Currency Wiki

Spade money

906pages on
this wiki
Add New Page
Talk0 Share
Grimy nickel This article or section needs to be cleaned up to reach a higher standard of article quality.

Please follow the guidelines of our manual of style and complete this article to a higher level of quality. When this is done, this message may be removed.

Spade money

布 (Bù)

Zhou Bu
Bu of the Zhou Dynasty

Official users

Northern Zhou
Xin Dynasty
Zhou Dynasty

Years circulated




Spade money, also known as spade currency or bu was a coined currency of Ancient China that appears to date back to the Zhou Dynasty during 650 BC. Since that time, bu has been used in various other dynasties and states of Ancient China.


During the Zhou Dynasty, the bu coins were issued alongside the Chinese knife coins (huo). Like most coins from ancient China, bu were minted through casting. For many years, the bu was used as currency in China. Several of the former states of China had used the currency after the fall of the Zhou Dynasty, and then finally by the Xin Dynasty which only existed from 9 to 23 AD.

Zhou DynastyEdit


Possible Zhou spade coins in the Shanghai Museum.

The Zhou Dynasty issued hollow-handled spades which were probably the first actual coins produced in China. They are very similar to the original spades used as primitive currency slightly before the introduction of the coins. The date in which bu coinage appears is disputed. Most archaeologists declare that spade coins began circulation anywhere from 650 to 600 BC, but others believe it may have been as early as 1000 BC. The Zhou Dynasty issued numerous different hollow-handled spade coins. The Zhou Dynasty started as a strong kingdom, but it lost most of its power nearing the Warring States Period, and presumably ceased circulating the spade coins.


An Yang Spade

Spade coin of Anyang.

After the Partition of Jin, the separate states of China at the time began issuing spade coinage. It is believed that earlier specimens from around this time period were from Jin, which was later divided into Han, Wei, and Zhao. The earlier of the coins from Jin and Zhao were similar to those from the Zhou Dynasty, but were much longer with pointed feet. However, these were weaker, and were most likely used for larger transactions rather than for general circulation, due to being impractical for carrying around. Then a new, sturdier coin was issued by the State of Zhao, for general circulation. The State of Wei issued the first flat-spades, which were sturdier and at smaller denominations, making them much more fit for general transactions. Eventually, thin-square-foot spade coins were issued. Among the last designs of the spade currency was the Square-foot-spade. States known to have issued these coins include Han, Wei, Zhao, Yan, and Zhongshan.

Xin DynastyEdit

S-148 Wang Mang huo bu

Bu coins of the Xin Dynasty.

During the short reign of the Xin Dynasty, from 9 to 23 AD, Emperor Wang Mang initiated reforms of coinage. Along with the reform came the reintroduction of the bu, as well as huo, cowrie shells, and round coins. His first issue of bu were made from about 10 to 14 AD. These came in ten denominations:

  • 小布一百 Xiao Bu Yi Bai ("Small Spade"; value 100)
  • 么布二百 Yao Bu Er Bai ("Baby Spade"; value 200)
  • 幼布三百 You Bu San Bai ("Juvenile Spade"; value 300)
  • 序布四百 Xu Bu Si Bai ("Ordered Spade"; value 400)
  • 差布五百 Cha Bu Wu Bai ("Servant Spade"; value 500)
  • 中布六百 Zhong Bu Liu Bai ("Middle Spade"; value 600)
  • 壮布七百 Zhuang Bu Qi Bai ("Adult Spade"; value 700)
  • 第布八百 Di Bu Ba Bai ("Graduate Spade"; value 800)
  • 次布九百 Ci Bu Jiu Bai ("Lower Spade"; value 900)
  • 大布衡千 Da Bu Heng Qian ("Large Spade"; weight 1000)

In 14 AD, these coins were removed from circulation and replaced with a new spade coin, the Huo Bu (货布; "Money Spade"). Then the Bu Quan (布泉; "Spade Coin") was minted, which would later obtain the name Nan Qian (男钱; "Male Cash"), due to the belief that if a woman wore this on her sash, she would give birth to a boy. Eventually, Wang Mang's unsuccessful reforms caused an uprising, which resulted in his murder in 23 AD.

Republic of ChinaEdit

Gubutu coin

Republic coin.

During the 1930s and 1940s, the Republic of China issued coins denominated in fen that displayed a piece of spade money on the reverses, likely referencing the ancient currency which had once been used in much of the land that had become a part of the republic. As well as being found on currency, the current logo of the Central Bank of the Republic of China also displays a spade coin.


