Primal Trek

Peace Coins and Charms


The word "peace" (taiping 太 平) in the inscription on coins produced for everyday circulation in China has a very long history.

Presented below are several examples of such "peace" coins
as well as a number of Chinese charms which include the word "peace" in their inscriptions.

Peace Coins

The first use of the term peace (
taiping 太 平) in the inscription (legend) of a Chinese coin was on the example shown here.
First Chinese coin with peace (Tai Ping)
There is some controversy, however, as to where and when this coin was actually cast.

Some references state that the coin was cast during the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 AD) and the beginning of the Three Kingdoms (220-265 AD).

Other references say the coin was cast
in the first year of the Yong Kong reign (300 AD) of Emperor Hui of the Jin Dynasty (265-316 AD) at the order of Zhao Xin, the governor of Yizhou prefecture after he captured Chengdu (Sichuan Province) and established his regime with the "year-title" of Tai Ping.

Most recent sources now conclude that the coin was issued by the Kingdom of Shu (221-265 AD) during the Three Kingdoms period.  This is based on archaelogical discoveries in 1980 of a coin mold and in 1955 of a large cache of these coins in a tomb near Chengdu in Sichuan Province where the Kingdom of Shu previously existed.  The tomb was dated to 227 AD which means that these coins were cast sometime before that date.

The inscription (legend) on the coin is tai ping bai qian (太平百钱) which translates as "Taiping (Great Peace) One Hundred Cash", and the coin was worth the equivalent of 100 cash coins in circulation at that time.
Reverse side of
            Kingdom of Shu Tai Ping Bai Qian coin with symbols
The reverse side of the coin is most unusual in that it has many wavy lines and dots.

The wavy lines are generally believed to represent water waves and the dot at the top and bottom represent stars.

Even though this was the legal form of currency of the time, the fancy calligraphy and the use of symbols more closely resemble that of charms and amulets.

There are those who believe that this coinage may actually be associated with the wudoumi Taoists. 
Zhang Daoling (also known as Zhang Ling, "Ancestral Celestial Master" and "Celestial Master Zhang") established the first organized Daoist (Taoist) religious sect, known as the "Five Bushels of Rice" ("Five Pecks of Rice" or Wudou Mi Dao 五斗米道), in this same area of Sichuan Province.

(If you have further interest, a charm depicting Zhang Daoling meeting Laozi can be seen at Daoist (Taoist) Charms.)

This coin
has a  diameter of 26 mm and a weight is 6.0 grams.

The next use of peace on circulated currency was by Emperor Tai Zong of the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279 AD) cast during the years of his Tai Ping Xing Guo reign (976 - 989 AD).

Old Song
                Dynasty coin with peace inscription (Tai Ping Tong Bao)
At the left is an example of this Song Dynasty coin.  The obverse has the characters Tai Ping Tong Bao (
太 平通宝) with the word for peace inscribed above and below the hole.  The reverse of this coin is flat with no inscription.

This coin has a diameter of 24.8 mm and weighs 4 grams.

The use of the characters for peace (Tai Ping 太 平) were next seen on officially cast coins during the reign of Emperor Si Zong of the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644 AD).
Old 1628 AD
                coin -- Chong Zhen Tong Bao

The coin at the left
is an example which first appeared in the year 1628 AD.  Emperor Si Zong's coinage had the characters Chong Zhen Tong Bao (崇祯通宝) on the obverse side.

            Chinese coin with peace inscription -- Tai Ping
The reverse side of the coin has the word peace with the character Tai (
太) above and the character Ping (平) below the central hole.

This coin has a diameter of 26.2 mm and weighs 3.1 grams.

Peace Coins of the Taiping Rebellion

The characters for peace were also used on the "unofficial" coinage of a large-scale peasant uprising (1850 -1864 AD) during the Qing (Ch'ing) Dynasty referred to as the Taiping Rebellion.  Hong Xiu Quan (洪秀全) established the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace (太 平天国).  Until the rebellion was put down, Hong Xiu Quan and his rebel army controlled a good portion of southern China with a population of about 30 million.  His troops were called "holy troops" and his coins were called "holy coins".

                rebel coin with peace (Tai Ping) and Heavenly Kingdom
                (Tian Guo) 

The coin at the left is an example of this rebel coinage.  The obverse side has the characters for Tai Ping (peace) above and below the square hole with the characters Tian Guo (天国), meaning "heavenly kingdom", to the right and left.

Reverse side of old Chinese coin with "holy
                coin" (shengbao)
The reverse side of the coin has the characters shengbao (圣宝), meaning "holy coin", on the right and left.

This coin has a diameter of 24.6 mm and weighs 3.3 grams.

