Main articles: Zhou dynasty coinage, Ancient Chinese coinage, Ban Liang, Liao dynasty coinage, Southern Song dynasty coinage, Western Xia coinage, Jin dynasty coinage (1115–1234), Yuan dynasty coinage, Ming dynasty coinage, and Qing dynasty coinage Around 1200 BC, smaller token spades, hoes, and knives began to be used to conduct smaller exchanges with the tokens later melted down to produce real farm implements.
These tokens came to be used as media of exchange themselves and were known as spade money and knife money.
The earliest Chinese coins were cast in bronze—by the 1st century BCE, these round coins featured square holes in their centers.
This style persisted until about the 13th century, when silver and then brass coins were minted and circulated.
A single ancestor coin would be used to produce tens of thousands of mother coins; each of these in turn was used to manufacture tens of thousands of cash coins.
During the late Qing dynasty under the reign of the Guangxu Emperor in the mid 19th century the first machine-struck cash coins were produced, from 1889 a machine operated mint in Guangzhou, Guangdong province opened where the majority of the machine-struck cash would be produced.
From 1730 during the Qing dynasty, the mother coins were no longer carved separately but derived from "ancestor coins" (zǔ qián 祖錢).
Traditionally, Chinese cash coins were cast in copper, brass or iron.
The coins would be taken off the tree and placed on long square rods to have their edges rounded off, often for hundreds of coins simultaneously.
After this process, the coins were strung together and brought into circulation.
Machine-made cash coins tend to be made from brass rather than from more pure copper as cast coins often were, and later the copper content of the alloy decreased while cheaper metals like lead and tin were used in larger quantities giving the coins a yellowish tint.
Another effect of the contemporary copper shortages was that the Qing government started importing Korean 5 fun coins and overstruck them with "10 cash".
This process would be repeated 15 times and then molten metal would be poured in.