The time period and location of Bu coins is very important, and is usually determined by its characteristics. These characteristics include the handle, which was at times flat or hollow at the top. Other characteristics include the coin's "shoulders" and "feet".

Hollowed-handled spadesEdit

Hollow-handled spade money (Chinese: 布币; pinyin: bùbì) are a link between weeding used for bartering and objects used as money. They are clearly too flimsy to have been used, but have the hollow socket in which a genuine tool could be placed to the handle with. The socket was rectangular in cross-section and still has the clay from the casting process. In the socket the hole by which the tool was fixed to its handle is also reproduced.


This spade money is very similar in shape and size to original agricultural spades. While some were possibly strong enough to be used in fields, others are lighter and have an inscription on them, likely the name of the city that had issued it. Some have been found in Shang Dynasty and Eastern Zhou tombs, dating from about 1200 to 800 BC. The inscribed specimens appear to date from about 700 BC.

Square-shouldered spadesEdit

Square-shouldered spade

A square-shouldered spade.

This type of hollow-handled spade money had square shoulders, a straight or slightly curved foot, and three parallel lines on its obverse or reverse. Today, these have been found in large quantities in the area that was once the Royal Domain of Zhou (southern Hebei and northern Henan). Archaeological evidence suggests them to be from the early Spring and Autumn Period from 650 BC onward. These coins are usually inscribed with one character, which is usually either a number, cyclical character, location name, or a clan name. The possibility that some of the inscriptions are the names of merchants is not commonly accepted as a possibility. The writings on the coins were made by the artisans that had made the coins, and not the scholars, which is a common misconception. The style of writing gives evidence to these coins being used during the middle Zhou period. Over 200 different inscriptions are known, but many have not been deciphered. The characters on the coin can be found to the left or the right of the central line and are occasionally inverted or retrograde. These coins are typically composed of 80% copper, 15% lead, and 5% tin. Though there is no mention in texts and documents of the value of the coins, it is obvious that they were not used as small change.

Sloping-shouldered spadesEdit

These coins are significantly different in appearance than their predecessors. In shape, these coins look very similar to their square-shouldered counterparts, but rather than having straight shoulders, these have shoulders at an angle, and these coins are also much smaller as well, indicating them as later in date. On these, there are usually three lines. The two outer lines are at an angle, while the center line, which is often missing, is straight. The inscriptions on the coins are clearer than the preceding square-shouldered spades. They were associated with the Zhou Dynasty and Henan area.

Pointed-shoulder spadesEdit

This type of hollow-handled spade coin has pointed shoulders and feet. They bear three parallel lines on the obverse and reverse, as well as inscriptions on some specimens. These appear to have been introduced somewhat later than square-shouldered spades. The shape of these seem to have been designed for tying them together in bundles easily, rather than being developed as an agricultural implement. These are incorporated with the state of Jin, later becoming Zhao. They have been found in northeastern Henan and Shanxi. In 1995, 549 of these spades were found in Jishan County of Shanxi.

Flat-handled spadesEdit

These spades, which date later than the early hollow-handled spades, replaced their hollow handles with more dense ones. Nearly all of these have distinct legs, which suggests that the pattern of these coins were influenced by the pointed-shoulder spade coins, but had been stylized to be handled easier. They are usually smaller, and occasionally have denominations specified in inscriptions and place names. This, along with the evidence of dates of establishment of some mint towns helps to show that these were developed later than their predecessors. Archaeological evidence suggests these coins date to the Warring States Period. The copper content of these spades usually ranged from 40 to 70%, but arched-foot spades were 80% copper.

Arched-foot spadesEdit

Ancienne monnaie chinoise.2

An example of an arched-foot spade.

This type of coin has an arched crutch, which looks similar to an inverted "U". The shoulders are usually rounded or at an angle. These coins are associated with the states of Liang and Han, and were used from about 400 BC to 300 BC. The inscriptions on these coins were often inverted. They were composed of an alloy containing about 80% copper, an amount higher than the spade coins that followed it.

Special Liang spadesEdit

These spade coins were similar in shape to the arched-foot spades. The inscriptions on these spades have been a subject on a large debate. However, all experts agree that these coins were issued by Liang, and the inscriptions bear a relationship between the weight of the coins in jin and lie.

