Mu Guo Yuan Bao Coin

Vladimir Belyaev
Feb.15, 1998
Last edited Aug.28, 2002

Size 22.1 mm, weight 4.1 g
Obverse - Mu Guo Yuan Bao - Liao Dynasty
Reverse - plane
Image of the fake coin

      Information about this coin is present in literature, but with different opinions on its origin.
      When I first time placed webpage with this coin in February of 1998, I've read that legend as Zhuang Guo Yuan Bao. Then I received messages from different persons noting that currently numismatists read legend as Mu Guo Yuan Bao. After the publishing of the article I prefer version with my first suggestion.

Message from David Hrivnak (15-Jul-98):
          I think the Zhuang Guo Yuan Pao coin is actually Mu Guo Yuan Pao.
[V.B. - instead of legend Zhuang Guo Yuan Bao David suggests legend Mu Guo Yuan Bao. In the Novak book with reference to Miura Gosen, Annam Sempu Terui Sen Bu coin Mu Guo Yuan Bao listed as Vietnamese coin.]
Message from Wybrand Op den Velde (31-Jul-98):
          Most references now read the legend as Mu Guo Yuan Bao (Coinage of the male kingdom), as David Hrivnak has indicated. This coin is actually one of a pair. The other has the legend: Zhu Guo Yuan Bao (Coinage to assist the kingdom). The attribution is uncertain. Some believed that these coins were Vietnamese, others supposed a Liao origin. Most Chinese experts now believe that they were issued in a border region of the Later Chin Dynasty (936-947), and that they belong to the period of the Five Dynasties.

Message from Gilbert Tan (01-Aug-98):
          The Mu Guo Yuan Bao coin at the top of this page is not genuine. The real coin is very thin and very light. I know of almost 10 pieces.
          Most of the pieces discovered have come from Northern China and so it is very likely to be from the Liao Dynasty. The only reason why it was once suspected to be of Vietnamese origin is because it is a very thin and small coin, like the normal Vietnamese coins.

Message from John Liang (04-Aug-98):
          Regarding your mystery coin, here is the one I have. This is as Gilbert said, light and thin. But I think it is read as Zhuang Guo, which has a better meaning than male kingdom, as Dr. Op de Velde suggested. Zhuang Guo in Chinese means strengthening the country. Dr. Op de Velde told us the other is assisting the country, which is the exact translation of that piece. So it makes sense that this is strengthening rather than male.
          And from a historical point of view, I think it is a Later Chin coin, mainly because the country did need strengthening more than Liao. And Chin is also in the north.

Vladimir Belyaev (31-May-00):
          Below are shown images of both coins - Mu Guo Yuan Bao and Zhu Guo Yuan Bao - which I believe are genuine. Coins are really very small, thin and light, as mentioned above by Gilbert Tan - so it's not surprise that there were suggestions about their Vietnamese origin.
    Obverse: Mu Guo Yuan Bao Mu Guo Yuan Pao
    Reverse: plain

    Diameter: 21.5 mm
    Weight: 1.5 g
    Obverse: Zhu Guo Yuan Bao Zhu Guo Yuan Pao
    Reverse: plain

    Diameter: 22.0 mm
    Weight: 1.4 g

Message from Robert Kokotailo (31-May-00):
          I had a look at the images. The coin at the top certainly has an odd look to it, and I doubt it is genuine. The particular patination is fairly typical of some recent fakes.
          The coins lower down on the page have a more genuine look to them, but I also doubt they are Liao Dynasty coins. Early Liao coins tend to be very poorly cast, but of fairly good weight (2.5 grams or more). Later Liao coins tend to be much better cast and of very good weight (about 3.0 grams or higher). Weights in the 1.5 gram range do not may sense with respect to the Liao Dynasty at all.
          In fact, 1.5 grams weights do not make sense in the entire medieval Chinese series. I am not aware of any post Sui Dynasty Chinese coin that averages less than 2 grams. This weight is consistent with some medieval Vietnamese issues, but they always seem to have very poorly developed rims and weak characters, unlike those illustrated which have strong rims and characters.
          If these coins are in fact of medieval origin (some of them certainly look to be), they have to be some type of non-offical (i.e. Warlord type) issues from a time of chaos such as existed in the mid-10th century, but unless some are found in a context that shows their origin, we may never know for sure.
          Based on the 1.5 grams weights, there is a strong possiblility that none of these coins are genuine and the type may not actually exist.

