In this project, I will illustrate how Chinese currency as a medium interacted with social changes and political movements from 1840 to the present day. While China enjoys a long history of 5000 years, it was not until 1840 was it connected to the world trade system. Since then, China started its modernization and made several profound changes in currency reforms.

Chinese Cash

Replicas of various ancient to 19th century cast cash coins in various metals found in China, Korea and Japan (Wikipedia)

After the First Industrial Revolution, the European started their capital accumulation from Africa to Asia. When the British government tried to sell opium to China in exchange for gold and silver, the emperor of Qing dynasty refused it, which led to the First Opium Warin 1840. Since then, China was forced to open its door and be involved into the world trade system. However, when the desire for money triggered the war, the war at the same time prompted the first revolution of money in China. In 1890s, foreign coin press machine was introduced to China, ending the long-lasting circulation of Cash (square-holed money) in China.

Later, the establishment of the Republic of China marked the beginning of silver-dollar standard in China, promoting the abolition of tael, a currency that dominated economic circulation in China for hundreds of years. When the Great Depression erupted, the Nationalist government changed the silver-standard to Legal Tender Note then later Gold Yuan Note, protecting themselves from the aftermath of worldwide financial crisis. Some currency strategy and reforms also influenced China’s resistance towards Japan in WWII and the result of Chinese Civil War. Later, the publish of different series of RMB shows the characteristics of China under different periods. Moreover, along with the establishment of the Economic Reform and Open Up Policy, new technologies poured into China and accelerated the arise of mobile payment era.

In addition to introduce the history of the development of Chinese currency, this project tries to answer the questions of: how currency helps connecting China to the world from 1840 to the present day, how currency reforms reflect social changes in China, as well as how currency has interacted with technology and shaping the new face of contemporary China.

Since the reforms of currency were intensive in modern China, more research must be conducted in relation to social movements. I hope my project can effectively use currency as a lens to help us take a glance to the great changes happened on the land of modern China.


Chosen Dates:

June 28, 1840 (the First Opium War)

January 1, 1912 (the establishment of the Republic of China)

October 29, 1929 (the Great Depression)

September 18, 1931 (War of Resistance against Japan)

December 1,1948 (the publish of the First Series of RMB)

March 1, 1955 (the publish of the Second Series of RMB)

April 20, 1962 (the publish of the Third Series of RMB)

December 18, 1978 (Economic Reform and open up was implemented)

September 20, 1987 (China was connected to the Internet)

September 9, 1999 (the establishment of Alibaba company)


Chosen Technologies (temporary):

Coin press machine that was introduced to China in 1890

Intaglio printing technology

Modern printing anti-counterfeiting technology

Invention of magnetic card

Invention of tokenization