Featured The Bright Dynasty

Discussion in 'Ancient Coins' started by Milesofwho, May 26, 2020.

  1. Milesofwho

    Milesofwho Omnivorous collector

    This entire series of posts comes from a group lot of coins I recently bought. I thought it would be interesting to write up all of the Ming dynasty. My sources are Cast Chinese Coins, 2nd Edition by David Hartill, China: A New History, Second Enlarged Edition by John K. Fairbank and Merle Goldman, and other random snippets from Wikipedia and the like. All coin images are mine except the two from Hartill. The map below comes from Fairbank and Merle.
    The Ming (“Bright”) dynasty was formally declared on January 23, 1368. During its over two and half centuries of rule it would be seen as a golden age due to its role as a native Han interlude between two foreign conquerers, the Mongols and the Manchus respectively. It would turn out to be the last native dynasty. Much of the Great Wall as we know it today was built by the Ming, and the Forbidden City served as the apex of imperial ostentation. For all its magnificence and achievements, however, it was beset by constant fiscal problems which greatly impaired its ability to defend its frontier to the north. This ultimately proved to be the dynasty’s undoing, as after the fall of the main dynasty at the hands of a peasant revolt, the remainders became extinct at the hands of the alien Qing dynasty.

    1. Da Zhong Tong Bao
    Zhu Yuanzhang, the founder of the Ming dynasty, was not born into high society. Rather, he was a peasant farmer who starved and begged for a living. He buried both his parents at the age of sixteen, and joined a Buddhist monastery shortly after where he became literate. Then in 1352 he joined and quickly rose through the ranks of a rebel force called the Red Turbans, which called for an end to Mongol rule. The Mongols were quickly routed to beyond the Yangtze River, and after a civil war Zhu gained the upper hand over his rivals. This led to his enthronement in 1368 as the first Ming emperor, taking the reign title of Hongwu (“Valiantly Martial”).
    Traditionally this coin was cast from 1361 to 1368. However, according to mint records this coin was probably made until the 1390s.

    2. Hong Wu Tong Bao

    After his enthronement, the new emperor’s first job was to fully reunify the country, which was accomplished by the 1380s. This was done in part by employing the same administrative divisions as the Mongols. A new capital was established in Nanjing. Hongwu created a large land reform policy (that would in theory protect the peasants from becoming landless) and an updated legal code. He also worked to consolidate power under his personal rule through the abolition of the traditional office of Chancellor (essentially prime minister) and its replacement by the Grand Secretariat, a coordinating agency. During the 1380s and 1390s numerous purges of upper class families occurred, resulting in a little under 50,000 deaths, which were only halted upon the emperor’s death in 1398. This was enabled by a new secret police, the Embroidered Uniform Guard. Economically, the emperor focused on agriculture instead of merchants, which would have a lasting impact on the subsequent perception of the merchants by the state. Paper money was introduced in 1375 but quickly led to inflation. His grandson succeeded him upon his death as the Jianwen Emperor.
    6FD09B49-333E-4CFC-B2DF-0B2E01D38E6E.jpeg 998DDEB7-9BA5-405A-80B6-6C261909A179.jpeg
    This coin was cast from 1368 to 1389. This can be seen from the writing on the reverse, which is the coin’s weight of 1 qian (3.73 grams). The next year the weight was increased to 1.2 qian. Throughout the period there were numerous times where coins were not cast for a year.
    Last edited: May 26, 2020
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  3. Milesofwho

    Milesofwho Omnivorous collector

    3. Yong Le Tong Bao

    As you may notice, this coin is not called the Jian Wen Tong Bao. That is because he lasted only four years after antagonizing his uncles. One of them took over as the Yongle emperor after his presumed death during the burning of the imperial palace. Partly as a consequence of this, he moved the main capital to Beijing. The Forbidden City was built under his direction from 1407 to 1420. He authorized the eunuch Zheng He to undertake six voyages overseas to bring tribute and project power abroad. They reached as far as the African coast. In addition, an ill-fated invasion of Vietnam was launched in 1406. The ruling dynasty was executed and Vietnam was incorporated into China proper as a province. By 1418 a full-scale revolt against Chinese rule broke out and quickly succeeded in guaranteeing Vietnamese independence. His son succeeded him upon his death in 1424 as the Hongxi Emperor.
    This coin was cast from 1408 to 1424. It
    was not used in China. Rather, it was made for international trade for neighboring countries. China still used paper money. It became widely popular in Japan and Vietnam and can be found as far as Africa, doubtless because of Zheng He’s voyages.