Message from Gilbert Tan (01-Jun-00):
          I checked my records for information about the Liao coins and the latest consensus among the Japanese numismatists is that it is definitely Liao because some of the Liao reign-title coins were discovered look similar to these 2 coins. They call it the Muguo hand or Zhuguo hand as the writing style of the bao character is especially similar. The Da Tang Tong Bao coin has a very good example of this situation. Most recently, experts in Japan believe that this series of muguo hand style coins were made by the Western Liao people.

Message from Francois Thierry, Chief-curator of Oriental Coins in Cabinet des Medailles, Paris, France (08-Jun-00):
          I have no special data about the muguo yuanbao and the zhuguo yuanbao (many articles have been published in Chinese literature till now), but I would inform you that zhuguo coins could bee attributed to a famous warlord of the Later Jin (936-946) of the Five Dynasties period. As mentioned in the "Xin Wudai shi" (New History of the Five Dynasties) "in the fourth summer month of the second year of Tian Fu (=937), the Governor-Commandant of the Xuanwu Army Yang Guangyuan gave 300 000 strings of zhuguo coins". <Probably here can be misinterpretating of old style Chinese text in words zhuguo. See message from William Hill below. - VB, 22-Aug-02>
          These coins and the muguo coins have two typological particularities: the calligraphy of yuan character and the hole that is proportionnaly greater than the hole of the Liao coins. I thinks that it would bee interesting to compare the form of yuan with that of other Chinese coins...

Additional comment from Francois Thierry (09-Jun-00):
          When Mr Robert Kokotailo sayd that "in fact, 1.5 grams weights do not make sense .... I am not aware of any post Sui Dynasty Chinese coin that averages less than 2 grams", it is not the reality.
          If we'll check the Later Jin Tian Fu yuanbao coins in the Shanghai Museum, it is possible to see two group of coins, the first is of normal weigth coins and the second of lighter coins less than 2 grams:
  • in the "Shanghai Museum catalogue", vol. III, #1406 and 1408,
  • in the "Zhongguo lidai huobi daxi" Tang series, #1466, 1467, 1473, 1477, 1476, 1480, 1486, 1490.
  • During the Five Dynasties period some small coins were officially issued as the small "Tang guo tongbao" (Shanghai Museum #1555, 1556, 1557 are between 1.9 and 1.8 grams; in Daxi, #1817 to 1821 are of 2 grams or less); some "Da Tang tongbao" coins are light too (Shanghai Museum #1579). Some local issues of Tang and Five Dynasties coins are lighter than the ordinary coins: in the Shanghai Museum catalogue, I find four "Qian Yuan zhongbao" lighter than 2 grams (#1011, 1071, 1108, 1113). The "yuan" and "zhong" coins of Anxi (Kucha) mint of Tang time are small and light coins, and the small "Da Li yuanbao" and "Jian Zhong tongbao" of the same mint are light too (between 2 and 3 grams). I thinks that the weight of Chinese coins is not an absolute law, but is connected by local both economic (price level, providing of copper, casting tradition) and political conditions.
          Concerning the Liao coins, I would give the reference of a collection of Chinese and Japanese articles published in 1993 in Hohote (Inner Mongolia) by Mr Zhang Gongping and others: "Liao dai huobi wenji". In this book you can find some very interesting papers on muguo and zhuguo coins.
          "Liao dai huobi wenji" collects different papers of different times of scholars of different opinions: for example you can find a paper that says that the "Khai Thai nguyen bao" is not a Vietnamese Tran coin but a Liao one, or that the "Thien Khanh thong bao" (1426-1427) is not a Vietnamese coin but a Liao too. Concerning the muguo and zhuguo coins, you can find different opinions. I have not yet seriously study these coins, but I make some remarks, in general...
          For me the only valuable data is the text of the "Xin Wudai shi". The second important data would be the archaeological excavations and the location of the discoveries of these coins; but as you know it is very difficult to obtain recent local archaelogical or numismatic publications from China, because many of these local publications are often classified "neibu" (for inner diffusion only). I think that the publication of archaeological discoveries of coins or coin hoard in North or North-West China could give us informations: where the most part of these coins are precisely found? That is the question.
    <By the note of Gilbert Tan, most of those coins were found in the Liaodong and Inner Mongolia regions - VB>
          I have never seen a muguo or a zhuguo in Vietnam coin market, and in French literature on Indochinese archaeology I never find mention of a discovery of a such coin. The main problem is Liao or Later Jin? Yes... but we have the text of the "Xin Wudai shi"...
          In our Cabinet we don't have any "muguo" or "zhuguo" coins...

