Qianlong Tongbao

Last updated
Qianlong Tongbao
Value1 wén , 10 wén
Composition Copper-alloy (brass) in China Proper and Northern Xinjiang.
98% copper in Southern Xinjiang.
Years of minting1735–1796 (1912) [lower-alpha 1]
Coin. Qing Dynasty. Qianlong Tongbao. Bao Quan. obv.jpg
DesignQianlong Tongbao (乾隆通寳)
Design See below.

Qianlong Tongbao (simplified Chinese :乾隆通宝; traditional Chinese :乾隆通寶; pinyin :qián lóng tōng bǎo; Vietnamese: Càn Long Thông Bảo) is an inscription used on cash coins produced under the reign of the Qianlong Emperor of the Qing dynasty. Initially the Qianlong Tongbao cash coins were equal to its predecessors in their weight and quality but as expensive military expenditures such as the Ten Great Campaigns began to take their financial toll on the government of the Qing dynasty the quality of these cash coins started to steadily decrease. The weight of the Qianlong Tongbao was changed several times and tin was added to their alloy to both reduce costs and to prevent people from melting down the coins to make utensils. As the intrinsic value of these coins was higher than their nominal value many provincial mints started reporting annual losses and were forced to close down, meanwhile the copper content of the coinage continued to be lowered while the copper mines of China were depleting. The Qianlong era also saw the conquest of Xinjiang and the introduction of cash coins to this new region of the Qing Empire.


As a reminder to the people of Xinjiang that the Manchus conquered the region one in five cash coins produced in that region after the death of the Qianlong Emperor was ordered to bear the inscription "Qianlong Tongbao" (Emperor Qianlong Money), as a consequence cash coins with this inscription continued to be produced until the end of the dynasty.


During the first few years of the reign of the Qianlong Emperor China had suffered from a shortage of cash coins due to the contemporary scarcity of copper, but soon Yunnan's copper mines started producing a large surplus of copper allowing the Qing government to swiftly increase the money supply and minting more coins at a faster pace. The cash coins produced during this early period are similar in size and quality as the preceding Kangxi Tongbao (康熙通寶) and Yongzheng Tongbao (雍正通寶) cash coins, but over time the quality and size of the Qianlong Tongbao would deteriorate. Like the preceding Yongzheng Tongbao coinage all Qianlong Tongbao cash coins exclusively use Manchu mint marks characterised by the character "ᠪᠣᠣ" (Boo) on the left side and the name of the issuing mint in the Manchu language on the right. A special characteristic of some Qianlong Tongbao cash coins is that the Chinese character "Long" (隆) at the bottom is sometimes written with a "Fou" (缶) instead of the usual "Sheng" (生). [1]

The Qianlong era saw the founding of the Zhili mint in the city of Baoding (保定) as well as several mints in the newly conquered region of Xinjiang, some of these mints oversaw the production of "red cash coins" (紅錢) which were made of nearly pure copper. In the middle of the Qianlong era as much as 3,700,000 strings of cash were produced annually. Early Qianlong Tongbao cash coins contained no tin and were referred to as "yellow cash coins" (黃錢), however in 1740 2% tin was added and in 1741 coins were ordered to be made of an alloy of 50% copper, 41.5% zinc, 6.5% lead, and 2% tin to reduce the likelihood of people melting down coins to make utensils, did not allow to reuse the material because it would become brittle and objects would more easily break. All while the Qing government encouraged to sell their utensils to the state mints to be melted into coinage, these cash coins are commonly referred to as "green cash coins" (青錢) even though their colour appears to be just as yellow as the earlier cash coins. The production cost of these new Qianlong Tongbao cash coins was about 15% of the material value and their intrinsic value exceeded their nominal one. Yet in actuality not all provincial mints followed the imperial directive to change the alloy of the coinage and continued to produce the cheaper copper-zinc alloy which was used before. From this period onwards the Ministry of Public Works Mint manufactured 12,490 strings of cash coins annually (with 1,000 cash coins per string). [2]

By the end of the Qianlong era Yunnan's copper mines started depleting the production of cash coins was lowered by the end of the Qianlong era, and the copper content was debased once more. 1794 all provincial mints were forced to close their doors, but subsequently reopened in 1796. [3]

Qianlong coinage in Xinjiang

A "red cash coin" bearing the inscription Qianlong Tongbao (Gan Long Tong Bao ). Ch'ien Lung T'ung Pao (Red Cash) - John Ferguson 01.jpg
A "red cash coin" bearing the inscription Qianlong Tongbao (乾隆通寳).

