Ban Liang: Qin Dynasty Coins

The “Qin Ban Liang” was a currency issued after the unification of the Qin Dynasty. Before the unification of the six states by the Qin Dynasty, various states had different shapes of coins, such as spade coins, knife coins, ring coins, etc. These coins could only circulate within their respective jurisdictions. After the unification of the six states by Qin Shihuang, he established unified laws, weights and measures, currency, and script. The old coins from the late Warring States period were abolished, and improvements were made to the Qin Ban Liang based on the coins used during the Warring States period. The round coins with square holes of Qin Ban Liang became the standard currency nationwide, putting an end to the chaotic state of diverse shapes and disparate weights of ancient Chinese currency. Qin Ban Liang was the first nationally unified currency in China, marking the initial maturity of ancient Chinese coins. Its emergence signified the standardization and regularization of currency casting and usage in ancient China, having a profound impact on the subsequent development of currency.

what does ban liang mean

The symbolism of the Qin Ban Liang can be summarized in several aspects:

Unity and Standardization: The emergence of the Qin Ban Liang marked the initial maturity of ancient Chinese coins and served as a milestone in the development of Chinese currency. Its uniform format and weight symbolized national unity and standardized measures, facilitating commodity circulation and economic transactions.

Wealth and Auspiciousness: The round shape with a square hole of the Qin Ban Liang symbolized the concept of “heaven is round, earth is square,” signifying wealth and auspiciousness. Additionally, the alloy material of copper and tin, with copper considered an auspicious element in ancient times, further conveyed notions of prosperity and fortune.

Mystery and Power: The casting and usage of the Qin Ban Liang were associated with the religious beliefs and mythical legends of the Qin Dynasty, adding a certain mysterious aspect. Moreover, the inscriptions and patterns on the Qin Ban Liang reflected notions of strength and authority, symbolizing the power and dignity of the ruling authority.

Heritage and Commemoration: As an integral part of ancient Chinese currency, the Qin Ban Liang has a rich history and cultural background. Its collection and preservation not only show respect and commemoration for history but also contribute to the promotion and inheritance of Chinese culture.

In summary, the symbolism of the Qin Ban Liang encompasses unity, standardization, wealth, auspiciousness, mystery, power, heritage, and commemoration. These symbolic meanings are closely intertwined with the historical, cultural, and social context of the Qin Dynasty, providing an important window for understanding ancient Chinese culture and history.

The emergence of the Qin Ban Liang marked a significant milestone in the early maturity of ancient Chinese coins, representing a pivotal moment in the development of Chinese currency over more than two thousand years. This distinctive square-hole round coinage system influenced surrounding countries and persisted until the late Qing Dynasty and early Republic of China when it was replaced by machine-struck copper coins.

The bronze coin known as “Qin Ban Liang” features a “round with a square hole” design. The square hole represents the land, while the outer circle symbolizes the heavens. The combination of a round shape within a square hole signifies the ancient cosmological worldview of a round heaven and a square earth. This interpretation is widely accepted, although some argue that the circular shape within a square hole was a practical necessity for production, facilitating transportation, circulation, and storage – a standardized and practical form developed through continuous practice.

The inscription “Ban Liang” in seal script on the bronze coin was written by the famous Qin statesman Li Si. It signifies the weight of each coin, which was half a liang during that time, equivalent to twelve zhu, hence the name “Ban Liang Qian.”

According to historical records cited in “Shi Ji Ping Zhun Shu Suo Yin,” Qin coins were half a liang in weight, with a diameter of one inch and two fen, weighing twelve zhu. However, surviving Qin Ban Liang coins exhibit variations in size and weight, generally having a diameter of 3.2-3.4 centimeters and weighing around 8 grams. The coin’s inscription is raised, slender, and slightly arched, lacking inner and outer rims, with a plain back. Some examples weigh over 10 grams and even exceed 20 grams, possibly corresponding to the “hundred qian” coins mentioned in the historical records.

what was ban liang made of

The Qin Ban Liang is crafted from an alloy of copper and tin, commonly referred to as “bronze.” During the Qin Dynasty, copper and tin were among the most crucial metallic materials, and bronze, known for its high hardness and resistance to wear and corrosion, was well-suited for producing items requiring prolonged use, such as currency.

