In ancient China, coins were used as currency instead of paper money. Ancient coins were mainly made of copper, iron, gold and silver with different shapes, weight and marks. Ancient coins played an important role in archaeology, as well as exploring the history of commercial and economy in ancient China. The metal coins turned up in the last phase of the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC–476 BC), and the history of paper currency in China can be dated up to the Northern Song Dynasty (960–1127).
Shell is used as a kind of primitive money circulated at the end of the Neolithic Age since they have small and exquisite appearance, bright color, solid texture, and the feature of easy to carry and count. At the end of the Shang Dynasty (1675 BC–1029 BC), due to the lack of shells in Northeast China, other materials such as pottery, stone, bone, jade, copper and gold began to be made to coins. However, the most common form was still made from natural shells.
Copper cash, turned up in the Qin Dynasty (221 BC–206 BC), was the general terms of Chinese ancient currency. Cooper has the advantage of solid and easy to find. Thus the cast bronze coin dominated ancient Chinese coinage system, which originated in Spring and Autumn Period (8th to 5th centuries BC, an era of great transformation). Generally speaking, people in ancient times believed that the heaven is round and the earth is square. The beliefs lead to why the copper coin has the round shape and a square hole in the center. Besides the mostly round copper coins, there are also copper coins in other shapes: spade-shaped coins and knife-shaped coins in the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC–476 BC), and ring-shape coins in the Warring States Period (475 BC to 221 AD). In addition, silver ingots and gold ingots were also circulated in ancient China, and the wide use of silver coins was beginning at the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644).
Due to the great development on commodity economy, the increase of trade, and the high demand of currency, merchants need a kind of currency with convenience on carrying with, hence the paper money turned up. The earliest paper currency in the world was appeared in China. It was called Jiao Zi, which was founded to be created in the early North Song Dynasty (960–1127). It was first issued in 1023 together by 16 merchant princes in Chengdu, Sichuan Province. This paper currency was a piece of paper printed with houses, trees, men and cipher.