Pūl-based "red cash coins" in the Southern Circuit

In the Summer of 1759 the government of the Qing dynasty finished their conquest of Xinjiang, Xinjiang was divided into 3 circuits, the Northern Circuit, Eastern Circuit, and Southern Circuit. In the Southern Circuit a different monetary system was used than in the other circuits, as this circuit had been Dzungaria the Dzungar pūl (ﭘول) coin system was retained, these pūl coins composed of 99% copper, these new pūl coins were modeled after the Qianlong Tongbao cash coins, but due to their high copper content were red in colour hence they were known as "red cash coins" (紅錢) however the Qing government now faced the fact that the amount of copper ore available in the region was very little, in order to get the amount of copper needed to manufacture these "red cash coins", General Zhao Hui requested to the Qianlong Emperor in his July 1759 petition if he was allowed to reclaim old pūl coins from the locals to use as scrap metal and cast these new "red cash coins" from. These "red cash coins" had an official exchange rate with the pūl coins that remained in circulation of 1 "red cash" for 2 pūl coins. As Zhao Hui wanted the new can coins to have the same weight as pūl coins they weighed 2 qián (or 7.46 grams) and had both a higher width and thickness than regular cash coins. Red cash coins are also generally marked by their rather crude craftsmanship when compared to the cash coins of China proper. The edges of these coins are often not filed completely and the casting technique is often inaccurate or the inscriptions on them seemed deformed. As the copper used to make these new Qianlong Tongbao cash coins was melted from copper ore or scrap copper by local primitive methods. Therefore, the actual pure copper content in "red cash coins" is usually around 98%, the remaining 2% usually being lead, zinc, and other impurities which were all beyond skills of the local mint technicians in Xinjiang to remove. Sometimes due to circulation or due to corrosion the slag kernels or organic impurities in the body of a particular "red cash coin" would decompose or wear out and would form a comb-like cluster of very small see-through openings which the Chinese refer to as "sand eyes". [4]

At the introduction of red cash system in Southern Xinjiang in 1760, the exchange rate of standard cash (or "yellow cash") and "red cash" was set at 10 standard cash coins were worth 1 "red cash coin". During two or three subsequent years this exchange rate was decreased to 5:1. When used in the Northern or Eastern circuits of Xinjiang, the "red cash coins" were considered equal in value as the standard cash coins that circulated there. The areas where the Dzungar pūls had most circulated such as Yarkant, Hotan, and Kashgar were the sites of mints operated by the Qing government, as the official mint of the Dzungar Khanate was in the city of Yarkent the Qing used this mint to cast the new "red cash coins" and new mints were established in Aksu and Ili. The Yarkant Mint opened its doors in September 1760 and employed 99 people of which 8 were ethnic Han supervisors who were mint workers from the provincial mint of Shaanxi. These Han employees from Shaanxi also brought 2 full sets of both casting and melting equipment with them to aid production. Not only reclaimed pūl coins were used for the production of "red cash coins" as also equipment from the military was used. According to David Hartill the first Qianlong Tongbao cash coins produced at the Yarkant Mint were intended to be a present for the Qianlong Emperor. [4]