    4. Xuan De Tong Bao

    The Hongxi Emperor died within a year and was succeeded by his son who became the Xuande emperor. He accepted the failure of the Vietnamese invasion in 1427 and gave the ruling family of the Ryukyu Islands (a kingdom separate from Japan at this time) royal status. He is well known as an artist. During his reign there was both internal and external stability, and thus not much to write about. He died in 1435.
    This coin was cast from 1433 to 1435 to circulate in China due to the failure of paper money. After this there was no official casting for seventy years and the gap was filled by private coiners.
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  4. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Supporter! Supporter

    Milesofwho, Thanks for an interesting article & sharing these historically important coins :D! I've been a long time Chinese history buff & collector of oriental artifacts. Below are two artifacts in my collection.

    Ming Dynasty Jade Cicada.jpg
    Chinese jade toggle ornament in the form of a cicada, c. late 15th century, 2.7 in long. Collecting ancient artifacts became a popular pastime among the Chinese elite & scholar class during the Ming Dynasty. Jade cicadas were often placed in the mouths of the dead as a resurrection symbol during the Han Dynasty. To fill the demand for these artifacts Ming craftsmen would carve imitations of Han originals like this jade. It has been artificially dyed to give it an ancient appearance.

    This is a heavy cast bronze support for a basin or candle holder in the form of a northern barbarian, Ming Dynasty, 15th century, 3.65 in tall. His clothing & facial features are non Chinese, & he is portrayed in a subservient manner.

  5. Milesofwho

    Milesofwho Omnivorous collector

    5. Hong Zhi Tong Bao

    In such a long gap many interesting things happened, most notably when the emperor became a POW of the Mongols and then reclaimed the throne for himself. Eventually in 1487 the Hongzhi Emperor came to the throne. This emperor did a good job, enjoying cordial relations with his administration and removing corrupt officials. Rather interestingly, he is the only main emperor to be completely monogamous. He died in 1505 leaving his only son to take over as the Zhengde Emperor.
    Casting of coins was renewed in 1503. Thus, this coin was made from 1503-1505. As they had not cast for so long, the government pardoned counterfeiters and recruited them to work for the mint!

    6. Jia Jing Tong Bao

    The Zhengde Emperor was known for his childish behavior and died in 1521 without an heir. His cousin became the Jiajing Emperor. He immediately attained notoriety by attempting to have his deceased natural father declared emperor, rather than a posthumous adoption by the Hongzhi emperor. He soon totally ignored state affairs and saw almost no ministers of state. Despite an increase in corruption, government was still carried out, which was better than what was to come. Piracy and Mongol invasions increased. He died in 1567, potentially from an overdose of mercury. His son succeeded him as the Longqing Emperor.
    This coin was made from 1527 to 1564, minus a decade-long gap in production in 1540s. There was a small weight increase of the base coin in 1563. The most notable thing about this coin is the different color than others before it. This is the result of an alloy change from bronze to brass, which would remain the standard alloy for most coins until the end of all cast coins in 1912.
  6. Milesofwho

    Milesofwho Omnivorous collector

    7. Wan Li Tong Bao

    After a short reign of five years the Longqing Emperor died in 1572, succeeded by his son the Wanli Emperor. At the start, his regent Zhang Juzheng did an excellent job governing the country. After his death in 1582, however, the emperor gradually reversed many of his policies. Despite this, he managed to defend the country in three campaigns against the Mongols, the Japanese, who had invaded Korea, and the Miao (or Hmong). By 1600 a remarkable change came over him. He completely refused to take part in government at all. He didn’t appoint any ministers and didn’t attend any council meetings. As he was in a position where everything depended on his decisions, not making them had disastrous consequences. The ultimate fall of the dynasty can be traced to his twenty-year neglect of rule. His legacy runs far further than most emperors, as his tomb was excavated in 1956. In 1966, during the Cultural Revolution, his remains were dug up, publicly denounced, and burned. His son took over upon his death in 1620 as the Taichang Emperor.
    The Qian Long Tong Bao was cast from 1570 to 1572.
    This coin was probably cast from 1599 to 1620. After an initial failure in the 1570s, production soon had to be scaled back in 1606 because so many coins had been cast.

    8. Tian Qi Tong Bao

    The Taichang Emperor lasted one month. By far the shortest reign of the Ming dynasty, he was succeeded by his eldest son as the Tianqi Emperor. He did nothing to improve the situation, instead focusing on carpentry. The usual palace intrigue occurred. By 1627 he was dead. He was succeeded by his brother the Chongzhen Emperor.
    Taichang coins are somewhat common, despite a rule of one month, because the Tianqi Emperor cast coins with that title in honor of him.
    This coin was cast throughout the emperor’s reign. The currency system started to fail in this era, with separate weight standards for each region of the country.
  7. Milesofwho