Peace Charms

Peace has always been a state of affairs desired by the people throughout China's long and frequently unpeaceful history.  Therefore, it would not be surprising that charms, which were not currency but nevertheless were used daily by the common Chinese, would have this wish for peace inscribed on them.

The expression tian xia tai ping
(天 下太平) first appeared in the ancient Chinese encyclopedic text Lshi Chunqiu (吕氏春秋), known in English as Mister L's Spring and Autumn Annals, which was compiled about 239 BC.  The text reads tian xia tai ping wan wu an ning (天 下太平万物安宁) which means "when there is peace under heaven, all things are tranquil and calm".

During the Tang (618-907 AD) and Song (960-1279 AD) dynasties, it was quite common to see a similar sentiment expressed on duilian (对联) which are parallel sentences or antithetical couplets written on scrolls and hung on doors during holidays and festivals.  The expression was shang tian yan hao shi xia jie bao ping an (上天言好事下界保平安) which requested Zaojun (灶君), the "Stove God", to "ascend to heaven and report good things and then descend to earth and protect the peace and tranquility".

The expression tian xia tai ping (天下太平) is frequently found on Chinese charms beginning in the Qing (Ch'ing) Dynasty (1644 - 1911 AD).  The inscription may be translated as "peace under heaven", "peace and tranquility under heaven" or "an empire at peace".

The following are several examples of
tian xia tai ping charms:

Old Chinese
                large coin with inscription "peace under
                heaven" (Tian Xia Tai Ping)

This is a fairly large specimen with the characters
tian xia tai ping (天下太平) written top to bottom and right to left.

There is a picture of a crab between each of the characters.  What is the connection between peace and crabs?  The Chinese word for crab (蟹) shares the same pronunciation (xie) as the Chinese word for harmony (协). Therefore, the hidden meaning of the crab symbol reinforces the desire for peace.

For additional information on the Chinese use of pictures to substitute for words please see Chinese Charms -- Hidden Meaning of Symbols.

Reverse side of old Chinese charm with 12 Animals
                of the Chinese Zodiac Representing the 12 Earthly

This is the reverse side of the charm showing the twelve animals representing the twelve Earthly Branches.  The meaning is discussed in detail at Ancient Chinese Zodiac Charms.

Surrounding the square hole are four tree peony or mudan (
牡 丹) flowers.  The peony symbolizes longevity, loyalty, happiness and eternal beauty.  For more information on the fabled history of the peony please see Ancient Chinese Open-Work Charms.

The charm has a diameter of 51 mm.

Old Chinese peace
          charm with bat on top and inscription "tian xia tai
          ping"This is a very unusual Chinese peace charm.

The obverse and reverse sides of the charm are the same but that is not its most unusual feature.

The inscription is also the standard tian xia tai ping (天下太平) meaning "peace under heaven".

What makes it unusual is the top portion which is an upside-down bat.

The bat is a rebus or "visual pun" because the Chinese word for "bat" (fu
) has the same pronunciation as the word for "good fortune" (fu).

Also, the Chinese word for "upside-down" (dao
) has the same pronunciation as the word for "to arrive" (dao).

Saying "the bat is upside-down" (fu dao 蝠倒
) sounds the same as saying "good fortune has arrived" (fu dao 福到)!

This charm therefore represents the wish for both peace and good fortune.

The charm has a length of 41.8 mm, a width of 28 mm and a weight of 9.9 grams.

Old seal script Chinese charm with peace under
                heaven (Tian Xia Tai Ping)
This is a very attractive charm with
Tian Xia Tai Ping written in the same orientation as the charm above.  However, the characters are written in seal script.

 The diameter is 26.5 mm and the weight is 5.2 grams.

Reverse side of old charm showing four figures
The reverse side of the charm displays four figures.  Some experts say that the four figures are playing drums.  Others say that they are brandishing weapons.

Additional research is required.

Another old peace charm
This is another example of a tian xia tai ping "peace" charm.

The diameter is 26.3 mm and the weight is 4.1 grams.

Reverse side of old peace charm
The reverse side of the charm has the inscription bi xie ying rui (辟邪迎瑞) which means "ward off evil influences and receive auspicious omens".

This charm can also be seen as an example of an eight character charm at Charms with Auspicious Inscriptions.

Silver Chinese
          peace charm

The peace charm at the left is an example of a Chinese peace charm made of silver.

Because of the tarnish, it is a little difficult to see but the inscription is tian xia tai ping
(天下太平) meaning "peace under heaven".

Reverse side of
          silver Chinese peace charm

The reverse side of the silver peace charm depicts a flower design, possibly the lotus.

This charm has a diameter of 45 mm and a weight of 5.8 grams.

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