The Western cities of the Southern Circuit were poor in natural copper sources and required the reclamation of pūl coins for the production of cash coins while in the Eastern cities of the Southern Circuit such as Aksu, Karashar, Kucha, and Turpan copper was more easily acquired as this area was rich in copper ore. Because of this the government of the Qing dynasty opened a massive mint with six furnaces and employing 360 workers in the city of Aksu in the year 1761, among its employees were technicians sent to oversee the coin production brought in from the mints of the Gansu and Shaanxi provinces. Other than using the copper ore acquired from the region to produce Qianlong Tongbao cash coins, the Aksu Mint also used copper the government accepted as a form of taxation from the population of the eastern part of the Southern city as well as the begs of Aksu. The weight of the Qianlong Tongbao cash coins produced in Aksu was identical to those produced in Yarkent, but they mostly circulated exclusively within the eastern part of the Southern Circuit. After a Muslim uprising against Qing rule occurred in the year 1765 the Qianlong Emperor decreed that a large number of soldiers should go to Turfan. Turfan was later proclaimed to be the administrative capital of the Southern Circuit and in 1766 the Aksu Mint was relocated to Turfan. In 1769 the Yarkent Mint closed its doors and Turfan became the only mint in operation in the Southern Circuit. Initially the "red cash coins" produced in Turfan were the same weight as those previously produced in Yarkant and Aksu but as the supply of copper decreased the weight to 5.595 grams of these Qianlong Tongbao cash coins also decreased in the year 1771, in 1774 this was even further decreased to only 4.476 grams making it equal with the "yellow cash coins" of China proper and Northern Xinjiang. Even in the face of these weight reductions the actual weight of "red cash coins" manufactured in Turfan tended to be around 3.5 grams. [4]

Cash coins in the Northern and Eastern Circuits of Xinjiang

As the Northern and Eastern Circuits of Xinjiang were mostly inhabited with bartering nomads who didn't have a monetary tradition the government of the Qing dynasty didn't force these peoples to adopt the monetary system of China. These regions also saw an influx of immigrants from China proper who brought with them their own money and in the Eastern Circuit the local population had already adopted the Chinese monetary culture prior to its conquest by the Qing dynasty so these two circuits would use the same type of cash coins as were used in China proper and didn't have to adopt a completely different monetary system. Cash coins from China proper flowed in large numbers to these regions. [4]

The first mint in the Northern Circuit was opened in the city of Yining which was both the military and administrative of the region. It is unclear weather the Yining Mint opened in 1764 (as argued by the Chinese numismatist Ding Fubao) or in 1775. The Yining Mint had a total of twenty-one buildings and its technical staff included two employees from Shaanxi who supervised the local production of Qianlong Tongbao cash coins in Yining. Generally the cash produced by the Yining Mint were of the same weight and size as found in the rest of China and also used the same alloys, but the copper content of Yining cash coins was occasionally higher and the weight of these coins often exceeded the national standard and could weigh more than 5 grams. In the year 1776 a large amount of copper ore was discovered in the proximity of Yining city leading to an increased output of the Yining Mint. [4]

Qianlong Tongbao cash coins produced in Xinjiang after the Qianlong era

As the Qianlong Emperor ordered in 1775 that 20% of all cash coins cast in Xinjiang should bear the inscription "Qianlong Tongbao" even after the end of his reign as an "eternal reminder" of the Manchu conquest of the region, for this reason the majority of "red cash coins" with this inscription were actually produced after the Qianlong era as their production lasted until the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911 making many of them hard to attribute. Under the Jiaqing Emperor the cash coins produced by the Aksu Mint continued using the description "Qianlong Tongbao" and made up 20% of all cash coins produced in this era in Aksu. The ratio of Qianlong Tongbao cash coins produced in Xinjiang after the death of the Qianlong Emperor increased at certain times to 30% or even 40%. As so many Qianlong Tongbao cash coins were produced in Xinjiang until 1911 the vast majority of Xinjiang cash coins with this inscription were produced after the Qianlong period. [4]

Changes in the manufacturing process

A Qianlong Tongbao (Gan Long Tong Bao ) ancestor coin produced during the Qing dynasty, on display at the National Museum of China. Ancestor Coin of Qianlong Tongbao.jpg
A Qianlong Tongbao (乾隆通寶) ancestor coin produced during the Qing dynasty, on display at the National Museum of China.