Message from William Hill (20-Aug-02):
          The book "Xin Wudai Shi" mentioned only "Yang Guangyuan assisted the country with 300 000 strings of coins". But it did not make clear whether General Yang "assisted" the country with "Zhu Guo Yuan Bao". "Zhu Guo" means "assisting the country", it's right, but "Zhu Guo Yuan Bao" is a very rare coin. If it was once minted "300 000 strings", many more history books will record such an important thing loudly, and also, there will be lots of same coins available on recent market. "Mu Guo Yuan Bao" is actually "Zhuang Guo Yuan Bao". The word "zhuang" has a version same like on the above mentioned coin, and such a version was used one thousand year ago, people had forgot this version, but one stone recorded a old document, which happened to use this word in the exact same version. Nowadays, In China, most experts believe that the both coins were issued by Liao.
          Between "Zhuang" and "Mu", there is a big difference: The "Zhuang" usually has one more dot, still, sometimes this dot also can be off, if the writing were not very formal. Liao also had a difficult time when they were very weak, and even need their temples to "assiste them".
          I've translated the article by Mr.Gao from Quanbi jornal into English. Also a 1993 book called "Articles on Liao Money" (Liao Dai Huo Bi Wen Ji) collected Mr.Gao's opinion, but there are some mis-printings. In this 1993 book, we can find 8 articles on Zhu Guo, and Zhuang Guo, and more mentioned in others.
          The further developing after 1993 is:
    1) More attention on that "dot";
    2) Liao or Liao's puppet was the caster;
    3) More specimens were found, all from Liao's places.

Message from Alex Chengyu Fang (23-Aug-02):
          Concerning the passage from Xin Wudai Shi, I turned to the original text and found that in Section 8 of the Original Record of Jin, Vol 8, it is mentioned:

    xin mao xuan wu jun jie du shi yang guang yuan jin zhu guo qian
    "[On the Xinmao day of the fourth summer month of the second year], Yang Guang-yuan, the Governor-Commander of the Xuanwu Army, presented Zhuguo coins."

          Two points are worthing noting here: First, no actual amount was mentioned in the text. Second, it is apparent that Zhuguo here refers to the inscriptions of the coins. As a native speaker of Chinease, it is not natural or likely interpretation to me that the coins were for the purpose of assisting the country.

Message from William Hill (23-Aug-02):
          It seems that I will have to translate some other articles which pointed out the original meaning of that "Wu Dai Shi" recording.
          Here, I have a summury: 1)The original sentence can be understood in two ways by a numismatist, but if the "Wu Dai Shi" author knew nothing about coins collecting or study, he would never mention any inscription in that way.
    2) "Wu Dai Shi" means "History of Five Dynasties". A historist named Xu Ju-zheng wrote the old version, which was call "Jiu Wu Dai Shi" later. Mr.Xu did not put clear of the exact quantity of the coin. Another famous historical guy called Ou-yang Xiu wrote a new version, which was named Xin Wu Dai Shi later. Mr.Ou-yang's whole version is still available nowadays, and in his version, he recorded the exact quantity.
    3)The "Xin Wu Dai Shi" records as below:"...Jin Zhu Guo Qian 300000 Guan ...", some Pubs' version says "...200000 Guan ...".
          "Jin" means "tribute", "Zhu" means "help", "Guo" means "country", "qian" means "coin", and "Guan" means "string".
          So, some people said, by "Zhu Guo Qian", the author means "Zhu Guo Yuan Bao"; but some others believe that the author was trying to tell us that General Yang was tributing 300000 strings of coins as bribe under the name of "helping the country". So "Zhu Guo" here is an attribute of "Qian".

Message from Alex Chengyu Fang (23-Aug-02):
          Further to our discussion on the interpretation of Zhuguo, I've found 16 instances in the Twenty Four Histories where Zhuguo (country assisting) and the donation of money are clearly correlated.

          Among those, 15 are unambiguously interpreted as "for the purpose of assisting the country" through the use of linguistic structures indicating "for the purpose of" and "in order to". These are all adverbial or independent clauses.

          Only two occurrances of Zhuguo were found in an attributive position. One is clearly attributive indicated by the presence of Zhi (a character indicating possession and attribution). The other example is the sentence of our focus attention, without Zhi and thus lends itself to the interpretation as a compound noun.

          In short, this sentence is a unique use among the 16 similar instances. Its unique structure seems to confirm my initial, intuitive interpretation of the compound noun as referring to the coin inscriptions. Please find attached my key-word-in-context analyses of the 16 examples.

