x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

A History of the World in 100 Objects: Ming Dynasty banknote

The note is inscribed with the title Great Ming Circulating Treasure Certificate and a warning that counterfeiters would be punishable with death.

Ming bank note. Courtesy: British Museum
Ming bank note. Courtesy: British Museum

Before paper money was invented, currency took the form of gold pieces. Paper notes were first used in China as early as 1000CE, but it was in the Ming dynasty that these really grew popular.

This bill was commissioned by Zhu Yuanzhang, the first Ming emperor. In 1368, he took part in the rebellion that successfully overthrew the Mongol Yuan dynasty that ruled China, after which the country enjoyed a long period of stability, with advancements on many social fronts including an efficient financial system.

The note is inscribed with the title Great Ming Circulating Treasure Certificate and a warning that counterfeiting would be punished with death. The paper – a soft, velvety grey – is made of mulberry bark, known for its sturdy, flexible fibre, and the note remains pristine 600 years later.

Only one side is printed, with a woodblock stamp in black ink, and depicts Chinese characters as well as decorative features such as a border of dragons, an endearing Chinese cultural motif.

Each Tuesday, Arts&Life will ­focus on one artefact on show as part of A ­History of the World in 100 Objects, an ­exhibition running until August 1 at Manarat Al Saadiyat, Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi

aseaman@thenational.ae