A Legendary Currency in Late Ching Dynasty -
A Study on Yunnan Pai-Fang-Ding
(Saddle Money)


Per Mr.Belyaev’s request, I hereby prepare an abstract of my book with name identical to the above title as follows, for the readers of Chinese coinage. The book was published in the Chinese language in Taiwan, August, 1996. Due to English is not my mother language, imperfections or errors to be found in the English abstract may be foreseeable, I thank you for your tolerance. Any comment will be appreciated.
Stephen Tai
Oct.6, 1997

During 1884-1914 (the 10th year of Kuang-Hsu to the 3rd year of the Republican), an unique silver sycee - Pai-Fang-Ding massively circulated in Yunnan, a south-west province in China. The shape of Pai-Fang-Ding is similar to a traditional Chinese gate way (Pai-Fang), makes the reason why comes the name. Besides, from the Westerner's viewpoints, such a shape is somewhat like a horse saddle, therefore, they prefer to call it Saddle money. However, people then in Yunnan were used to call it Kung-Koo Yin, which means Assayed Silver.

Even in late 19 century, silvers in different shapes still dominated the currency market in China. In social economic activities, any silver as a payment, would have to be measured by the concerning party for its weight and purity, as to verify its values. Pai-Fang-Ding may be deemed as merely a regional type of sycee then, still, there were countless varieties of sycee existed and differed from areas. Why focus on Pai-Fang-Ding? After research for more than 5 years, author is now convinced that Pai-Fang-Ding maybe was the most outstanding and advanced one out of all sycee in China then. The occurrence of Pai-Fang-Ding represents a milestone showing that sycee in Yunnan began to be standardized, it potentially enabled any transaction via Pai-Fang-Ding, might be concluded by counting number, no longer had to measure the weight and purity of sycee severally. This may be considered as a significant progress on the Chinese silver currency system which had already lasted for one thousand years. People would have the chance to witness usage of Pai-Fang Ding becomes more and more similar to the modern silver coins, if Sycee were not abolished by the authorities of the province in 1912.

Normally, the lengths of Pai-Fang-Dings are ranging from 5.5 to 6.0 cm, and the widths, from 3.6 to 4.0 cm, each weights approximately for 5 taels in Kunmin scale (180g) on the average; the stipulated purity then was 98%, but current test reported only 96% more or less. Owing to each sycee was cast by silversmiths with conventional instruments, the above figures may be slightly varied from one to another.

Pai-Fang-Dings were mainly cast in Kunmin area (the capital city of the province) by local banks. There were too many local banks there, to calculate the number of local bank’s names shown on inscriptions of Pai-Fang-Dings whichever is found, at least more than one hundred. We can also find that it was quite common for a local bank to set up several branch offices in different areas of the province.

Making sycee for them usually was not really their main job, at least it was not a work for hire by clients, Pai-Fang-Dings they cast, were acted as the mean of payment for their other business. The local banks had been engaged in banking business such as savings, loans, money exchanges and remittances, some of them were allied with or employed by Shen-Si banks (Piao-Hao). Trading was also one of local banks’ major business which could be hardly found in the business of local banks elsewhere. Their trading goods including teas, cloths, tobaccos, and opium, especially for opium trading, the trading amount was huge. Some original files from a local bank have shown that they played as opium wholesalers, they purchased opium from some remote areas in the western Yunnan, and distributed to dealers in Hu-Nan, Kung-Tung, Szechuan, two real cases have been found in the files, their values are both exceed twenty thousand tales of silver.

Local banks then in Yunnan were not the only players got involved in opium trading, but also many other businessman, they all together had achieved in a huge trading surplus for this rural and under-developed province by that time, especially during the years of Kuang-Hsu (1874-1908). In 1901, a single marine custom in the western Yunnan was reported to collect opium tax, on an annum basis, for more than twenty million taels of silver in Ku-Pin scale, as for the overall transaction value, needless to say, it’s much more than this. This fact indicates that tremendous silver currency from a lot of places in China were then infusing into Yunnan market for opium, and it also brought particular to the local banks a new problem: How to manage and circulate so many sycee in different standards from other regions in Yunnan?

