During the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) the state issued coins (from 1368) and paper money (from 1375). There was not a regular enough supply of coins, and the paper money system was rife with counterfeiting and other problems. Increasingly, silver became the monetary standard. However the state did not coin silver and all exchanges, in the form of ingots, were measured by weight.
The first Ming notes were printed with a name in large characters across the top. It reads “Da Ming tongxing baochao” (Great Ming Circulating Treasure Certificate). They are often referred to as baochao, where bao conveys the notion of treasure, and chao the physical paper note.
Ming notes were issued in several denominations: 100-, 200-, 300-, 400-, 500-wen and 1 guan (a string of 1000-wen) notes, and later 10-.20-. 30-. 40- and 50-wen notes. Almost all the Ming notes that have survived are for 1 guan. The two large characters at the centre of this note read “yi guan” (one string), and beneath them is an image of a string of 1000 wen (coins).
The large text box below gives instructions for use. It reads in columns from right to left: “The Ministry of Revenue, with Imperial sanction, has manufactured and printed Great Ming treasure certificates for circulation alongside bronze coins. Those using counterfeit notes will be executed. Informants will receive 250 liang of silver and the entire property of the criminal. On the Xth day of the Xth month of the Xth year of the Hongwu reign period.”
Before the notes were issued, they were stamped with three official seals, still visible in red. The two seals stamped on the front of the note read “Seal of the Great Ming treasure certificate” and “Seal of the supervisorate of treasure certificates”. The seal on the back reads “Seal of the office of treasure-certificate-printing.”
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