A tshjwu ꞏwu ljɨ̣ dzjɨj (𘀗𘑨𘏨𘔭) or Qian You Bao Qian (Chinese: ) cash coin written in the Tangut script.
1cash XiXia RenZong TianSheng H1897
A Tian Sheng Yuan Bao () coin issued under Emperor Renzong.

The Western Xia was a Tangut-led Chinese dynasty which ruled over what are now the northwestern Chinese subdivisions of Ningxia, Gansu, eastern Qinghai, northern Shaanxi, northeastern Xinjiang, southwest Inner Mongolia, and southernmost Outer Mongolia from 1032 until 1227 when they were destroyed by the Mongols. The country was established by the Tangut people;[1][2] likewise its earliest coins were escribed with Tangut characters, while later they would be written in Chinese. Opposed to Song dynasty coins that often read top-bottom-right-left, Western Xia coins exclusively read clockwise. Despite the fact that coins had been cast for over a century and a half, very little were actually produced and coins from Western Xia are a rarity today.[3] Although the Western Xia cast their own coins barter remained widely used.[4]

Originally from 1053 until 1068 the inscription of its cash coins were exclusively written in the Tangut script, and between 1068 and 1206 coins were cast with both Tangut and Chinese inscriptions, but after 1206 only Chinese characters were used. Compared to Liao dynasty coinage, coins from Western Xia were cast in superior quality, though only bronze and iron coins produced between 1149 and 1193 were cast in high quantities.[5] The calligraphy of Western Xia period cash coins are typically regarded as being of fine quality.[6]

After Western Xia was annexed by the Mongols, Tangut inscriptions appeared only on a single Yuan dynasty coin.[7]


Following the establishment of the Western Xia state, the Tangut people, in an effort to revive their original ethnic and national culture, had rejected both Chinese characters and Chinese fashion.[8][9] The Tangut people had soon created an indigenous writing system, this writing system was exclusively used on the earlier Western Xia era cash coins.[8][9] These early Tangut cash coins had inscriptions like śjɨj ljo ljɨ̣ dzjɨj (𗼃𗼕𘏨𘔭) and tha nej ljɨ̣ dzjɨj (𘜶𗵐𘏨𘔭).[8] The Tangut script inscription on these early Western Xia cash coins always read clockwise (top-right-bottom-left), with all of these coins having inscriptions that translate into English as "Precious Coin of the" followed by the reign title.[10] Cash coins with Tangut inscriptions are known to have been produced during six different reign periods, but it's possible that more variants have been produced.[10]

Cash coins with Tangut inscriptions have been discovered in the modern era such as the Zhengde Baoqian type in the year 1999.[11]

During the Qianyou period (1139–1193) of the reign of Emperor Renzong the political and military stability as well as the growing economy in Western Xia had allowed for the country to prosper. Emperor Renzong would hold education in a high esteem and was responsible for the establishment of schools including an Imperial Academy.[8][9] Emperor Renzong had further established an imperial examination system in the style of that of the Chinese Empire.[8][9] During the Qianyou era the Tangut government had also gained greater respect for both Confucian philosophy and the culture of the Song dynasty.[8][9] Much art from the Western Xia Empire, including its coinage was largely based on that from China.[12]

This era also saw the production of Song dynasty-style cash coins, these Song dynasty-style cash coins also followed the Song tradition of casting “Matched Coins” (對錢, duì qián, 對品, duì pǐn, 和合錢, hé hé qián), where two or more different Chinese calligraphy styles were used on cash coins that had the same Chinese era title (or reign period).[8][9]

These Chinese calligraphic styles included clerical script, regular script, running script, grass script, and rarely seal script.[8][9]

List of coins produced by the Western Xia

See also: List of Chinese cash coins by inscription

The cash coins produced under the Western Xia were cast in either Tangut or Chinese.[13]

Coins with Tangut inscriptions:[14][15][a]

