Does anyone know where I can find a list of terms used for units of currency throughout the history of China? I am especially interested in finding those terms that can function as 量词, like 文 and 贯. I have already checked Wikipedia (http://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E4%B8%AD%E5%9B%BD%E8%B4%A7%E5%B8%81) and Baidu (http://baike.baidu.com/view/1802633.htm), but am not entirely satisfied inasmuch as they focus on the currency itself rather than the terms used to talk about it.

2 Answers 2


The most used ones are 钱、文、贯、吊、千 and 万。They are not names for money, they are quantitive nouns. Read more: http://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E5%B0%BA%E8%B4%AF%E6%B3%95

Originally, 钱 is a very small mass amount. However, as time went by, it became the name for money.

There are other nominative words to refer to currency itself: 贝(shell)、币(刀币as referring to antique money)、帛(fine silk that can be used in barter trading)、锱铢(bronze or cast steel coins)、孔方(bronze coins with a hole)、元(圆)(coin)、金(metals)。Sometimes we also use 元宝、锭 for different shapes metals are made. For the modern world, we sometimes use 刀 or 美刀 to refer to USD.

Others are quantitive words. They might be quite confusing because traditionally we think it a vulgar doing as to refer to money directly, or because it is inconvenient to compose quantitive word and the noun itself together. Fortunately today we only use a little of them now. Note that in strict grammar, quantitive words are a special kind of nouns.

However, sometimes ancient people pay their debts in precious metal like gold / silver / bronze. Then we use mass units to count.

The following are quantitive words for counting money.

文(historical "small")=枚(when you don't know the coin's value, "a small piece")=元("the basic")=圆("a round stuff")=块(“a bulk”)=1 main unit coin.

角(litterally a corner / a horn of an animal)=毛(litterally "a feather of a bird")=1/10 the main unit.

分(litterally "a part")=1/100 the main unit.

厘("nuance")=1/1,000 the main unit.

毫("body hair of a beast")=1/10,000 the main unit.

贯(historical,"to string up")=千("a thousand")=1,000 main unit

Note: In classical Chinese scripts, since there is no clear difference between quantitive and nominative words, it is possible to say 二百又一錢, which equals to 二百零一块钱 in mandarin.

  • I am fairly familiar with the modern terms; I am more interested in those terms no longer popular or common in current usage.
    – user238264
    Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 23:55
  • In historical scripts, we only say 钱,金 to nominate them. And for the first 2, we use general units like 个十百千 and simply omit the nominative thing in general. Possibility is that 文 and 贯 are used, where 文=1 and 贯=1000. For 金 (metal in general), we count them in mass. Commented Dec 21, 2013 at 0:04
  • 毫 and 厘 are no longer used in mainland because they are too small. Commented Dec 21, 2013 at 0:06
  • The most used ones are 文、贯、千 and 万。They are not names for money, they are quantitive nouns. Commented Dec 21, 2013 at 0:08

Here are some of my preliminary notes, please suggest additions or corrections Note that the following is focused exclusively on "coinage" (not all are actually coin shaped)

commonly used weight measures for many of the currencies listed below are 两, 镒, and 钱

used by 赵, 韩, 魏三国, and 周王室
also called 铲布 (owing to their shape)
varieties include 空首布 and 平首布

used by primarily by 东方的齐 and 北方的燕国
varieties include 齐刀, 即墨刀, 安阳刀, 针首刀, 尖首刀, 圆首刀, and 明刀

issued by 汉武帝

a copper currency from 战国时期楚国

also called 圜金 and 环钱
primarily issued by 战国时的秦国 and 战国时的魏国
varieties used 两, 釿, and 刀 as their standards

used by 秦朝

used by 王莽新朝

used by 汉朝

used around the end of 西汉

三铢钱 (briefly):
originated in 西汉, varieties used in 东汉, 蜀, 魏, 晋, 南齐, 梁, 陈, and 北魏
in actually lighter than 五铢
varieties include 三官钱 (aka 上林三官钱), 郡国五铢, 仄五铢, 三官五铢, 宣帝五铢, 小五铢, 金五铢

used in 南宋

originated in 唐朝
denominations (weights) found in 一, 二, 三, 五, 十, and 五十两

commonly measured using 文,贯, and 串
varieties include: 宋代制钱, 明代制钱, and 清代制钱 (which has 一千文 fixed as 一串)

aka 铜板
post 清代

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