This piece of paper is a monetary banknote that derives from China’s Ming Dynasty era, which lasted from 1368-1644 C.E. Paper money in China was first created during the dynasty pre-ceding that of the Ming, but was further enforced by the Ming Dynasty’s first ruler, Hong Wu, and issued in the year 1375 ([]).This particular banknote was issued after the 13th year of Hong Wu’s reign and is equal to the amount of 1 string, or 1,000 bronze coins. Originally, there were 6 face values equaling 100 wen, 200 wen, 300 wen, 400 wen, 500 wen, and 1 string. The formal Chinese name for this piece of paper money is Da Ming Tong Xing Bao Chao [Jiaju 1985, 52].
Not only did the Chinese create the use of paper money themselves, they also used two of their own inventions to do it, block printing and paper. Writing was carved into a block of wood, which was then dipped in ink and pressed onto a sheet of paper and dried. This method was originally used to create books, and allowed for a much easier and faster creation of multiples of any one piece of literature. Paper was created by stripping Mulberry trees of their bark and grinding it down into a pulp ( [Money] ). The pulp was then pressed together and dried, creating thin sheets of paper which were cut and could then be written on with ink.
At the top of the banknote, the inscriptions depict both the name of the issuer as well as the emporer and founder of the dynasty, Hung Wu. Below this heading, the value of the particular piece of money is depicted. To the left of this reads “Note of the Great Ming Dynasty” and to the right “Circulating Within the Empire”. Below all of this is a long inscription that must be read vertically from right to left and gives much more information on the banknote. The borders are beautifully decorated with images of flowers and dragons. The note is finally made authentic by the impression of the name and seal of an appointed official in Chinese bureaucracy. ([Money])
Pieces of this paper money now reside in many museums all over the world, such as The British Museum and the Museum of the National Bank of Belgium.
Local Historical Context
Although China had taken control of its homeland during the Yuan dynasty, the Mongols were still a prominent threat on its northern borders. In order to protect itself, China’s military was constantly engaged in warfare with outside forces [Sandrock 1995, 3] This called for much of China’s finances to go towards keeping its military in business, which created a mass coin shortage in its nation. In order to rectify the problem of coin shortage during the early years of his reign, Hung Wu, the first Ming emperor, re-introduced the banknote into Chinese economy in the year 1375.[Xinwei 1994, 573]. It was first used during the Yuan dynasty, and was implemented along with the use of bronze coins. This line of banknotes, called Da Ming Tong Xing Bao Chao , were unlike any from the years before. There was a unification in this line of money that was unique to the Hung Wu banknote. It was the only one used throughout the entire empire, and carried the year title Hung Wu throughout its entire existence. This unity had not been seen during the time of the Yuan dynasty [Jiaju 1985, 52].
While the use of the paper banknote was used for many years, the value of paper money quickly deteriorated to less than half its original value. Overly excessive use as well as a lack of coinage to back it up created a vast inflation that devalued the paper money and caused for a return to the use of silver coins by the end of the Ming dynasty [Xinwei 1994, 578]. The paper banknote was used by all members of Chinese society, from peasants to merchants to high level bureaucrats. To add to the overuse of paper money, many people created counterfeit notes which further inflated the economy. It is also suggested by many scholars that the use of paper money should not have occurred at the same time as that of coins, creating an imbalance in the economy [Xinwei 1994, 580].
World Historical Context
During the beginning of the Ming Dynasty when the paper note was issued, China was at war on more than one front. The most prominent threat was the Mingol nation's attack on its northern borders, but China also had to deal with travelers coming from the West [Sandrock 1995, 5]. At this time, China was one of the world's leading nations, with a booming trade economy as well as advanced innovation. With the influx of western travelers came one in particular that would help to spread the word of paper money and its uses. Marco Polo, an Italian traveler visited China in the early thirteenth century and took back with him his experiences of using paper money. However, it would be another 700 years before paper money was used regularly throughout the west ([Money]).
Sandrock, John E. Copper Cash and Silver Taels: The Money of Manchu China. Baltimore. Gateway Press Inc. 1995
Jiaju, Qian. A History of Chinese Currency. Xinhua Publishing House, N.C.N. Limited, M.A.D Management Group Limited. 1985
Xinwei, Peng. A Monetary History of China. Bellingham. Western Washington University. 1994
British Museum. "Great Ming Circulating Treasure Note."
Museum of the National Bank of Belgium. "Paper Money, a Chinese Invention?"