Ban Liang

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Bronze mold for minting Ban Liang coins, Warring States period (475-221 BC), State of Qin, from an excavation in Qishan County, Baoji, Shaanxi province

The Ban Liang (Traditional Chinese:  ; Pinyin: bàn liǎng) was the first unified currency of the Chinese empire, introduced by the first emperor Qin Shi Huang around 210 BC[1] (although it already circulated in the State of Qin prior to unification). It was round with a square hole in the middle. Before that date, a variety of coins were used in China, usually in the form of blades (knife money) or other implements, though round coins with square holes were used by the State of Zhou before it was extinguished by Qin in 249 BCE.[2]

The Ban Liang corresponds to a "half tael" (半兩), or twelve zhu (, about 0.68 grams). It typically weighs between ten and six grams, roughly corresponding to the Greek stater.

The standardization of currency with this round coinage was part of a broader plan to unify weights, measures or axle width during the Qin empire.[3][4] Ban Liang coins continued to be used under the Western Han dynasty until they were finally replaced by the Wu Zhu coins in 118 BC.


A Ban Liang coin cast under the reign of Empress Gao during the Western Han dynasty.

The Ban Liang coins predate the Chinese Empire and were originally cast during the Warring states period by the State of Qin; these coins circulated alongside cloth money.[5][6]

The Qin dynasty's Ban Liang coin was introduced as a way to standardise all forms of currency and its name reflected this as it would always weigh half a tael; these coins were mostly made from bronze though silver Qin dynasty variants exist. The Ban Liang coin introduced the tradition of stringing coins together with a rope for convenience; this was because of its round shape with a square hole, something future Chinese coins would continue to do until the early days of the Republic of China in the 1920s AD.

During the Han dynasty Ban Liang coins continued to be produced, but the golden currency established under the Qin would switch from being measured in taels to being measured in “Jin” (), which made a single Jin-denominated gold coin worth around 10.000 Ban Liang coins. As the general populace found inconvenience in using the heavy Ban Liang coins the Han government allowed for the private production of smaller Ban Liang coins known as "elm seed" () Ban Liang coins. The design of the Ban Liang coins would also change as Han dynasty Ban Liangs would later add rims while all Qin dynasty versions were rimless.[7]

Eventually this led to a major disruption in the economy forcing the government to produce larger Ban Liang; eventually the Han government continue to change the size and weight of the Ban Liang weighing as light as 2.4 Zhu to 4 Zhu. In 119 BC Emperor Wu ordered the Ban Liang coins to be deprecated in favour of San Zhu coins (), which in turn were superseded by the "Wu Zhu" () series of coins in 118 BC.[8]


During their period of production many types of Ban Liang coins were cast, ranging largely in weight and size, some had extra holes,[9] while other were written in different fonts such as the Han dynasty coins cast under Empress Lü written in Regular script, or a rare Ban Liang made from silver in the Qin dynasty,[10] and a lead variant in the Han dynasty. A variant with a reverse inscription known as “Liang Ban” (兩半) coins were also cast.

During the Warring states period Ban Liang coins from the State of Qin generally had 8 gram Ban Liang coins from between 32 and 34 millimeters in diameter, while during the Qin dynasty all Ban Liang coins generally had a weight of 6 grams and were about 31.7 millimeters in diameters. Han dynasty era Ban Liang coins are generally smaller than Qin Ban Liang coins,[11] this is due to the Han dynasty government constantly changing weight standards for the coins many variants from that era exist.

Western Han dynasty variants include:

Type Weight (in grams) Diameter (in millimeters) Metal Emperor
8 Zhu Ban Liang (八銖半兩) 4.8-5.3 26-30 Bronze Empress Lü
5 Part Ban Liang (五分半兩) 1.5 20 Bronze Empress Lü
Snake eye Ban Liang (蛇目半兩) 2.7 23.4 Bronze Empress Lü
4 Zhu Ban Liang (四銖半兩) ≤3 23-25 Bronze Emperor Wen
4 Zhu Ban Liang (四銖半兩) 3.5 23.5 Lead Emperor Wen


Historically Ban Liang coins were very rare in the numismatic community, but as many of them were excavated and exported from China in the 1990s they have become extremely common today with their prices having been dramatically decreased as a result.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "China: Ancient Tomb of First Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Grandmother Discovered in Xi'an". Mary-Ann Russon (International Business Times – United Kingdom). 11 September 2014. Retrieved 16 June 2017.
  2. ^ Travel China Guide Qin & Han Money - Ban Liang Qian & Wu Zhu Qian. Retrieved: 14 June 2017.
  3. ^ "Chinese coins – 中國錢幣". Gary Ashkenazy / גארי אשכנזי (Primaltrek – a journey through Chinese culture). 16 November 2016. Retrieved 14 June 2017.
  4. ^ Maine University Warring States Period 战国 Ban Liang Coins 半两钱 货币。 March 2010. Retrieved: 14 June 2017.
  5. ^ "Ban Liang, Ancient Chinese Coin of Qin Dynasty". Susan Wong (Info Barrel). 6 June 2015. Archived from the original Check |url= value (help) on 2017-06-09. Retrieved 15 June 2017.
  6. ^ Wei, Song Jun. Chinese Qin cloth coins catalog (Chinese Edition) ISBN 7504472824
  7. ^ "Ancient Chinese Coins: Western Han Ban Liang". James Peirce & Adrian Loder (Kongming). 2017. Retrieved 15 June 2017.
  8. ^ Heinz Gratzer & A. M. Fishman. - One Thousand Years of Wu Zhu Coinage 118 BC - AD 958 (Ancient Cast Chinese Coins Series - Lidai Guqian) ISBN 1539677141
  9. ^ ""Drilled Hole" Ban Liang Coins". Gary Ashkenazy / גארי אשכנזי (Primaltrek – a journey through Chinese culture). 15 May 2011. Retrieved 14 June 2017.
  10. ^ "State of Qin Silver Banliang Coin". Gary Ashkenazy / גארי אשכנזי (Primaltrek – a journey through Chinese culture). 29 April 2015. Retrieved 15 June 2017.
  11. ^ Numis' Numismatic Encyclopedia. A reference list of 5000 years of Chinese coinage. (Numista) Written on December 9, 2012 • Last edit: June 13, 2013 Retrieved: 16 June 2017
  12. ^ "The second page of Shinpan kaisei, Kosen nedantsuke, Narabi ni bantsuki (Improved New Edition: Price List of Old Coins, Together with Rarity Ranking), printed in the city of Nagoya in 1799. This book belongs to the collector Sam Leung". Luke Roberts at the Department of History - University of California at Santa Barbara. 24 October 2003. Retrieved 14 June 2017.


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