Traditional Chinese Simplified Chinese Years of casting Emperor Image
śjɨj ljo ljɨ̣ dzjɨj (𗼃𗼕𘏨𘔭) Fu Sheng Bao Qian 福聖寶錢 福圣宝钱 1053–1056 Yizong
tha nej ljɨ̣ dzjɨj (𘜶𗵐𘏨𘔭) Da An Bao Qian 大安寶錢 大安宝钱 1074–1084 Huizong
tśhja bio̲ ljɨ̣ dzjɨj (𗣼𘝯𘏨𘔭) Zhen Guan Bao Qian 貞觀寶錢 贞观宝钱 1101–1113 Chongzong
tśhja mji̲ ljɨ̣ dzjɨj (𗣼𘇚𘏨𘔭) Zheng De Bao Qian 正德寶錢 正德宝钱 1127–1134 Chongzong
tshjwu ꞏwu ljɨ̣ dzjɨj (𘀗𘑨𘏨𘔭) Qian You Bao Qian 乾佑寶錢 乾佑宝钱 1170–1193 Renzong
ŋwər ljwu ljɨ̣ dzjɨj (𘓺𘅝𘏨𘔭) Tian Qing Bao Qian 天慶寶錢 天庆宝钱 1194–1206 Huanzong

Coins with Chinese inscriptions:

Inscription Traditional Chinese Simplified Chinese Script Years of casting Emperor Image
Da An Tong Bao 大安通寶 大安通宝 Clerical script 1074–1084 Huizong
Yuan De Tong Bao 元德通寶 元德通宝 Clerical script 1119–1126 Chongzong
Da De Tong Bao 大德通寶 大德通宝 Regular script 1135–1139 Chongzong
Tian Sheng Yuan Bao 天盛元寶 天盛元宝 Regular script 1149–1169 Renzong
Qian You Yuan Bao 乾佑元寶 乾佑元宝 Regular script, Semi-cursive script, Seal script[8][9] 1170–1193 Renzong
Tian Qing Yuan Bao 天慶元寶 天庆元宝 Regular script 1194–1206 Huanzong
Huang Jian Yuan Bao 皇建元寶 皇建元宝 Regular script 1210–1211 Xiangzong
Guang Ding Yuan Bao 光定元寶 光定元宝 Semi-cursive script, Seal script[8][9] 1211–1223 Shenzong

Usage of seal script on Western Xia cash coins

Many Chinese and other Oriental coin catalogues through the centuries had documented the cash coins that were cast by the Western Xia Empire to be in regular script or running scripts but not in seal script.[8] This changed in September of the year 1984 with the discovery of a seal script Guangding Yuanbao cash coin and again in 2012 with the discovery of a seal script Qianyou Yuanbao cash coin.[8] While a multitude of seal script Guangding Yuanbao cash coins have been discovered, only a single Qianyou Yuanbao cash coin has been known to exist.[8]

Today these newly discovered variants have been added to newer Chinese coin catalogues as variants of the "matched cash coins" of the Western Xia Empire.[8] In the modern era the discovery of a new Chinese coin variety is a rare occurrence to happen, so the discovery of the seal script Qianyou Yuanbao has caused a great amount of excitement among Chinese cash coinage collectors.[8]

Guangding Yuanbao

A rubbing of a Guangding Yuanbao (光定元寶) with an inscription that was written in seal script.

In early September of the year 1984 a cache of old cash coins was unearthed in the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, among these cash coins was a Guangding Yuanbao (光定元寶) with an inscription that was written in seal script.[8][9] These cash coins were unearthed due to Helanshan flash floods which occurred near Yinchuan, which was historically known as Xingqing and was the capital city of the Western Xia Empire.[16][9] Among the cash coins unearthed during this event were Han, Tang, Song, Khitan Liao, Jurchen Jin, and many other types of cash coins.[16] The rarest earlier documented coins found after these flash floods were Liao dynasty coins and gold coins, but at the time the seal script Guangding Yuanbao was never seen before and thought to be unique.[16] This first seal script Guangding Yuanbao cash coin has a diameter of 25.3 millimeters, a thickness of 1.4 millimeters, and a weight of 4.3 grams.[8]

In the year 2002 a second specimen was dug up in the province of Shaanxi, this was followed by the discovery of a third specimen found in Inner Mongolia.[8][9] Later excavations in the Tongxin County, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region had brought this number up to more than ten.[8][9]

Qianyou Yuanbao

A rubbing of the unique Qianyou Yuanbao (乾佑元寶) with a seal script inscription.