Pointed-foot spadesEdit

This type of spade coin had pointed feet, a square crutch, and shoulders that pointed upwards or straight. They are clearly descendants of the pointed-shoulder hollow-handled spade. The weight and size of larger specimens is compatible with the one jin unit of the arched-foot spades; smaller specimens sometimes specify the unit as one jin and more often as a half jin, but do not usually specify a unit. This seemingly implies that half jin was typical. These coins are associated with Zhao, and have been found in the Hebei and Shanxi Provinces. Numbers are commonly inscribed on the reverses. Two character mint names on the coin result in the cities that cast these coins to be identified with more certainty than those of earlier series.

Square-footed spadesEdit

These spade coins have square feet, a square crutch, and a central line on the obverse. The reverses of the coins usually have three lines, with an exception of some spades produced by some mints in Zhao that had also produced pointed-foot spades. These coins have numerals on the reverse. Overall, there were more mints in Ancient China that casted square-footed spades than pointed-foot spades. The weights of these are compatible with the half jin denomination. Square-footed spades were used in Han, Liang, Yan, Zhao, and the Zhou Dynasty. They have been recovered in Anhui, Henan, Inner Mongolia, Jiangsu, Jilin, Hebei, Shaanxi, Shandong, Shanxi, and Zhejiang. This type of coins was likely issued alongside the pointed-foot spades; some mints of Ancient China issued both types of the coins, and both are often found together in hoards.

Sharp-cornered spades Edit pencil EditEdit

These coins form a subseries of the square-footed spades. The main difference between these coins and the original coins is the addition of triangular projections near the end of the handle. The inscriptions on the three largest coins include the characters 金 jin and 涅 nie. While Nie was the name of a river in Henan, the character cannot be readily interpreted as part of a place name, as it is also joined with other place names such as Lu Shi and Yu. According to the Fangyan, an ancient Chinese dictionary of dialectal terms, the word nie had the same meaning as 化 hua, meaning money or coin. Thus, the characters jin nie would mean "metal coin". Weights of larger specimens appear to be slightly higher than the 14 grams of the jin standard. These coins were used in Han and Liang.

Dang Jin spades Edit pencil EditEdit

These coins form a subgroup of the square-footed spades, and due to inscriptions, suggest that these were equal between the units of two trading areas. Both small and large coins bear the character 伒 jin on the inscription. This coin is often incorrectly taken as being the same as the jin unit on other flat-handled spade coins. However, these coins are about twice the weight of the jin (equal to 14 grams), being 28 grams; this suggests it as a local unit of an area. The smaller coins are often found joined together at the feet, having been cast like this. However, it is unknown whether or not these coins were circulated like this. The smaller specimens have a mass between 7 and 8 grams, being about a quarter of the weight of the larger coins, so the inscription that designates that four of these were equal to one jin is reasonable. The inscriptions on the obverse have caused some debate, but taking consensus, the most logical reading is 斾比當伒 Pei Bi Dang Jin (City of Pei coin equivalent to a jin). These coins were likely used in the states of Han and Chu, having been found in Anhui, Hubei, Hunan, Jiangsu, Shaanxi, Shandong, and Zhejiang, though there is no archaeological evidence that indicates this.

Round-footed spadesEdit

These rare coins are noted for their round handles, shoulders, and feet. They were minted in two sizes, with denominations of one jin and a half jin. On the reverses of the coins, various numerals were inscribed. These coins were used in five cities in present-day Shanxi. Some state that these coins were probably used by the states of Qin and Zhao during the early Warring States period, while others note that the coins could be from the state of Zhongshan during the 4th century BC.

Three-holed spadesEdit

These coins, which are similar in appearance to the round-footed spades, are also very rare. They are noted for having round handles, shoulders, and feet, along with three holes located in the handle and feet. These have been found in two sizes. The large-sized coin bears the inscription, 两 Liang, a unit of weight equal to 24 zhu, on its reverse, while the smaller coin is inscribed with 十二铢 Shi er zhu (12 zhu) on its reverse. Noting this, it is clear that one coin represents a "one" and a "half". They also bear series numbers of the reverse of the coin on the handle. Like the similar round-footed spades, it remains unknown on which state had issued them. The mint names inscribed on the coins are of cities that were occupied by both Zhao and Zhongshang. They have been recovered from Hebei and Shanxi.

See alsoEdit


Template:Chinese currencies

Ad blocker interference detected!

Wikia is a free-to-use site that makes money from advertising. We have a modified experience for viewers using ad blockers

Wikia is not accessible if you’ve made further modifications. Remove the custom ad blocker rule(s) and the page will load as expected.