins issued by the Mongols before the creation of the Yuan include the "Da Chao Tong Bao" (), "Da Guan Tong Bao" (), "Tai He Tong Bao" (泰和重寶), and "Da Ding Tong Bao" (), these coins were all issued in the conquered lands of the former Jin dynasty and are subsequently known as frontier or border area coins.[2] After the Song dynasty fell to the Mongols new coins started being issued.[2]

List of coins issued by the Mongols during Yuan dynasty:[15][16][17][2][a]

Inscription Traditional Chinese Script Khagan
(Mongolian name)
(Mandarin Chinese name)
Zhong Tong Yuan Bao Chinese script (Regular script and Seal script), Mongol script Kublai Khan Shìzǔ ()
Zhi Yuan Tong Bao Chinese script, 'Phags-pa script Kublai Khan Shìzǔ (世祖)
Yuan Zhen Tong Bao Chinese script, 'Phags-pa script Temür Khan Chéngzōng ()
Yuan Zhen Yuan Bao Chinese script, Mongol script Temür Khan Chéngzōng (成宗)
Da De Tong Bao Chinese script, 'Phags-pa script, Mongol script Temür Khan Chéngzōng (成宗)
Zhi Da Tong Bao Chinese script, 'Phags-pa script, Mongol script Külüg Khan Wǔzōng ()
Zhi Da Yuan Bao Chinese script Külüg Khan Wǔzōng (武宗)
Da Yuan Tong Bao Chinese script, 'Phags-pa script, Mongol script Külüg Khan Wǔzōng (武宗)
Huang Qing Yuan Bao Chinese script Ayurbarwada Buyantu Khan Rénzōng ()
Yan You Tong Bao Chinese script Ayurbarwada Buyantu Khan Rénzōng (仁宗)
Yan You Yuan Bao Chinese script Ayurbarwada Buyantu Khan Rénzōng (仁宗)
Zhi Zhi Tong Bao Chinese script Gegeen Khan Yīngzōng ()
Zhi Zhi Yuan Bao Chinese script Gegeen Khan Yīngzōng (英宗)
Tai Ding Tong Bao Chinese script Yesün Temür Jìnzōng ()
Tai Ding Yuan Bao Chinese script Yesün Temür Jìnzōng (晉宗)
Zhi He Yuan Bao Chinese script Yesün Temür Jìnzōng (晉宗)
Tian Li Yuan Bao Chinese script Jayaatu Khan Tugh Temür Wénzōng ()
Zhi Shun Yuan Bao Chinese script Jayaatu Khan Tugh Temür Wénzōng (文宗)
Yuan Tong Yuan Bao Chinese script Toghon Temür Huìzōng ()
Zhi Yuan Tong Bao Chinese script, Mongol script, Uighur script, Jurchen script, Tangut script[18] Toghon Temür Huìzōng (惠宗)
Zhi Yuan Yuan Bao Chinese script Toghon Temür Huìzōng (惠宗)
Mu Qing Tóng Bao Chinese script Toghon Temür Huìzōng (惠宗)
Zhi Zheng Tong Bao Chinese script, 'Phags-pa script, Mongol script Toghon Temür Huìzōng (惠宗)
Zhi Zheng Zhi Bao Chinese script Toghon Temür Huìzōng (惠宗)

Rebel coinagesEdit

During the Red Turban rebellion organised by the White Lotus society; many of its leaders proclaimed their own kingdoms and empires that ruled over different regions of China, the most successful of these was Zhu Yuanzhang’s Ming dynasty which would unify China. Though the majority of these countries were short-lived some did produce their own coinage.[19]

