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Gateway to Maritime Silk Road


Copper coins once became international currency

BY :丝路云帆

UPDATED :2024-01-08

In addition to ceramics and silk products, copper coins were also one of the most popular items in export business during the Song Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.) in foreign regions, especially in Southeast Asia.

A vast number of copper coins from the Song Dynasty were excavated across the world, from Southeast Asia, West Asia, to even North Africa. They became collections of various national museums, serving as proof of its popularity in ancient times.

Coins in the Song Dynasty (Photo/National Museum of China)

One of the reasons for people's fondness of these coins lies in their high quality and purity.

With a history of more than one thousand years, the technology of minting coins began from the Qin Dynasty. The coinage technology advanced over time, producing high-quality coins that no other countries can compare with during the Song Dynasty.

Coins in the Southern Song Dynasty (Photo/National Museum of China)

Besides, the purity of copper coins was secured by a series of regulations of the government, making sure the value of the coins stayed stable, so that common people could rest assured and were willing to use the coins in daily life.

There were two ways for the coins to go global — as official gifts and via foreign trade. 
Copper coins were often given as gifts by the government of the Song Dynasty to many ancient countries in Southeast Asia, since they were vassal states of  the government.

Besides, copper coins, together with gold and silver, were used to purchase foreign merchandise. Located near countries of Southeast Asia, Guangzhou port was a large port for foreign trade at that time, with many foreign ships loaded with exotic luxury goods. After the trade, coins travelled with ships from Guangzhou port to places along the Maritime Silk Road.

A Song Dynasty sculpture depicting coins (Photo provided to China Daily)

Rich in fragrant woods and ivories, many neighboring Southeast Asian countries were underdeveloped at that time compared with the Song Empire. Although they gradually developed by trading with the Song Empire, they lagged significantly behind in coinage technology. Their coins were in low quality and quantity, which couldn't meet people's demand for trade.

People in Southeast Asian countries, from rulers to common people, welcomed the copper coins from the day they entered their markets. Coins had made trades much more convenient and efficient in these countries, which helped to promote their economy.

The king of Cochin China (Vietnam) even gave order that coins from the Song Empire couldn't leave the country, as a measure to increase the number of the coins in his territory. And other kings and tribal chiefs in Southeast Asian countries shared similar ideas. As a result, copper coins of the Song Dynasty gained the status of international currency. 

Source: 广州日报《读懂广州·解密 | 外贸大港广州促宋代铜钱成国际“硬通货”》

Author: Annie

Editor: Joyce