• If you are citizen of an European Union member nation, you may not use this service unless you are at least 16 years old.

  • Stop wasting time looking for files and revisions. Connect your Gmail, DriveDropbox, and Slack accounts and in less than 2 minutes, Dokkio will automatically organize all your file attachments. Learn more and claim your free account.


Chinese Currency

Page history last edited by Michael 10 months, 1 week ago

back to the Index, or to Shanghai


A bunch of money that might be seen in China.


value of currency unit in U.S. dollars for the stated year








Shanghai tael




typical Chinese silver coinage, and silver-backed currency.


customs gold unit 




issued since 1930 to replace the Customs tael. It's entirely a paper currency, divided into 100 cents; bills exist for 10 cents, 20 cents, 1 CGU, 5, 10, 20, and 50 (the bills over 10 CGU are very rare). Before 1934, it was based on the U.S. gold certificates; after that date the value was based on the London price of gold (1 CGU = 601.866 mg, about 0.02 troy ounces). In theory, it's for making customs payments, but as gold-backed currency it is well-regarded.


Yuan dollar




official Nationalist Chinese currency, available as paper notes of various denominations since the mid-Thirties.


Hong Kong dollar




common Asian silver-backed currency; however from 1935 it became £1 = HK$16






mostly 1 peso silver coins minted pre-1919, the most common South China silver currency (as "Mexican dollars")


     The actual currency situation also involves conversions, canal money, local money, market money, customs money, tax money, etc. which can all be adulterated, converted to paper, repudiated, etc. with amazing fluidity. Foreign minor currency -- dimes and pennies, for example -- also circulate. Paper currency from distant warlords carries the most risk; gold and silver coins from foreign governments are safest -- especially if it's in a bank outside of Chinese or Japanese control. For this purpose major banks in Shanghai and (especially) Hong Kong are "outside of Chinese control".

     There are many paper notes, issued by banks, warlords, and the central government. Those issued in Shanghai are reasonably stable.




     A tael is a unit of weight -- there are innumerable local variations, but usually around 1.3 ounces..As a unit of money, it's an amount of silver weighing one tael, whose purity various again from place to place and over time. It's not often seen as a complete silver coin, though. The large "denomination" of traditional silver is the sycee, a boat-shaped lump of silver weighing around 50 tael; it's rarely used for day-to-day transactions (sycee are what you'll see in a company safe, for example).  In 1933 the Nationalist government introduced the yuan dollar; the use of the tael currency was supposedly abolished at the same time. However prices are still quoted in taels, especially in official payments, but the exchange is fixed at Chinese silver dollars 1.4, this being 71.5 taels to 100 dollars.




     For the common Chinese people, the usual coins are bronze cash (usually 1/1000th of a tael) and copper 10-cash coins (sometimes called cents, being one-hundredth of a tael). Cash coins are generally kept together in lots of 100, 500 or 1000 by a string through their central hole. Such a string of coins is called a tiao. Many of the cash coins in circulation are hundreds of years old.


Mexican Dollars


     Prices of goods and services for foreigners are often denominated in Mexican dollars (M$). These coins were introduced to China during the California Gold Rush, and are accepted by all the foreign banks and businesses in Shanghai. These are all silver 1-peso coins minted before 1919 -- the silver content of the peso coins being issued was decreased in 1918 and 1920, making them much less desirable in China.

     One Mexican dollar is worth 300 cash in 1933, 622 cash in 1934, and 1120 cash in 1935.


Comments (0)

You don't have permission to comment on this page.