For a long it was believed that the Guangding Yuanbao cash coins produced towards the very end of the Western Xia period were the only cash coins with seal script inscriptions produced by the empire.[8][9] However, in the 2012, a Chinese farmer had uncovered a cache of Western Xia era cash coins in Tongxin County, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region and among these cash coins was a unique Qianyou Yuanbao (乾佑元寶) with a seal script inscription.[8][9] This cash coin has a diameter of 25.4 millimeters, a thickness of 1.5 millimeters and has a weight of 3.3 grams, its inscription is read clockwise.[8][9]

Dr. Zhu Hu (朱浒) of the Art Research Institute of East China Normal University published in “Volume One of China Numismatics” (simplified Chinese: 中国钱币2016年1期; traditional Chinese: 中國錢幣 2016年1期; pinyin: zhōng guó qián bì èr qiān liù shí liù nián yì qī) an assessment of this cash coin.[8][9] According to Dr. Zhu Hu this cash coin is inspired by the seal script "matched cash coins" from the Northern Song dynasty.[8][9] Dr. Zhu Hu notes that the seal script character "You" (祐) is written in the same method as that of the Jingyou Yuanbao (景祐元寶), Jiayou Yuanbao (嘉祐元寶), and the Yuanyou Tongbao (元祐通寶) cash issued by the Song dynasty in the course of a century from the tenth century until the twelfth century.[8][9] While the seal script characters "Yuan" (元) and "Bao" (寶) similar to the "Yuan" and "Bao" characters found on the Xuanhe Yuanbao (宣和元寶), and its "Bao" (寶) character looks similar to that of the seal script version of the Zhenghe Tongbao (政和通寶).[8][9]

The discovery of this unique seal script Qianyou Yuanbao cash coin also means that this inscription is the only Western Xia Empire cash coin that is known to exist in three different Chinese calligraphic varieties, in the form of regular script, running script, and seal script.[8][9]

According to Gary Ashkenazy from the website Primaltrek, he claims that the fact that this unique seal script Qianyou Yuanbao cash coin is very well-made, in his opinion lends credence to the speculation that this coin might have been cast as a trial piece, or pattern coin, and that only very few cash coins with this inscription and calligraphic style might have been actually cast for general circulation.[8]

Differences in style between the seal script Guangding Yuanbao and Qianyou Yuanbao cash coins

The seal script "Yuan" (元) character of the Guangding Yuanbao cash coins tends to have more "twists and turns" than the more "dignified" version of the "Yuan" on the seal script version of the Qianyou Yuanbao,[8] furthermore, the "Yuan" character inscribed on the bottom of the Guangding Yuanbao touches the rim of the coin, which the "Yuan" on the Qianyou Yuanbao doesn't touch the rim of the coin.[8] Another difference between these two cash coins is the fact that the "crown" of the seal script "Bao" (宝) character of the Guangding Yuanbao has a more "square" shape compared to the more "round" shape of the "Bao" found on the seal script version of the Qianyou Yuanbao.[8]

All of these differentiating characteristics are also found on the seal script "matched cash coins" produced by the Song dynasty.[8][9]

Hoards of Western Xia cash coins

See also: List of coin hoards in China

See also


  1. ^ The transliterations are those from Tangutologist Li Fanwen, as opposed to Hartill's usage "Lee Ndzen" and similar phonetics which are common in the numismatics community.


