The Numismatic Bibliomania Society



The E-Sylum: Volume 26, Number 12, March 19, 2023, Article 6


Yawei Zhang submitted this review of The History of Chinese Currency. Thank you! -Editor

  The History of Chinese Currency 4 volumes

Review: Zhongguo Huobi Tongshi [The History of Chinese Currency] (4 Volumes)
by Yao Shuomin.

Changsha: Hunan People's Publishing House, 2018.
ISBN: 9787556118984; 9787556118991; 9787556119004; 9787556119011


From the spade money in pre-Qin states to the e-CNY in the 21st century, the Chinese currency has always fascinated scholars, collectors, and dealers. However, after Peng Xinwei published his milestone work, A Monetary History of China, in the 1950s, academia did not see an updated and revised version for decades until Mr. Yao Shuomin brought the series in 2018. Mr. Yao graduated from Beijing Normal University in 1982. He was the co-founder of the China Numismatic Museum, a councilor of the China Numismatic Society, and the director of the Journal of China Numismatics.

In the introduction, Yao sees his work as popular reading for the general public since he puts pure history as the priority, which causes unnecessary problems. Adding too much pure history is superfluous because those interested in Chinese monetary history must have basic knowledge of Chinese history. In addition, it may distract readers from its main topic and lead to context inflation. Taking the first volume as an example, pure history occupies 150 pages (27%) of the entire book, including the history from the Pre-Qin era to the end of the Sui Dynasty as well as the Well-field system, the Patriarchal Clan system, etc.

Remarkably, Yao does not cite or refer to any reference in languages other than Chinese. As an indispensable part of the world's monetary history, Chinese coinage has had far-reaching impacts on the coins of Korea, Japan, Ryu Kyu, and Vietnam for centuries, not to mention the economic bonds among the Silk Road powers. Unfortunately, Yao does not include any of those research in English, French, Japanese, etc. For example, in volume 3, he lists the Russo-Chinese Bank's bills citing from a Chinese book Waishang Yinhang Zaizhongguo [Foreign Banks in China], by two Chinese authors in 1996. It is hard to imagine why Yao ignored international research because he has several translations published in the 1980s and 1990s from English, Russian and Japanese. One of them is Smirnova's biography, an expert on Sogdian coins. It seems like he is not a person who can only read and write in his native language.

The History of Chinese Currency cover More surprisingly, Yao's bibliography in these volumes is outdated. Most of them are the 1980s and 1990s publications. It is difficult to find a citation after the 2000s. In volume 1, where he reviews the origin of ancient Greek currency, he referred to a Chinese translation of A Theory of Economic History by Sir John Hicks (1904-1989) in 1987. In contrast, his book did not show recent outstanding research by Moses Finley, Allain Bresson, and Peter Thonemann. But from another point of view, it reflects that the study of monetary history after the millennium was stagnant in China. At least, they did not keep pace with international levels.

As for the context, the biggest weakness is the transition period from late-Qing coinage to the final monetary reformation in 1933. In volume 3, which covers this period, Yao discusses the modernization and industrialization of coinage in 95 pages, while the entire volume has 400 pages. The rest are paper bills of the Republic of China and foreign banks in China. Unlike other volumes, volume 3 has two authors: Yao himself and Dai Jianbing. Dai has specialties in paper money in modern China. Dai makes major contributions to this volume (though he does not refer and international research), but his name was placed after Yao.

Moreover, the pictures in these volumes are not up to standard. Regarding numismatic books, the most crucial factor is the quality of coinage pictures. A standard coin picture must be in scale, with detailed information (material, weight, diameter, thickness), and in colour if necessary because pictures are integral parts of the research. In Yao's books, a piece of eight Mexican silver dollar is as same as a nickel. Readers can hardly recognize the inscriptions of the peso. 

Admittedly, Yao makes merit to the research in volume 1. He questions that Marxian economics in China was not Karl Marx's theory but a pseudo-concept distorted and manipulated by the Soviet Union. As a result, the methodology in Chinese monetary research is inappropriate. He reviews the origin of the Chinese currency and concludes that cowries and shells that have long been treated as nascent money in Xia/Shang dynasties are not actual money. So he criticizes previous scholars who intentionally misinterpreted the context in ancient documents, taking those supporting their theory and rejecting those not. He argues that these scholars violated dialectical materialism, overlooking business economics and the development of the entire society.

In sum, Yao's work does not even shed a new light on numismatic research on Chinese currency for overlooking up-to-date research from both home and overseas. At this time, Peng Xinwei's outstanding book can be seen as the most and only valuable research in Chinese monetary history.

For more information, or to order, see:
General History of Chinese Currency Volume I(Chinese Edition) Paperback – May 1, 2018 ( General History of Chinese Currency Volume II(Chinese Edition) Paperback – May 1, 2018 (

Wayne Homren, Editor

NBS ( Web

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