The Ban Liang (Traditional Chinese: 半兩 ; Pinyin: bàn liǎng) was the first unified currency of the Chinese empire, introduced by the first emperor Qin Shi Huang around 210 BC (although it already circulated in the State of Qin prior to unification). It was round with a square hole in the middle. Before that date, a variety of coins were used in China, usually in the form of blades (knife money) or other implements, though round coins with square holes were used by the State of Zhou before it was extinguished by Qin in 249 BCE.
The standardization of currency with this round coinage was part of a broader plan to unify weights, measures or axle width during the Qin empire. Ban Liang coins continued to be used under the Western Han dynasty until they were finally replaced by the Wu Zhu coins in 118 BC.
The Qin dynasty’s Ban Liang coin was introduced as a way to standardise all forms of currency and its name reflected this as it would always weigh half a tael; these coins were mostly made from bronze though silver Qin dynasty variants exist. The Ban Liang coin introduced the tradition of stringing coins together with a rope for convenience; this was because of its round shape with a square hole, something future Chinese coins would continue to do until the early days of the Republic of China in the 1920s AD.
During the Han dynasty Ban Liang coins continued to be produced, but the golden currency established under the Qin would switch from being measured in taels to being measured in “Jin” (斤), which made a single Jin-denominated gold coin worth around 10.000 Ban Liang coins. As the general populace found inconvenience in using the heavy Ban Liang coins the Han government allowed for the private production of smaller Ban Liang coins known as "elm seed" (榆莢) Ban Liang coins. The design of the Ban Liang coins would also change as Han dynasty Ban Liangs would later add rims while all Qin dynasty versions were rimless.
Eventually this led to a major disruption in the economy forcing the government to produce larger Ban Liang; eventually the Han government continue to change the size and weight of the Ban Liang weighing as light as 2.4 Zhu to 4 Zhu. In 119 BC Emperor Wu ordered the Ban Liang coins to be deprecated in favour of San Zhu coins (三銖), which in turn were superseded by the "Wu Zhu" (五銖) series of coins in 118 BC.
During their period of production many types of Ban Liang coins were cast, ranging largely in weight and size, some had extra holes, while other were written in different fonts such as the Han dynasty coins cast under Empress Lü written in Regular script, or a rare Ban Liang made from silver in the Qin dynasty, and a lead variant in the Han dynasty. A variant with a reverse inscription known as “Liang Ban” (兩半) coins were also cast.
During the Warring states period Ban Liang coins from the State of Qin generally had 8 gram Ban Liang coins from between 32 and 34 millimeters in diameter, while during the Qin dynasty all Ban Liang coins generally had a weight of 6 grams and were about 31.7 millimeters in diameters. Han dynasty era Ban Liang coins are generally smaller than Qin Ban Liang coins, this is due to the Han dynasty government constantly changing weight standards for the coins many variants from that era exist.
Western Han dynasty variants include:
|Type||Weight (in grams)||Diameter (in millimeters)||Metal||Emperor|
|8 Zhu Ban Liang (八銖半兩)||4.8-5.3||26-30||Bronze||Empress Lü|
|5 Part Ban Liang (五分半兩)||1.5||20||Bronze||Empress Lü|
|Snake eye Ban Liang (蛇目半兩)||2.7||23.4||Bronze||Empress Lü|
|4 Zhu Ban Liang (四銖半兩)||≤3||23-25||Bronze||Emperor Wen|
|4 Zhu Ban Liang (四銖半兩)||3.5||23.5||Lead||Emperor Wen|
Historically Ban Liang coins were very rare in the numismatic community, but as many of them were excavated and exported from China in the 1990s they have become extremely common today with their prices having been dramatically decreased as a result.
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