Ancestor coins (simplified Chinese :祖钱; traditional Chinese :祖錢; pinyin :zǔ qián) also known as engraved mother coins (Chinese:雕母; pinyin:diāo mǔ) were introduced around 1730 during the Qianlong period in middle of the eighteenth century to improve the quality control of mother coins, these ancestor coins were used to cast more mother coins and from a single ancestor thousands of mother coins could be cast. The production process of making mother coins with ancestor coins was the same as it was for the casting of circulation coins from mother coins, however these coins were usually only produced for a new reign title, when preparing to cast new cash coins with new inscriptions for a recently ascended emperor, a mint would first engrave an ancestor coin out of fine brass which would form the basis for mother coins. The introduction of ancestor coins under the Manchu Qing dynasty lead to all mints having more consistently produced coinages and smaller variations between the coins produced by separate mints in both inscription (or legend) as well as in quality. [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10]

Mint marks

List of mint marks: [11]

Mint mark Möllendorff [lower-alpha 2] Place of minting Province Image
Boo Ciowan Ministry of Revenue (hùbù, 戶部), Beijing Zhili Coin. Qing Dynasty. Qianlong Tongbao. Bao Quan. rev.jpg
Boo Yuwan Ministry of Public Works (gōngbù, 工部), BeijingZhili Coin. Qing Dynasty. Qianlong Tongbao. Bao Yuan. rev.jpg
Boo Fu Fuzhou Fujian
Boo Guwang Guangzhou Guangdong Qianlong Tongbao. Bao Guang.jpg
Boo Gui Guilin Guangxi
Boo Giyan Guiyang Guizhou S607 GaoZong QianLong Guizhou H22286 1ar85 (9134683477).jpg
Boo Nan Changsha Hunan
Boo Su Suzhou Jiangsu Ch'ien Lung T'ung Pao - John Ferguson 06.jpg
Boo Chang Nanchang Jiangxi
Boo Ji Jinan Shandong Ch'ien Lung T'ung Pao - John Ferguson 03.jpg
Boo Jin Taiyuan Shanxi Ch'ien Lung T'ung Pao - John Ferguson 09.jpg
Boo San Xi'an Shaanxi Ch'ien Lung T'ung Pao - John Ferguson 04.jpg
Boo Chuwan Chengdu Sichuan
Boo YūnVarious cities Yunnan S608 GaoZong QianLong Yunnan H22346 1ar85 (9141793253) (2).jpg
Boo Je Hangzhou Zhejiang Ch'ien Lung T'ung Pao - John Ferguson 05.jpg
Boo Jyi Baoding Zhili
ᠠᡴᠰᡠ ئاقسۇAksu Ak̡su Aksu Xinjiang Ch'ien Lung T'ung Pao (Red Cash) - John Ferguson 03.jpg

Ā Aksu Ak̡su Aksu Xinjiang
Boo I Ghulja Xinjiang 1cash GaoZong Xinjiang Ili H22395 1ar85 (8633255243).jpg
庫 局 ᡴᡠᠴ‍‍‍‍‍‍‍ᡝ كۇچارKù Jú Kuche Kucha Kucha Xinjiang
Boo KucheKucha [lower-alpha 3] Xinjiang
Boo CiowanKuchaXinjiang
Boo YuwanKuchaXinjiang

Kù Shí Boo CiowanKuchaXinjiang

Kù Shí Boo YuwanKuchaXinjiang

Kā Shí Boo CiowanKucha [lower-alpha 4] Xinjiang

Kā Shí Boo YuwanKucha [lower-alpha 5] Xinjiang
ᡠᠰᡥᡳ ئۇچتۇرپانUshi Uchturpan Uši Xinjiang Ch'ien Lung T'ung Pao (Red Cash) - John Ferguson 02.jpg
ᠶᡝᡵᡴᡳᠶᠠᠩ يەكەنYerkiyang Yəkən Yarkant Xinjiang Ch'ien Lung T'ung Pao (Red Cash) - John Ferguson 01.jpg

Qianlong Tongbao charms

A Qianlong Tongbao (Gan Long Tong Bao ) cash coin carved into the shape of a peach representing the peaches of immortality. Ch'ien Lung T'ung Pao carved peach charm - John Ferguson.jpg
A Qianlong Tongbao (乾隆通寶) cash coin carved into the shape of a peach representing the peaches of immortality.

