Historically , Chinese cash coins were cast in copper, brass or iron. In the mid 1800s, the coins were made from three parts copper and two parts lead. Cast silver coins were intermittently produced but are considerably rarer. Cast gold coins are also known to be but are intensely rare.
Chinese cash coins originated from the barter of farming tools and agricultural surpluses. Around 1200 BC, smaller token spades, hoes, and knives began to be used to conduct smaller exchanges with the tokens later softened down to supply real farm implements. These tokens came to be used as media of exchange themselves and were known as spade money and knife money.
The earlier coins were cast to weight standards in a direct relationship with the denominations, so if you weighted a coin at twelve grams it was almost certain a 1 Liang (or 1 Jin) denomination. During the Chin Dynasty, sometime around 250 BC, this modified and be start to see coins issued with denomination marks that bare no relationship to the weight of the coin. This is best seen on the Ban liang ( 1/2 Liang ) coins of the State of Jaw which can vary in weight considerably but the earliest massive diameter issues weigh at least 6 grams (and often significantly more), but the size and weight gradually declined and by the time they were last issued in the Han Dynasty are typically seen at three grams or even less, but still with the Ban Liang denomination on them.
The Koreans, Japanese, and Vietnamese all cast their own copper cash in the latter part of the second millennium like those used by China.
The last cash coins were struck, not cast, in the reign of the Qing Xuantong Emperor just before the decline of the Empire in 1911. The coin continued to be used unofficially in China till the mid twentieth century.
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