With a view to solve the problem, the local banks eventually agreed in casting Pai-Fang-Ding in complying certain weight and purity standard. Furthermore, with respect to supervise the standards were really complied by the members, they started to set up an assay system.

Actually, there were two parallel assay systems for Pai-Fang-Ding in Yunnan, separately hosted by two local banks’ groups, one was inside the town of Kunmin, the other was in the outside. The two assay systems were not caused by their geographical departure, but there had two independent economic communities formed up in Kunmin. Formerly, most of the population of Kunmin were crowded outside of town, since Islamic Rebellion battled in Yunnan earlier (1855-1873), seriously damaged their community, people started to immigrate into the town and build up a new community, even though, the old community outside of the town was still existed, both of them thereafter had been the most prosperous places in the province. Due to their independent yet competitive economic functions, either one chose to introduced separately an assay system for their Pai-Fang-Dings.

In 1884, the local banks’ group outside of Kunmin town initially introduced Pai-Fang-Ding into market. On the face of the silver, there are varieties of inscription consists of three identical stamps, each stamp carries two columns, each column has four characters, severally stands for the name of the local bank, upon which the local bank will be held responsible for the purity of such silver; and the name of the silver Publicly Agreed Fine Silver, which implies the purity of such silver is up to the publicly agreed standard, i.e. 98%). In the meantime, each Pai-Fang-Ding was compulsorily to be checked before circulating into market, one or two assayer’s stamps would be punched on the spaces between the above three stamps in identifying the sycee had passed the assayer’s check.

In this initial stage, the assay system built up by the local banks’ group outside of Kunmin, was not in perfect at all, because of no specific assayer were elected, the assay procedures would have to be conducted by the local bank itself, who cast the assayed sycee, this wrongful arrangement had not only violated the professional ethics, but also frequently caused frauds, and other disputes. An evolution was soon taken place, another local banks’ group in town, refused to tolerate such an issue, and started to establish their own system for Pai-Fang-Dings, this time the new assay system had two persons: Tong Fu Shen and Fong Si You to be assayers, named Publicly agreed assayer, their names as well as titles were shown on the assayer’s chops, therefore their powers and responsibilities were clear, moreover, the positions were subjected to re-election annually.

The new assay system was well designed, the quality of Pai-Fang-Ding became reliable and welcome by more and more people, before long, it had already been the standard silver currency in most areas of Yunnan.

The two parallel Pai-Fang-Dings and their assay systems had been co-existed throughout the history of this unique currency, however, the latter one is quite obviously to dominate the market. The amount of Pai-Fang-Dings left to today are very many, but most of them were cast by the in-town local banks, others are respectively scarce.

After the initial stage, Pai-Fang-Dings had experienced certain periodical changes, the name for the sycee had been changed into remittance bank’s fine silver, thereafter, instead of Publicly agreed fine silver, titles for the assayers, were also changed for times, there were remittance banks’ assayer, Public assayer, Official assayer and Official Bureau’s assayer. Besides, there had been a spice of Pai-Fang-Dings inscribed with wording of certain month, they were specifically made for the payment instructed by the clients to be paid in different standard of weight and purity during the remittance, the purity of this kind of Pai-fang-Ding generally are different from others. As for the words of certain month inscribed thereof, usually stood for the month, in accordance with the draft as issued, when will remittance payment be in due. (Descriptions in details are not provided here)

Since Pai-Fang-Ding became popular in the major areas of Yunnan rapidly, its customers were not only merchants or civilians, but also including officials. In 1904, the 30th year of Kuang-Hsu, the Board of Revenues of the province had formally announced its approval for accepting Pai-Fang-Dings as tax payment.

In the last few years of Ching dynasty, the Central Government had aggressively established its banking business all over the country, which also impacted on the local banks in Yunnan, their business declined dramatically. Furthermore, to circulate coins, instead of sycee had been a firm policy of the authorities, Pai-Fang-Dings were forced to fade out from the market, till 1912, the first year of the Republican Government, a ban for the circulation of sycee was manipulated, the history of Pai-Fang-Ding thereby ended up with a period.

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