In the production of Qin Ban Liang, the ratio of copper to tin was typically around four to one, ensuring the quality and hardness of the coin. The manufacturing process involved heating and melting the copper, then pouring the tin alloy into the molten copper, stirring the mixture before pouring it into molds to create circular thin pieces. The final coins underwent processes like grinding and polishing before being ready for use.

In addition to copper and tin, Qin Ban Liang may also contain small amounts of elements like lead and iron. These elements could undergo reactions with copper and tin during the casting process, resulting in slight variations in the composition and color of the Qin Ban Liang. Furthermore, the manufacturing process required careful control of parameters such as temperature, time, and alloy ratios to ensure the quality and stability of the currency.

In summary, the Qin Ban Liang is made from an alloy of copper and tin, chosen for its properties, and the manufacturing process is designed to guarantee the coin’s quality and durability. The production techniques and casting technology of Qin Ban Liang have also influenced the minting of currency in subsequent periods.

qin dynasty ban liang look like(ban liang currency)

During the Warring States period of the Qin Dynasty, coins were predominantly circulated with military expeditions and had minimal circulation in commercial activities with the six states. They were often discovered along the routes of Qin’s military campaigns, such as the “Golden Ox Road” to Shu, the “Commerce Road” to Chu, and the “Yiyang Road” to Han and Wei. As a result, the coins were heavy, and their circulation range was limited. The coin types were mostly large (with a diameter of over 3 centimeters).

Upon inheriting the practices of previous rulers, Qin Shi Huang continued to use Ban Liang coins. When Qin standardized currency, the central authority also minted “heavy as its inscription” Ban Liang coins. These coins were characterized by a slightly larger diameter (above 3.3 centimeters) and a slightly thinner profile compared to earlier versions, weighing around 8 grams.

As the state’s fortunes declined and the need for market commodity circulation arose, coins were subsequently reduced in size and weight. By the late Qin period, coin types became smaller, with diameters mostly below 3 centimeters and weights around 3-4 grams.

After Gaozu of Han unified the country in 206 BCE, in the early post-war stabilization period, the economy urgently needed recovery. Although the Ban Liang coins inherited from the Qin Dynasty were still used, their weight posed difficulties. This led to private casting of “Jia Qian” coins, contributing to rampant inflation and the malicious devaluation of currency. By the second year of Empress Lü’s reign (186 BCE), the Ban Liang was reintroduced, but subsequent changes were frequent, with varying sizes and weights despite the inscriptions indicating “Ban Liang.”

The Ban Liang of the Qin Dynasty retained the same inscriptions as those from the Warring States period, with minimal changes in coin types but improvements in minting technology. Private cast coins often contained impurities, making them difficult to distinguish. Official coins were typically processed, with seal script inscriptions having square turns, presenting neat and evenly sized characters. Ban Liang coins unearthed from Qin Dynasty tombs and hoards in Shaanxi, Inner Mongolia, Hubei, and other regions can be roughly categorized into three types based on their size and weight: the first type has a diameter above 3 centimeters, similar in size to ordinary Warring States Ban Liang coins, minted in the early Qin Dynasty; the second type is smaller, with a diameter below 3 centimeters, mostly around 2.7–2.8 centimeters, minted in the late Qin Dynasty; the third type is inferior small coins, known as “Jia Qian,” referring to Yujia-shaped small coins from the early Han Dynasty, with specific time and meaning, weighing below 3 grams, and even as low as 1 gram.

what was ban liang used for

The uses of the Qin Ban Liang are primarily reflected in the following aspects:

Medium of Exchange: As a form of currency, the Qin Ban Liang primarily serves as a medium of exchange, facilitating the exchange of goods and economic transactions. During the Qin Dynasty, people could use the Qin Ban Liang to purchase various commodities and services, such as food, textiles, weapons, and transportation, thereby promoting the development of commerce and the economy.

Unit of Value: The Qin Ban Liang serves as a unit of value, allowing the measurement of the worth of various goods and services. Using standards such as the weight and purity of the Qin Ban Liang, individuals could comparatively assess the value of different commodities, enabling rational trade.

