Ancient China, Western Han
Gold Gilded bronze, Gold Fourrée bronze core
c. 113 BC, Shang Lin San Guan Mint Official Coinage
Material: Gold Gilt bronze
Weight: 2.8 grams; Size: 24.5 mm
Shang Lin San Guan Mint,
Wu Zhu coin
By this time, a full monetary economy had developed. Taxes, salaries, and fines were all paid in coins. An average of 220 million coins a year were produced. According to the History of Han, the Western Han was a wealthy period:
“The granaries in the cities and the countryside were full and the government treasuries were running over with wealth. In the capital the strings of cash had been stacked up by the hundreds of millions until the cords that bound them had rotted away and they could no longer be counted.”
On average, millet cost 75 cash and polished rice 140 cash a hectolitre, a horse 4,400-4,500 cash. A labourer could be hired for 150 cash a month; a merchant could earn 2,000 cash a month. Apart from the Ban Liang coins described previously, there were two other coins of the Western Han whose inscription denoted their weight:
The Wu Zhu (Chinese: 五銖; pinyin: wǔ zhū; literally: "Five Zhu – 3.25 grams") was first issued in 118 BC, this inscription was used on coins of many regimes over the next 700 years. Sometimes Wu Zhus can be dated specifically from dated moulds that have been discovered, or from their find spots, but the majority cannot. Those of the Western Han Dynasty have a square top to the right hand component of zhu; on later coins, this is rounded. Only a few of the varieties that have been described by numismatists are included here.
Jun Guo Wu Zhu (Chinese: 郡國五銖; pinyin: jùn guó wǔ zhū) (118-115 BC) is a large and heavy coin, with the edges not filed. Sometimes has a rimless reverse. Taken to be the earliest Wu Zhu. According to the History of Han, in 118 BC the Commanderies (Jun) and Principalities (Guo) were ordered to cast 5 zhu coins with a circular rim so that it would be impossible to clip them to glean a bit of copper.
Chi Ze Wu Zhu (Chinese: 赤仄五銖; pinyin: chì zè wǔ zhū) (115-113 BC) is a lighter coin than the above, with filed edges. The Han records state that in 115 BC the mints in the capital were requested to cast Chi Ze coins, with one being worth five local coins. Only these were to circulate. Chi Ze means Red (or Shining) Edge, referring to the red copper showing when the edges were filed smooth. Some examples of this coin were found from the tomb of Liu Sheng, Prince of Zhongshan, who died in 113 BC.
Shang Lin San Guan Wu Zhu (Chinese: 上林三官五銖; pinyin: shàng lín sān guān wǔ zhū) (From 113 BC) refers to the Three Offices of Shang Lin Park which were the Office for Coinage, the Office for Sorting Copper, and the Office of Price Equalisation. Minting was now confined to the central authorities. These coins usually have a raised rim on the top of the hole on the obverse. Their quality was so high that forgery became unprofitable except to true artisans, great villains, or thieves. All earlier coins were to be melted down and the copper taken to Shang Lin.
During the Han the Ban Liang and the Wu Zhu were the most important coins. Money cast in silver, tin alloy, tortoise shells and deer hide notes were also issued.
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