There is a type of Chinese numismatic charm with the inscription Qianlong Tongbao which might have been cast during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor which is 56 millimeters in diameter and has a thickness of just slightly more than 3 millimeters. The Chinese characters of this amulet are also different style from those of circulating Qianlong Tongbao cash coins, such as the bottom part of the "Bao" (寶) and the radical portion of the "Tong" (通). The Manchu characters on the reverse side of this amulet indicate that it was manufactured at the Ministry of Revenue Mint in Beijing. However, these Manchu characters appear to be very large compared to other Manchu mint marks and are rotated 90 degrees clockwise. The intention of this may have had political motivations but the meaning of why this was done remains unclear today. [12]

Another method how Qianlong Tongbao cash coins are used as charms is by stringing them together in the shape of a sword, these amulets are referred to as "Chinese coin swords", these Chinese coin swords consist of either one or two iron rods which are used as their foundation and the Qianlong Tongbao coins (but sometimes other inscriptions may also be used) are fastened with a red string, cord, or wire. A Chinese coin sword is usually about 60 centimeter long and typically consists of around one hundred bronze Chinese cash coins. [13] [14] One of these Chinese coin swords made with Qianlong Tongbao cash coins is in the collection of the British Museum. [15]

Battle of Ngọc Hồi-Đống Đa issues

A Qianlong Tongbao (Gan Long Tong Bao ) cash coin issued for "Annam" (An Nan ). Qianlong Tongbao. Annan.jpg
A Qianlong Tongbao (乾隆通寶) cash coin issued for "Annam" (安南).

After the Tây Sơn Rebellion ousted the Revival Lê dynasty from Northern Vietnam the Qianlong Emperor ordered his armies to invade Annam (Vietnam) and restore the Revival Lê dynasty. [16] This army would be commanded by the Viceroy of Liangguang, Sun Shiyi (孫士毅). [16] Two armies invaded Vietnam in November 1788 with one army composed of Guangdongers marching in from Guangxi and another one entering from Yunnan lead by General Wu Dajing (烏大經), these armies would team up with Vietnamese soldiers loyal to the Later Lê dynasty. [16] These armies would easily defeat the Tây Sơn dynasty at several battles and took Thăng Long (modern Hanoi) on November 19, 1788 reinstating Emperor Lê Chiêu Thống (黎昭統). [16] After the forces of the Quang Trung Emperor (光中帝) retook Hanoi and expelled the Chinese and Revival Lê forces back over the Chinese border the Viceroy of Yungui, Fu Gangan (富綱安) was chosen to head the army and marched back into Vietnam and concluded a truce recognising the revolutionary government. [16] During this episode special Qianlong Tongbao cash coins were cast in the province of Yunnan as payment for the Chinese troops who engaged in this invasion which featured the characters "安南" (The Pacified South) on their reverse. [17] [16]

See also


  1. In Xinjiang coins bearing the inscription Qián Lóng Tōng Bǎo (乾隆通寶) continued to be produced until the fall of the Qing dynasty to commemorate the regions annexation under the Qianlong Emperor, 1 in every 5 coins cast in Xinjiang bear this inscription regardless of era.
  2. Traditional Chinese and Arabic scripts are transliterated using their respective romanisations.
  3. all Guangxu period issues.
  4. These cash coins were all minted in Kucha for circulation in Kashgar.
  5. These cash coins were all minted in Kucha for circulation in Kashgar.

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Cash (Chinese coin) Chinese coin

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Yuan dynasty coinage Historical coinage of China

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Western Xia coinage Historical coinage of China

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Qing dynasty coinage Historical coinage of China

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Kaiyuan Tongbao

The Kaiyuan Tongbao, sometimes romanised as Kai Yuan Tong Bao or using the archaic Wade-Giles spelling K'ai Yuan T'ung Pao, was a Tang dynasty cash coin that was produced from 621 under the reign of Emperor Gaozu and remained in production for most of the Tang dynasty until 907. The Kaiyuan Tongbao was notably the first cash coin to use the inscription tōng bǎo (通寶) and an era title as opposed to have an inscription based on the weight of the coin as was the case with Ban Liang, Wu Zhu and many other earlier types of Chinese cash coins. The Kaiyuan Tongbao's calligraphy and inscription inspired subsequent Central Asian, Japanese, Korean, Ryūkyūan, and Vietnamese cash coins and became the standard until the last cash coin to use the inscription "通寶" was cast until the early 1940s in French Indochina.

