47. Chinese Money Matters – so why does it have such a low profile?

This was the title of the short presentation I gave at the Art, Materiality and Representation conference that took place in London, 1-3 June, organised by the Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI), the BM’s Department for Africa, Oceania and the Americas, and the Dept of Anthropology at SOAS. My paper was one of 17 papers in the one-day session “Museums of Asian Arts outside Asia: Questioning Artefacts, Cultures and Identities” (see the list of speakers and titles at the end of this post). The day was superbly conceived, organised and presented by Iside Carbone of the RAI.

Chinese Money Matters – so why does it have such a low profile?   —  Abstract: There are tens of thousands of Chinese coins, banknotes, coin-shaped amulets, hell money and other money-related objects in East Asian collections outside of Asia. Why are they so neglected? In this paper, I will open up the subject and highlight the potential of these collections.

The aim of my presentation was to try and open up a subject to people who seldom think about Chinese money, which is simply not on the radar when people are thinking about “Chinese art” or “Chinese collections”. Yet,  there are probably more Chinese coins in museum collections outside China than any other kind of object. I gave some figures from searches on the BM Collection Online in 2017 – the  following data is by no means complete, and I used these figures simply to give an idea of scale.

Some of the Chinese objects in the Dept of Coins and Medals, BM:

  • China + coin                  over 13,000 items
  • China + banknote         about 2000 items
  • China + Mao badge      over 400 items
  • China + ingot                 over 370 items
  • China + ration ticket    about 240 items

Some of the Chinese objects in the Dept of Asia, BM:

  • China + Percival David (ceramics)   over 1600 items
  • China + painting          about 400 items
  • China + jade                  over 350 items
  • China + calligraphy     about 150 items
  • China + seal                  over 60 items
  • China + poster              about 40 items

I also highlighted the displays of East Asian money in the galleries at the British Museum, and some of the publications on East Asian numismatics that Joe Cribb, and I, and others, have produced.

Citi Money Gallery

Citi Money Gallery, BM

Korea Foundation Gallery

Two visitors enjoying the display of East Asian coins in the Korea Foundation Gallery, BM

Silk Road map - Hotung Gallery

Coins in the Silk Road display, Hotung Gallery, BM

Some of the publications I mentioned —  for further details see Numismatic Publications of the British Museum, by Mary Hinton, in Barrie Cook (ed.), The British Museum and the Future of Numismatics – Proceedings of a conference held to mark the 150th anniversary of the British Museum’s Department of Coins and Medals, 2011 (BM Research Publication, 2011, pp. 87-90).


Conference programme for Museums of Asian Arts outside Asia: Questioning Artefacts, Cultures and Identities” (British Museum – Anthropology Library, 2 June 2018)

Convenor: Iside Carbone (Royal Anthropological Institute, London)

Session 1 (9.00-10.30)

  1. Collecting karamono kodō 唐物古銅 in Meiji Japan: the image of China through the archaistic Chinese bronzes of the Chiossone Museum, Genoa, Italy – Donatella Failla (‘Edoardo Chiossone’ Museum of Japanese Art, Genoa)
  2. Acheter un petit chinois: The Jesuit Museum of Chinese Art in Québec – Karen Tam (artist, Montreal)
  3. Korean Gardens outside of Korea: The (Re)Construction of National Cultural Identity? – Maria Sobotka (Free University of Berlin/Peking University)
  4. Defining Asia’s cultural matrix?  – Chiara Formichi (Cornell University)
  5. Taiyuan Asian Puppet Theatre Museum: a platform for the conservation, exchange, performance and promotion of living Asian puppet theatre traditions – Robin Ruizendaal (Taiyuan Asian Puppet Theatre Museum)

Session 2 (11.00-12.30)

  1.  Challenging the framing of ‘Asia’ and the role of the VVAK (Dutch Asian Art Society). The Asian Pavilion at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam – Annette Loeseke (New York University, Berlin)
  2. Saving Asia: The Past and Present of Asian Art Objects in Western Museums  Harnoor Bhangu (University of Winnipeg)
  3. Imagining the ‘Orient’ in early 20th century Canada – The Asian Arts Collections of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts – Laura Vigo (Montreal Museum of Fine Arts)
  4. Museo Nacional de Arte Oriental in Buenos Aires: a derivation of European taste for anything Oriental or genuine interest in the East? – Florencia Rodriguez Giavarini (Universidad del Salvador)

Session 3 (14.30-16.00)

  1.  Chinese Money Matters – so why does it have such a low profile?  – Helen Wang (British Museum)
  2. ‘Seek knowledge even as far as China’: The founding of the Oriental Museum, Durham University – Gillian Ramsay (Durham University)
  3. Orient Museum Collections. Polysemy reduction and metonymic overuse – Sofia Campos Lopes (Fundação Oriente, Lisbon)
  4. Rethinking Asian Museums in Italy – Marco Biscione (Museum of Oriental Art, Turin)

Session 4 (16.30-18.00)

  1.  Japan in Venice: The Collection of the Oriental Art Museum in Venice – Marta Boscolo Marchi (Oriental Art Museum, Venice)
  2. The Museum of Asian Art in Berlin: From Prussian Heritage to World Museum – Regina Hoefer (Bonn University)
  3. The Museums of the Far East and the Asian collections of the Royal Museums of Art and History, Brussels – Nathalie Vandeperre (Royal Museums of Art and History, Brussels)
  4. Asia and Pacific Museum in Warsaw – the new beginning and challenges – Maria Szymanska-Ilnata (Asia and Pacific Museum, Warsaw)





One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s