Project Description

Knife money evolved in China along with spade money during the Warring States period of the Zhou Dynasty. There is no consensus on the origin of knife money, but there are a few legends. In one of the stories a prince who was running low on money to pay his troops allowed them to use their knives as a form of currency to barter with villagers and the medium became so popular that it became accepted by the general populace. In another story, the same prince began accepting knives as payment for small fines in the place of the current legal ring money. Like its origin, very little is known about the inscriptions on the knives. Some of the characters have been recognized as value demarcations, but speculation remains as to whether the inscriptions are of the mint or of the issuing authority. The Warring States period was characterized by the Zhou Dynasty’s lack of power and many states within the Zhou Dynasty warring for power. Many of these states minted their own currency, often including knife money. This style of knife money comes from the Qi state, the most powerful state of the Zhou Dynasty.

-Constantine Botimer, Class of 2019

Object Details

3rd c. BCE
14 cm
Gift of Fu-Liang Chang, 1989