Coinage in China goes back some 2,500 years. The earliest Chinese coins were cast in bronze—by the 1st century BCE, these round coins featured square holes in their centers. This style persisted until about the 13th century, when silver and then brass coins were minted and circulated.
Today, the most collectible Chinese coins are contemporary issues, whose values are closely tied to their platinum, gold, or silver content. But for many collectors, Chinese coins from the late 1800s and first half of the 20th century hold great interest. These coins track the tumultuous history of the populous nation—from the end of the Qing Dynasty in 1911 to the Republic led by Sun Yat-sen that followed it to Mao Zedong’s declaration of a People’s Republic of China in 1949.
Of the late Empire-era coins, look for copper or brass Hu Poo coins with a dragon that’s enclosed within a circle on the obverse. Even more prized are the provincial coins minted during this period, including the Chekiang and Kwangtung silver dollars, as well as 20-cent pieces bearing the words “Tai-Pan Province.” Republic coins minted in the 1910s and ’20s are fairly common, whereas coins minted in Chinese Turkestan, now called Xinjiang, especially 1- and 2-mace (i.e., pre-yuan) coins bearing the title “Sungarei,”are more rare.