Emperor Gao Zu
Emperor Taizong 太宗
|One fact that most scholars agree upon is that China was
the first country to issue paper money. Paper money catalogs often show
mulberry bark Ming Dynasty notes (right) as the first surviving banknote
and collectors often indicate that the
Ming notes of 1368-1644
were the first banknotes issued in the world.
More accurately, the Tang Dynasty paper money issues, done as a by-product of their wood block printing process around the year 800 AD were probably the worlds first "banknotes."
They were apparently issued as certificates in various amounts and were transferable. Because they could be exchanged at the capital for hard currency, they began to circulate, although not over a wide area.
The Tang note image shown above, called "flying money" was most likely a drawing of an actual banknote used in this period. It was mentioned in Smith & Matravers, "Chinese Banknotes" in their 1970 catalog without a picture.
The Tang notes were not issued in accordance with a government decree and they did not have government seals (chops) and therefore would not be classified as banknotes by current standards but perhaps they should be called a local currency.
They did have usefulness in commerce with the added advantage that available copper, gold, silver and iron could be used for other purposes. And most importantly they were easy to carry around from place to place and could be more easily hidden from robbers.
We know of no examples of a Tang note to have survived.
© Garry Saint, Esquire 1999- 2006