Money Superstitions

Various sorts of money, particularly in the Far East, have been thought to possess special powers, bringing good luck or ill, sometimes associated with meaningful inscriptions. Zhouyuan tongbao coins, tenth-century Chinese coins struck from bronze, purportedly possessed the power to cure illness and aid in childbirth. These coins may have owed some of their alleged special powers to the bronze statues taken from over 3,000 Buddhist temples to furnish the bronze for the mint. The inscription on these coins read, “everywhere—new beginning, circulating treasure.”

The Chinese also made coin swords by tying coins to an iron rod. These swords were supposed to drive away illness and evil spirits. To make coin swords the Chinese favored coins issued by the Kangxi emperor (1662–1723). This emperor reigned a full 60 years, and his name came to be associated with good health. His grandson, Qianlong, also reigned as emperor for 60 years, and his coins, the Qianlong tongbao coins, were also in demand to fashion sword coins.

The Chinese were also prone to bury coins with the dead for use in the afterlife, a practice condemned by the government. The Chinese went so far as to issue “hell notes,” paper money to be buried with the dead to pay for necessities in the next life. The Hong Kong Chinese still print up imitation paper money in the form of notes issued by the Bank of Hell, at least some of which are denominated in “dollars,” and millions of these notes are burnt at the Chinese New Year. Even checks are written on the Bank of Hell to honor ancestors.