    Milesofwho Omnivorous collector

    9. Chong Zhen Tong Bao

    The last Ming emperor came to the throne at a terrible time. Large peasant revolts were sweeping the country, and the Manchu to the north were becoming more aggressive. He was not helped by his execution of competent generals and failure to find good ministers. In 1636 the Manchu declared a new Chinese dynasty, the Qing, making their aspirations clear. The peasant revolts succeeded in conquering large tracts of land, and one of them even was marching on Beijing in March 1644. During this time the emperor vacillated about sending his best general, Wu Sangui, away from the Great Wall and to the capital. In addition, he did not move the capital back to Nanjing nor did he send away the Crown Prince. In April he recalled Wu, but it was too late. By that point the rebels had already broken through. Seeing no alternative on April 24 he killed his empress and one of his daughters and hanged himself from a tree. The Qing reached the capital later that month, joined by Wu Sangui, who had let them in. The Shunzhi emperor was enthroned as the new ruler of China.
    This coin was cast between 1627 and 1644. Cast coins dropped heavily in quality and weight during this era. The average weight was 0.5 qian. The ratio between silver and cast coins grew accordingly. By 1643 it was over 3,000 coins to a liang (10 qian) of silver.
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  8. Milesofwho

    Milesofwho Omnivorous collector

    An overall view of monetary policy

    The Ming did not have the best fiscal policy overall. The early reliance on paper money fell apart. There was a concurrent influx of silver during this period, largely as a result of the Spanish mining so much in Potosí, that led to bulk silver being used for tax payments. Despite this, there was no native silver coins minted until a good three hundred years later. Instead, the silver was privately assayed and weighed by local silversmiths. Fractions were created by physically cutting a piece off of the bar. The lack of cast coins when industry needed more of them than before was also an issue. Compared to the earlier Song Dynasty, the Ming cast far fewer coins. As a final insult, when the invading Qing finally took over, Ming coins were accepted only at a 50% discount and were melted to create new Qing coins.
    An example of Ming paper money. This was initially equivalent to 1,000 cash, as seen on the note, but soon fell to an exchange value of 250 cash.
  9. Milesofwho

    Milesofwho Omnivorous collector


    Although the Manchu had the capital, the rest of China was still in turmoil. Various Ming relatives held out (and issued coins) on the mainland until 1662, when Wu Sangui went into nearby Burma to finally eliminate the last Ming claimant. With this accomplished, the empire finally seemed secure. Wu and two other former Ming generals were greatly rewarded by the Qing because of their loyalty with control of entire provinces and various other perks, such as certain commodity monopolies and their own armies. In 1673 the Kangxi Emperor, who came to the throne in 1661, tried to abolish the feudatories and sparked a revolt. Wu Sangui headed the revolt and quickly overran the south and west. In March of 1678 he declared himself the Zhaowu Emperor, but died in December. His grandson Wu Shifan took over after him but the revolt ultimately failed in 1681. The empire was at peace once more, and the Kangxi period which would last until 1722 would be remembered as an age of great magnificence.
    A Li Yong Tong Bao issued by Wu Sangui, probably in Yunnan from 1674 to 1678.
    A Zhao Wu Tong Bao also issued by Wu of course in 1678.
    A Hong Hua Tong Bao issued by Wu Shifan from 1678 to 1681.
    A Kang Xi Tong Bao issued at the Board of Revenue in Beijing from 1662 to 1722.
    On the reverse is a constant reminder of foreign domination: the mint name in Manchu.
  10. Milesofwho

    Milesofwho Omnivorous collector

    Wow! If you read through that in one sitting you have the patience of a saint. If anyone has any Ming related objects to add, you are welcome to do so, as @Al Kowsky has already done. Speaking of which, I really like that cicada! That is the only time I have ever liked one, because jade makes many things prettier.
  11. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Supporter! Supporter

    Milesofwho, Many thanks for finishing this excellent article :D! I feel bad for interrupting the continuity of your thread with my earlier post :(. Anyway, your article triggered an old memory of a 10 cash coin I bought in Los Angeles, CA about 50 years ago, pictured below. It was sold to me as a 10 cash coin issued under the authority of the Ming rebel Sun Kewang, circa 1648-1657, 21.8 gm, 46.77 mm. The characters Xing Chao on the obverse supposedly translate "Prosperous Dynasty", signaling his wish to oust the Manchu invaders. I've been told there a many modern forgeries of this coin :shifty: & would appreciate you opinion on the authenticity of this coin :).

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  12. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    My addition here is from the Xuan De emperor. This was a period of relative peace by the standards of the day and a high point of art and culture. The highlight of the reign in a tabloid sense might be when the emperor gave up forgiving the acts of a rebellious uncle and had him executed by fire torture. Again by the standards of the day, this was not excessive. It rather reminds me of how the Roman emperor Constantine I gave Licinius several chances before executing him as a slow learner.

