The medieval monetary system of China was distinguished by the uniqueness of the use of materials as a means of money circulation. A familiar notion in the West: “money is gold or silver”, which have the highest status of exchange material. For China, this did not fit, because there the word “money (钱 -qian) qian” is just a copper coin.
In traditional China, coins were cast primarily from copper. Gold and silver were used only in bullion, which circulated in the market by weight, as a regular commodity.
Not one qian was taken as the monetary unit, but a bunch of coins – ideally 1000 pieces in a bunch. Ligament weight reached approximately 3.5 kg. A bunch of coins is one of the most important inventions of China.
The fact is that almost all European countries of that time had their own gold and silver coins, which differed in the content of precious metals in them. Buyers and sellers jointly solved the problem of establishing the subordination of coin denominations. Only at the end of the medieval period was some agreement reached on the transition to a decimal system for calculating monetary units.
From time immemorial, China has used, albeit a bulky, but very practical system of coin bundles. It was easy to take out a certain number of coins from the bundle to calculate the purchase, or to collect and supplement the incomplete bundle of individual coins with the same denomination.
Due to the huge number of sellers and buyers, small, but large-scale turnover of goods, copper coins of low unit cost were perfectly suited. And not only inside the country, but also abroad.
Very often, during archaeological excavations, and sometimes accidentally, in different countries of Southeast Asia, samples of such Chinese coins are found in bundles. It is very easy to determine that these are Chinese, not Japanese coins. In the center of the Chinese coin there is a square hole, while the Japanese one has a round hole.
There was not enough copper in China and, like any monetary unit, the Chinese coin was often counterfeited (including by the state) to save money. In 1104, in the era of the Song Dynasty, it was decided to overcome financial difficulties by casting Qian 10 times the cost. True, the copper contained in them as in the previous three coins. As a result, chaos arose on the market and two courses of copper coins. The market accepted new coins only by the real copper content in them, only for a third of the face value.
Copper in China remained a currency until the 19th century, i.e. up to the “westernization” of the country. This was one of the traditions of China, and in this he saw one of the opportunities for the sustainable development of his economy.
In fairness, it should be said that the Chinese tried to use gold and even iron to make coins, and more than once. But by virtue of tradition and mentality, they again returned to traditional copper and alloys from it.