Extremely Rare Shaanxi Yuanbao

Stephen Tai
January 22, 2000

Upper - Wei Nan (County) Der Shen (Name of silver shop)
Two Sides - The 3rd Year of Tong Zhi Reign (1864. 1862-1874)

Weight: 1758 g (47 Taels)

  • Shown sycee is the 3rd sycee of Shaanxi author found cast in the weight of 50 taels or so, and the 1st one cast in the reign year of the Ching Dynasty. The other two specimens were cast in the Republican period (1912-1949) which may be referred to Yuan Bao Tu Lu (A Catalogue of Chinese Sycee), published in 1991 by Chinese Numismatic Association, Shaanxi Branch in the People’s Republic of China.
  • The weight of the sycee is equal to 47 taels, which is about 100 g or 3 taels less than ordinary boats of other provinces in China. This intriguing weight difference could be not owing to an independent incidence, yet triggered by the custom of the Islamic residents of the place. Shaanxi, Gansu and Xinjiang are remote provinces of China which have been resided with many Islamic since centuries ago. According to the practice of Xinjiang where is adjacent to Shaanxi, there were bigger boat sycee used to be cast in 47 taels, with only few exceptions adopting the weight scale of Han tribe cast in 50 taels. This sycee should be cast under the influence of Islamic people of the areas.
  • It is noticeable that the upper stamp used here is kind of square stamp also seen on Shaanxi Groovy Silver weighed for 4-6 taels. Their legends all comprised of 4 letters (some Groovy Silver have 6), 2 on county name, and 2 on silver shop/smith. This shows Shaanxi silversmiths characterized their sycee, small ones or big ones, with similar square chops.
  • As previously mentioned, only two specimens of Shaanxi in about 50 taels have been recorded for the time being, and they were both cast in the period of the Republic of China. Why their counterparts cast in Ching Dynasty all disappear? Looking back to the history of Shaanxi, it and the neighboring province - Gansu, out-broke a 13-year Islamic Rebellion (1862-1874) throughout the whole period of Tong Zhi reign, where were mostly occupied by the rebel most of the time, people were massacred or escaped, until became ghost towns. Shaanxi, in Chinese near modern history, was a place seldom absent from civil wars which rooted its poverty and underdevelopment, despite it was the origin of the ancient Chinese civilization. 13 years of turbulence and war further exhausted its economy, vanished the last glory it had. In the 2nd year of Hsien Feng (1852. 1851-1861) the governor had reported to the Emperor that "Shaanxi is a poor place where grains won't grow, and no mines to be explored ...", "... Most of the people don't have silver to pay tax, many of them used only cash coins and don't even have the luxury to see a piece of silver for once in their lives ...", "... Some better-off would have to melt their wives' silver accessories for silver ingots to pay tax ...". For a long time, Shaanxi government could not even live on local tax levy for their daily operation, needless to say submit any tax silver to the Emperor. Since the beginning of Ching Dynasty, the financial needs of Shaanxi government had been largely relying on the support from the Central Government and other provinces.
  • Naturally, bigger or heavier sycee like 50 taels in Shaanxi were rarely cast, for no such need from the markets. We can even imagine that if a 50-tael sycee was brought to there, to cope with the limited economic scale in the region, it would have to be cut into pieces for circulation.

Any additional information highly appreciated.
Chinese Coinage Web Site