Store of Value: As a precious metal currency, the Qin Ban Liang also possesses a store of value. People could store Qin Ban Liang as a means of accumulating wealth and preserving value. During the Qin Dynasty, some wealthy merchants even regarded the Qin Ban Liang as a symbol of wealth and a means of ostentation.

Cultural Value: As a crucial component of ancient Chinese currency, the Qin Ban Liang carries rich historical and cultural significance. Through the study and collection of Qin Ban Liang, individuals can gain insights into the history, culture, and societal conditions of the Qin Dynasty, enhancing their understanding of the development of Chinese civilization.

In summary, the Qin Ban Liang serves diverse purposes, functioning as a medium of exchange, unit of value, store of value, and carrying cultural significance. It not only facilitates the development of commerce and the economy but also enriches people’s lives and spiritual worlds. Additionally, the emergence and development of the Qin Ban Liang signify the initial maturity and standardization of ancient Chinese currency, exerting a profound influence on the history of Chinese currency.

Historical Background of Qin Ban Liang

Qin Ban Liang emerged during the Qin Dynasty following a series of economic, political, and cultural policies implemented after the unification of China. Emperor Qin Shi Huang standardized the system of measurements, unifying standards for weight, length, capacity, and more. Building on this foundation, Emperor Qin Shi Huang specified the currency’s form and weight, leading to the centralized minting of coins for facilitating commerce and economic interactions.

Characteristics of Qin Ban Liang

Qin Ban Liang had strict regulations regarding its form and weight. It featured a round shape with a square hole, typically having a diameter of 15-18 centimeters and weighing around 12-15 grams. This form persisted until the end of the Qing Dynasty, becoming one of the fundamental shapes in ancient Chinese currency. The inscriptions and designs on Qin Ban Liang also had distinctive features. The obverse usually bore the characters “半两” (Half Liang), while the reverse depicted phrases like “五分” (five fen) or “十二分” (twelve fen) along with various patterns and decorations, serving both ornamental and identification purposes.

Production Process of Qin Ban Liang

The craftsmanship involved in creating Qin Ban Liang was meticulous and required several steps and metallurgical techniques. Typically made from a bronze alloy of copper and tin, with some variations containing silver or gold, the production process involved melting copper, pouring tin alloy into the molten copper, stirring the mixture, pouring it into molds to create circular discs, and finally, polishing and refining the coins. Precise control over parameters such as temperature, time, and alloy ratios was essential to ensure the quality and stability of the currency.

Influence of Qin Ban Liang

The introduction of Qin Ban Liang marked the standardization and regularization of currency minting and usage in ancient China, leaving a profound impact on the development of subsequent currencies. Firstly, the form and weight of Qin Ban Liang persisted until the end of the Qing Dynasty, becoming one of the fundamental shapes in ancient Chinese currency. Secondly, the production techniques and metallurgical expertise associated with Qin Ban Liang influenced the minting processes of later currencies. Additionally, the standardized form and weight of Qin Ban Liang facilitated the flow of goods and economic transactions, contributing to the growth of commerce and prosperity in the economy.

Collectible Value of Qin Ban Liang

Due to its extensive historical and cultural background, Qin Ban Liang possesses considerable collectible value. In the collecting market, prices for Qin Ban Liang vary based on factors such as age, material, and condition. Generally, older specimens, those made from higher-grade materials, and those in better condition command higher prices. Special varieties of Qin Ban Liang, such as those made from silver or gold or featuring unique patterns, also carry elevated values. Collectors should be vigilant in authenticating and understanding market trends to avoid potential losses.


In conclusion, Qin Ban Liang holds a significant place as a crucial component of ancient Chinese currency, boasting a rich historical and cultural heritage. Its distinctive features in terms of form, weight, and production processes contribute to its unique value. Moreover, the influence of Qin Ban Liang on the development of subsequent currencies underscores its historical significance in understanding ancient Chinese culture and history.


  1. China Numismatic Dictionary Compilation Committee. (1998). China Numismatic Dictionary: Qin and Han. Zhonghua Book Company. pp. 3-10, 78-86.
  2. “Qin Ban Liang, Han Wu Zhu: Cornerstones of Ancient Chinese Coins.” [Accessed on 2023-03-11]

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