  1. ^ 1984 "Who are the Tanguts? Remarks on Tangut Ethnogenesis and the Ethnonym Tangut." Journal of Asian History 18:1: 78-89.
  2. ^ 1994 "Hsi-Hsia." The Cambridge History of China, Volume 6. Eds. Denis C. Twitchett and Herbert Franke. Cambridge University Press
  3. ^ S.W. Bushell "The Hsi Hsia Dynasty of Tangut, Their Money and Peculiar Script" (Journal of the North China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society Vol.XXX (1895-1896) pp. 142-160.
  4. ^ Chinaknowledge.de Chinese History - Western Xia Empire Economy. 2000 ff. © Ulrich Theobald. Retrieved: 13 July 2017.
  5. ^ "Chinese coins – 中國錢幣 (Western Xia Dynasty/Xi Xia Dynasty)". Gary Ashkenazy / גארי אשכנזי (Primaltrek – a journey through Chinese culture). November 16, 2016. Retrieved June 17, 2017.
  6. ^ Peng, Xinwei: A Monetary History of China. vol I. and II. (Translated from the Chinese original Zhongguo Huobi Shi 1965 by Kaplan, Edward H.) 1994 (Western Washington University). Pages: 461-462.
  7. ^ BabelStone by Andrew West (Chinese: 魏安) Zhida Tongbao Archived September 4, 2018, at the Wayback Machine. Wednesday, 10 January 2007. Retrieved: 20 June 2017.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af "Unique Western Xia Coin Written in Seal Script Unearthed in Ningxia". Gary Ashkenazy / גארי אשכנזי (Primaltrek – a journey through Chinese culture). October 4, 2016. Retrieved June 20, 2017.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v “China Numismatics” (2016年1期). 宁夏首次出土篆书乾祐元宝。 朱 浒 盛世隆泉 Published: 25 April 2016 by Dr. Zhu Hu (朱浒) of the Art Research Institute of East China Normal University (华东师范大学艺术研究所) Retrieved: 20 June 2017. (in Mandarin Chinese using Simplified Chinese characters)
  10. ^ a b Andrew West (Chinese: 魏安) (January 29, 2007). "Tangut Coins". BabelStone Blog. Retrieved February 20, 2020.((cite web)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. ^ 易凯峰 (October 8, 2005). "西夏 崇宗正德年"正德宝钱"" (in Chinese (China)). China Central Television (CCTV). Retrieved February 20, 2020.
  12. ^ "Chinese History - Western Xia Empire Arts". By Ulrich Theobald (Chinaknowledge). 2000. Retrieved February 21, 2020.
  13. ^ Charms.ru Coincidences of Vietnam and China cash coins legends. Francis Ng, People’s Republic of China, Thuan D. Luc, United States, and Vladimir A. Belyaev, Russia March–June, 1999 Retrieved: 17 June 2017.
  14. ^ BabelStone (Andrew West) Tangut Coins Archived May 24, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. Monday, 29 January 2007. Retrieved: 18 June 2017.
  15. ^ in Li Fanwen (Chinese: 李範文), Xia-Han Zidian (Chinese: 夏漢字典) [A Tangut-Chinese Dictionary] (Beijing: Zhongguo Shehui Kexue Chubanshe, 1997).
  16. ^ a b c 牛达生 (2016). "银川首次出土篆书光定元宝平钱" (in Chinese (China)). Beijing Tsinghua University (北京清华大学). Retrieved February 20, 2020.
  17. ^ Andrew Christopher West (魏安) (October 1, 2017). "Diary of a Rambling Antiquarian - Sunday, 1 October 2017 - Liao Superior Capital Revisited". BabelStone. Retrieved April 13, 2020.


Preceded by:
Ancient Chinese coinage
Reason: Independence.
Currency of China (Gansu)
1038 – 1227
Succeeded by:
Yuan dynasty coinage
Reason: Mongol conquest