K'ang Hsi Coin Charm
Actual size 27 mm.
The coin's legend K'ang Hsi Tung Pao represents "money of the second Emperor of the Ch'ing Dynasty, Sheng Tsu, 1662-1722 (reign name K'ang Hsi)". The left and center images above are reffered to as "charms" because of the patterns inscribed on the broad outer rim on both obverse and reverse. The image on the right shows the normal obverse of a K'ang Hsi Tung Pao coin.
From detailed information given below (provided by Mr.
Y.K.Leung and Mr. John O.Dell) we can conclude that shown piece was coin by it's origin but became charm in consequence of historical and cultural factors:
The coin itself is a very famous piece that has become associated with Buddha. It is also known as "Lohan cash" (see Schjoth #1443-5). "Lohan" is the transcript in Chinese characters of the Sanscrit word "arhan" meaning "venerable" and was a name applied to images of the eighteen attendants of Buddha frequently arranged along two sides of the principal hall in Buddhist temples.
The vertical stroke of the bottom character "Hsi" on the obverse is omitted. This is the main difference between the normal Kang Hsi Tung Pao and the Buddhist Coin. The other difference is in composing of the upper middle portion of the character "Hsi" which is differrent from that on the standard coins of this Emperor. This character is translated as "Sun" and indicates the high status of the Emperor. Finally the colour of the Buddhist coin has more of a golden tone than in normal Kang Hsi coins.
Stories about the Buddhist Coin are varied. There are few, if any, contemporary accounts regarding this piece.
In the old story supposidly handed down from seventeenth century, a Chinese armyled by the Emperor Sheng Tsu himself went on an expedition to Tibet to put down a rebellion against the Ch'ing government in 1690. During the journey the Emperor
demanded some copper for minting coins in order to pay his soldiers. Because of the lack of any other copper, the lamas or monks of the monastery offered all the copper images of Buddha, including those of the eighteen disciples, or Lohan,
which were made of pure gold. Therefore, the coins minted with both copper and gold were popularly called the Buddhist Coin or Lohan cash. People believed that the coin contain some gold and that is why the coins have a golden colour.
Another version of this story, which was probably spread by Christian missionaries, is that the Emperor Sheng Tsu converted to Christianity and to show his contempt for the Buddhist religion he ordered a set of eighteen Lohan gold plate images melted down to make these special coins. This story appears for the first time in a Europian language in 1857 in an article by A.Wylie, published in the Journal of the Shanghai Literature and Scinetific Society.
Still another story about this coin is that there there were images of five hundred disciples of Buddha in the temple called Ching Chi in Hangchow during the period of Tao Kuang (1821-1851), in the reign of Emperor Hsuan Tsung of the Ch'ing Dynasty. People were accustomed to put offerings of money into the holes in the rear part of the
Buddhisattra in order to gain the favour of the gods. Once, as a pilgrim put his alms into the hole he discovered a golden Buddhist coin just inside the hole. He took the coin happily and thought it must be the Epiphany of the Buddhisattra and the coin was a gift from the god. After that, more people went to the temple and every pilgrim would search the offering holes of Buddhas after they finished burning in the temple. People thought there were spirits associated with this coins which would protect the wearer
against evil and bring the bearer good luck
For the past three hundred years the cash coin with special "Hsi" character has been popularly used as amulet against evil and not as money. One of the main reasons for the "good luck" symbolism of the coin is that in the year it was issued (1713) the Emperor repealed the hated Head Tax, which had been in existance since the T'ang Dynasty, and replaced it with a Land Tax. This brought about a sudden increase in the recorded population as families no longer needed to fear registering their children. This coin/amulet is frquently used as a gift in the Chinese society. It is given as a good luck coin to children in the Chinese New Year, as a birthday present when a child is born, or people kept as a gift to a daughter at the time of her marriage.
The K'ang Hsi Tung Pao, with the special character for "Hsi" and minted in bronze of a golden colour, was popularly
called the arhat (a Buddhist monk who has attained nirvana) money . It is confirmed that the coin was minted to mark the 60th birthday (12 April 1713) of Sheng Tsu, the second emperor of the Ch'ing Dynasty. It would thus have been struck in the 52nd year of the K'ang Hsi period.
To celebrate the Emperor birthday a 50 meter long painting, the 'Wan-shou ch'ang-t'u', was produced by the painter Wang Yuan-ch'i, who was, at the same senior vice-president of the Board of Revenue in Beijing and was therefore head of the Coinage Department. Within the framework of the birthday festivities he conceived a new style of writing for the cash coins. The most important of these changes was the new "Hsi" with small "K'ou" in the middle instead of the usual "Ch'en", and without the vertical stroke on the left, in the same style that "K'ang Hsi" was written on the 'Wang-shou sheng-t'ien', a woodblock print version of the 50 meter birthday painting.
The use of the term "Lohan cash" is probably based on the misunderstanding of a local term "Lo-han ch'ien" used in Shanghai to refer to the lowly square-holed cash coin (valued 1/1200 of a silver dollar). The best translation of this colloquial phrase woold be "poor-people-coin". Gradually throughout China and eventually in other parts of East Asia the term "Lo-han" became identified with "Lohan", the venerable eighteen attendants of Buddha, and the connection with emperor's 60th birthday was completely forgotten.
The large cash coins of K'ang Hsi were frequently used as charms or amulets, the Lohan pieces being the most popular by far. In order to distinguish these pieces from ordinary coins, or to enhance their good luck, the wide outer rim was often engraved with intricate designs or even carved to resemble the shape of a peach.
- Page 22, Chai Chin Tung How by Tong Yue Kwan published in 1852.
- Page 756, The History of Chinese Money by Peng Xinwei published in 1958.
- Page 235, Law Hon Chin by Choi Chi Yuen, Qianbi Manhua published by
Shanghai Educational Publisher 1989.
- Page 76, The Sketching for the History of Chinese Money by Chin Ka Kui and
Kwok Yin Kong published in 1986.
- Page 26, Coin No.4, A History of Chinese Currency (16th Century BC-20th
Century AD ), jointly published by Xinhua (New China) Publishing House,
N.C.N. Ltd., M.A.O. Management Group Ltd. 1983.
- Page 36, Chinese Currency (Currency of the Far East) by Fredrik Schjoth, revised and edited by Virgil Hancock, published in 1965.
- Page 72-74, Ch'ing Cahs until 1735 by Werner Burger, published 1976.