Mother coin

Mother coins, alternatively known as seed coins or matrix coins, were coins used during the early stages of the casting process to produce Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Ryukyuan, and Vietnamese cash coins. As cash coins were produced using sand casting mother coins were first produced to form the basis for all subsequent cash coins to be released into circulation. Under the Han dynasty in China mints started producing cash coins using bronze master moulds to solve inconsistencies in circulating coins, this only worked partially and by the sixth century mother coins were introduced to solve these inconsistencies almost completely. The Japanese adopted the usage of mother coins in the 600s and they were used to manufacture cast Japanese coins until the Meiji period. The mother coin was initially prepared by engraving a pattern with the legend of the cash coin which had to be manufactured. In the manufacturing process mother coins were used to impress the design in moulds which were made from easily worked metals such as tin and these moulds were then placed in a rectangular frame made from pear wood filled with fine wet sand, possibly mixed with clay, and enhanced with either charcoal or coal dust to allow for the molten metal to smoothly flow through, this frame would act as a layer that separates the two parts of the coin moulds. The mother coin was recovered by the people who cast the coins and was placed on top of the second frame and the aforementioned process was repeated until fifteen layers of moulds had formed based on this single mother coin. After cooling down a "coin tree" (錢樹) or long metallic stick with the freshly minted cash coins attached in the shape of "branches" would be extracted from the mould and these coins could be broken off and if necessary had their square holes chiseled clean, after this the coins were placed on a long metal rod to simultaneously remove the rough edges for hundreds of coins and then these cash coins could be strung together and enter circulation.

Zhengde Tongbao

The Zhengde Tongbao is a fantasy cash coin, Chinese, and Vietnamese numismatic charm bearing an inscription based on the reign title of the Zhengde Emperor of the Ming dynasty. The Zhengde Emperor reigned from the year 1505 until 1521, however during this period no circulating cash coins were minted. There were a large amount "cash coins" bearing the Zhengde era name are minted from the late Ming to early Qing dynasty periods as superstitious "lucky coins" with auspicious depictions and instructions, as this inscription remained popular for charms modern reproductions of the Zhengde Tongbao are also very common.

Hongwu Tongbao First cash coin to bear the name of a Ming Emperor

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Vault protector coin

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Southern Tang coinage

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Kangxi Tongbao

Kangxi Tongbao refers to an inscription used on Manchu Qing dynasty era cash coins produced under the reign of the Kangxi Emperor. Under the Kangxi Emperor the weights and standards of the brass cash coins changed several times and the bimetallic system of Qing dynasty coinage was established. Today Kangxi Tongbao cash coins are commonly used as charms and amulets where different forms of superstition have developed arounds its mint marks and calligraphy.


Daqian are large denomination cash coins that were produced in the Qing dynasty starting from 1853 until 1890. Large denomination cash coins were previously used in earlier Chinese dynasties and had faced similar issues as the 19th century Daqian. The term referred to cash coins with a denomination of 4 wén or higher.


Bingqian, or Bingxingqian, is a term, which translates into English as "biscuit coins", "pie coins", or "cake coins", used by Chinese and Taiwanese coin collectors to refer to cash coins with an extremely broad rim as, these cash coins can also be very thick. While the earliest versions of the Bingqian did not extraordinarily broad rims.


Standard cash, or regulation cash coins, is a term used during the Ming and Qing dynasties of China to refer to standard issue copper-alloy cash coins produced in imperial Chinese mints according to weight and composition standards that were fixed by the imperial government. The term was first used for Hongwu Tongbao cash coins following the abolition of large denomination versions of this cash coin series.

Hongqian Chinese numismatic term

"Red cash coins" are the cash coins produced in Xinjiang under Qing rule following the conquest of the Dzungar Khanate by the Manchus in 1757. While in Northern Xinjiang the monetary system of China proper, with standard cash coins, was adopted in Southern Xinjiang where the pūl (ﭘول) coins of Dzungaria circulated earlier the pūl-system was continued but some of the old Dzungar pūl coins were melted down to make Qianlong Tongbao (乾隆通寶) cash coins, as pūl coins were usually around 98% copper they tended to be very red in colour which gave the cash coins based on the pūl coins the nickname "red cash coins".


Iron cash coins are a type of Chinese cash coin that were produced at various times during the monetary history of imperial China. Iron cash coins were often produced in regions where the supply of copper was insufficient, or as a method of paying for high military expenditures at times of war, as well as for exports at times of trade deficits.


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