Inscription Traditional Chinese Simplified Chinese Denominations Years of mintage Monarch Rebel faction
Long Feng Tong Bao 龍鳳通寶 龙凤通宝 1, 2文, 3文, 5文 1355-1366 Han Lin’er (韓林兒) Early Red Turban rebellion
Tian You Tong Bao 天佑通寶 天佑通宝 1文, 2文, 3文, 5文 1354-1357 Zhang Shicheng (張士誠) Kingdom of Great(er) Zhou (大周)
Tian Qi Tong Bao 天啟通寶 天启通宝 1文, 2文, 3文 1358 Xu Shouhui (徐壽輝) Tianwan (天完)
Tian Ding Tong Bao 天定通寶 天定通宝 1文, 2文, 3文 1359-1360 Xu Shouhui (徐壽輝) Tianwan (天完)
Da Yi Tong Bao 大義通寶 大义通宝 1文, 2文, 3文 1360-1361 Chen Youliang (陳友諒) Kingdom of Dahan (大漢)

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Chinese, and 'Phags-pa scripts would generally appear on the obverse of these coins, while Mongol script would appear on the reverse and would serve as a mint mark (and in one instance the Jurchen, Uighur, and Tangut scripts); Kublai Khan's Zhong Tong Yuan Bao (中統元寶) was the only coin that contained Seal script, all other Chinese inscriptions during the Mongol period were written in regular script


  1. ^ Dawson, Christopher. Mission to Asia: Narratives and Letter of the Franciscan Missionaries in Mongolia and China in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries. New York (1955).
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab "Chinese coins – 中國錢幣". Gary Ashkenazy / גארי אשכנזי (Primaltrek – a journey through Chinese culture). November 16, 2016. Retrieved June 14, 2017.
  3. ^ David Miles; Andrew Scott (January 14, 2005). Macroeconomics: Understanding the Wealth of Nations. John Wiley & Sons. p. 273. ISBN 978-0-470-01243-7.
  4. ^ "CoinWeek Ancient Coin Series: Coinage of the Mongols". Mike Markowitz (CoinWeek). May 22, 2016. Retrieved June 14, 2017.
  5. ^ History-of-China.com com/yuan-dynasty/economic-of-yuan.html The Economic of Yuan Dynasty (sic) Retrieved: 14 June 2017.
  6. ^ "Trade and Currency under the Yuan". Boundless. June 17, 2014. Retrieved June 14, 2017.
  7. ^ Hartill 2005, p. 225.
  8. ^ Hartill 2005, p. 226.
  9. ^ "The Yuan Dynasty — First Foreign-Ruled Era in China". China Highlights. June 4, 2017. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  10. ^ Belyaev, Vladimir A.; Sidorovich, Sergey V. (2016). "Temple Coins of the Yuan Dynasty". The Language and Iconography of Chinese Charms. pp. 149–161. doi:10.1007/978-981-10-1793-3_8. ISBN 978-981-10-1791-9.
  11. ^ Nancy Shatzman Steinhardt (January 1999). Chinese Imperial City Planning. University of Hawaii Press. p. 153. ISBN 978-0-8248-2196-8.
  12. ^ a b Hartill 2005, p. 233.
  13. ^ a b c d e Hartill 2005, p. 234.
  14. ^ "Money in Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties". Travel China Guide. June 3, 2017. Retrieved June 14, 2017.
  15. ^ Mongolian Coins Yuan State Retrieved: 14 June 2017.
  16. ^ "Yuan Dynasty coins". Vladimir A. Belyaev (Charms.ru). August 2, 1998. Retrieved June 14, 2017.
  17. ^ A reference list of 5000 years of Chinese coinage. Numista Date: 9 December 2012. Updated: 13 June 2013 Retrieved: 14 June 2017.
  18. ^ BabelStone by Andrew West (魏安) Zhida Tongbao. Wednesday, 10 January 2007. Retrieved: 20 June 2017.
  19. ^ Tamar Lan Walker, Class of 2010 Wu Collection of Chinese Coinage. The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library. Retrieved: 20 June 2017.


Preceded by:
Western Xia coinage,
Jin dynasty coinage (1115–1234),
and Southern Song dynasty coinage

Reason: Mongol conquests of the Western Xia, Jin, and Song dynasties.
Currency of China
1271 – 1368
Note: Paper money was more commonly used during this period.
Succeeded by:
Ming dynasty coinage
Reason: Red Turban Rebellion, and rise of the Ming dynasty.