    I became interested in this period because of my wife's bell collection. She has three bells in various sizes and qualities each copying an original about which I have failed completely to find anything. Her bells are not as old as Ming dynasty although the best one (for which I can't find the photo right now) is older but not that old. The bells are inscribed at the top, "Made in the time of Xuan De Ming". I see this as parallel to the US Liberty Bell of which there is one original and a million copies made as recently as today. It bothers me that I can find no reference to a bell that these copy. The Xuan De emperor also issued coins but immediately preceded a long hiatus in official coinage for reasons I fail to understand. Hartill mentions several mints but gives no clue on varieties and lumps all coins under one number. I have no idea which I have or where to find out details. Any ideas will be appreciated.
    Emperor Xuan Zong - Xuan De tong bao H20.123 1426-35AD
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  13. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Supporter! Supporter

    The mark on your bell translates "Made in the Great Ming Dynasty in the Reign of Hsuan-te" (1426-1435). It is the most copied mark in Chinese art, & your bell was made in the 20th century. The Hsuan-te reign was famous for their ceramics & bronze art. Pictured below is a period mark on the underside of a porcelain bowl.

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  14. dougsmit

    dougsmit Member Supporter

    That I knew. Are you saying there was no original? I expected there to be a big temple bell or something for which the emperor might be known.
  15. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Supporter! Supporter

    Many bells of this style were made in sets of 16, known as bianzhong. Christie's auctioned one about 5 years ago made for the Qianlong emperor in 1743, see photos below.

    magnificent_rare_imperial_gilt-bronze_bell_bianzhong_1743, Est. $1,028,000 - 1,542,000.jpg _magnificent_rare_imperial_gilt-bronze_bell_bianzhong_qianlong_period_.jpg _magnificent_rare_imperial_gilt-bronze_bell_bianzhong_qianlong_1743, 10.75 in. tall.jpg
  16. robinjojo

    robinjojo Well-Known Member

    This is a small black variegated nephrite fu lion that I purchased from a Canadian dealer earlier this year.

    The period could be late Ming or early Qing Dynasty, or it could be 19'th century or earlier. The Chinese have a longstanding tradition of reproducing objects from earlier periods. This is one way that they honor their ancestors.

    This piece appears to have been carved from a water worn stone. The external rind can be seen at the top of this carving, as well as the numerous cracks throughout the stone.

    The figure measures 2 1/4 inches long by 1 1/4 inches wide and 1 3/8 inches tall. The figure weighs 82 gram





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  17. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Supporter! Supporter

    robinjojo, Your jade is an interesting toggle ornament :D, & as you indicate very difficult to date accurately. Mythological creatures were a favorite subject matter for jade carvers throughout Chinese history. My guess is your creature is probably a 19th century. It doesn't have the quality of carving or finish you'd expect to see on a Ming jade. The jade pictured below I appraised about 10 years ago, & it too is a 19th century carving of a mythological creature 3.5 in. long.

    IMG_0565.JPG IMG_0562.JPG IMG_0571.JPG IMG_0559.JPG
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  18. Al Kowsky

    Al Kowsky Supporter! Supporter

    Several years ago I sold a finely carved white jade toggle ornament in the form of a phoenix bird, 3.5 in. long, from the Qianlong period (1736-1795). See photos below.

    IMG_6618.JPG IMG_6621.JPG IMG_6629.JPG
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  19. Milesofwho

    Milesofwho Omnivorous collector

    @Al Kowsky what a lovely piece of mutton fat! Seeing all of these carvings has really been interesting to me. I always think that seals are pretty interesting. I wonder if any Imperial Ming ones remain?
  20. robinjojo

    robinjojo Well-Known Member

    I know this is straying far from the discussion, a very informative one, by the way, on cast coins of the Ming Dynasty, but I thought I might as well add one more carving to the mix.

    This is one that I have owned for about 17 years. It is a rather sizable Fu Lion and it weighs 1,312.7 grams.

    I believe this is a 19th-20th century piece, although it does show signs of handling on the sides. The material, I believe, is white nephrite that has been stained brown. This is a treatment that I have seen done on older carvings, so again this might be the application of an old technique to honor previous generations.

    This is a dynamic, playful fu lion, with tongue extended and body showing a wonderful arch to it, fore paws around the sphere, almost as if he is ready to jump. This is quite unlike the typical static pose of Chinese fu lions, which leads me to think this might be a Japanese object, very much in keeping with their freer animated style of art.

    He is a bit dusty and needs a good and gentle cleaning.

    D-Camera  Large Fu Lion Carving 1,  5-28-20.jpg

    D-Camera  Large Fu Lion Carving 2,  5-28-20.jpg

    D-Camera  Large Fu Lion Carving 3,  5-28-20.jpg

    D-Camera  Large Fu Lion Carving 4,  5-28-20.jpg

    D-Camera  Large Fu Lion Carving 5,  5-28-20.jpg
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  21. posnerfan_48

    posnerfan_48 Member

    Awesome post. Thanks so much. I thought I had a full Qing dynasty set myself, but it turns out I'm missing one!
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