Message from William Hill (27-Aug-02):
          To a historist, neither inscription, nor the exact quantity was important, what they wanted to tell their grand-children were that, some day, a guy called Yang Guang-yuan was doing Zhu Guo, or, in English, was helping the country. Since it was a historically noticeable affair, the tributary of Yang Guang-yuan could never be a small number. We can compare with any of the other Zhu Guo affairs mentioned by history, no any other one was peanut. No matter they Zhu Guo with textile fabric, or cast coins, or any other stuff, the object was always valuable.

          Usually one Guan, or one string of coins will be about 1000 pieces, and it would be equal to about 1 ounce of silver. 300,000 Guan would be about 300,000 silver dollars, that's a reasonable sum for any helping or bribe purpose. In order to fit the fact that the both coins are very rare, we will have to understand that Yang Guang-yuan contributed only 3 dollars, or let's say 300 dollars, but in a surprising way made the history recorded him. At South Sung Dynasty time, a person called Hong Zun wrote a numismatics book, called Quan-zhi. His time was very near to both Wu Dai [Five Dynasties], and Liao, or the Lishu writing time. But he did not mention the both coins in his book. Actually, this two coins was not in sight of any ancient numismatists, until the year of 1842. Here below please find the Chinese study history on them:

    1. 1842 Chun Cao Tang Qian Si Tu, by Xie Kun. Main idea: Zhu Guo Yuan Bao was cast by Yang Guang-yuan.
    2. ~1851 Hong Ou Huan Xuan Quan Pin, by Ma Guo-han. Main idea: Agree with Xie Kun.
    3. Also Qing Dynasty, Gu Quan Hui, by Li Zhu-peng. Main idea: The both coins are doubtful on the caster.
    4. Qing Dynasty, Quan Tan, by Bao Kang. Main idea: Against 1) and 2).
    5. 1938 Gu Qian Da Ci Dian, by Ding Fu-bao. Main idea: Same as Qu Quan Hui. He put the coins in "Doubtful", but he also quoted that history recording concerning Yang Guang-yuan as reference.
    6. 1940 Li Dai Gu Qian Tu Shuo, by Ding Fu-bao. Main idea: Same as before.
    7. ~1941 On Quan-bi mainly, Chen Ren-tao and Wang Jia-yin said the both were cast at Wu Dai, later, some followers said they were cast by Yang Guang-yuan, and some others said no sure on certain Wu Dai people. At the same time, Ma Ding-xiang and Dai Bao-ting hold the idea that the both coins were cast in Liao. On the reading problem, Gao Shan-qian said the word Mu was actually Zhuang.
    8. ~1988 A Discussion On Zhu Guo Yuan Bao coin and Mu Guo Yuan Bao coin, by Li Geng-wen; On Zhu Guo Yuan Bao, by Miao Run-hua, etc. All can be found in Liao Dai Huo Bi Wen Ji. Main ideas:
      a) Cast during 700 AC ~ 1000 AC;
      b) Maybe by Shi Jing-tang;
      c) Maybe was cast at Shi Jing-tang's time;
      d) Maybe by Yang guang-yuan;
      e) Maybe in Liao.
    9. Recent Years, More Zhu Guo Hand coins were found, people begin to understand the style of Liao coins better. After compared the Wu Dai coins, Liao coins, with the Zhu Guo series, people say that, on both Zhu Guo Yuan Bao and Zhuang Guo Yuan Bao, we can smell the Liao time better than Wu Dai.

          By the way, Xuan-wu Jun did not mean Xuan-wu Army, but we can call it Xuan-wu State or Xuan-wu Province. Xuan-wu Jun was occupied by another warlord named Shi Jin-tang after Yang Guang-yuan was defeated by him, and then after, when Shi Jin-tang began to play a role of puppet of Liao, Xuan-wu Jun was contributed to Liao as a part of 16 states of "Yun Yan". <In the History of the Liao (Liao Shi) we can read: '[927-947 AD] Shih Ching-t'ang2 offered the cash which had been accumulated along the border in order to provide supplies for the army.' - VB, 28-Aug-02>

          And, If the recording concerning Yang Guang-yuan means inscription of the coins, it will be the only one exception that all the other Zhu Guo recordings did not focus on detailed inscription of the tributary coins. If we believe that Yang Guang-yuan cast Zhu Guo Yuan Bao, and his tributary covered this coins, together with some others, then how can we understand why the other inscriptions were not mentioned?

Any additional comments on this subject would be appreciated.
You can sent it to Sergey Shevtcov and Vladimir Belyaev.
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