From the Times via CDT an article about a group of Chinese intellectuals who are asking for some new people to be put on Chinese currency. This is actually a big issue, since who nations put on their money is a political statement of some importance.1 The list of suggested people is pretty interesting. They are suggesting Qu Yuan, Li Bai, Yue Fei, and Wen Tianxiang. The Times calls Qu Yuan a poet, which he was, but of course he was much better known as a protester against political corruption. Li Bai is the “pure” poet in the group, and Yue Fei and Wen Tianxiang are both straight nationalist figures who died resisting foreign interference in China’s internal affairs. It is a well-thought out list (Not all Mao, but nationalistic enough to pass muster) and I wish them luck, but I suspect not much will change. Chinese money has always been very focused on politicians.
Sun Yat-sen got most of the face time under the Republic, appearing on all sorts of notes.
Mao has taken pride of place since.
Below is a 1945 note with Lin Sen, President of the Republic and one of the very few non-ultimate leader politicians to make it on the money
A lot of nations will put great heroes of the past on the currency, in part to avoid the whole cult of personality thing. China has not done this much. Below is a Commercial Bank of China note with (I assume) Confucius on it. After May 4th a lot of the great culture heroes were “Feudal” and did not work well as symbols of the new nation
Apparently nobody told the Japanese that, as they liked putting Confucius on the money
One of the puppet governments in North China issued notes with Confucius, the symbol of Chinese culture and Prince Shotoku, symbol of Japanese culture. Supposedly in one of the early versions a Chinese engraver made Confucius flick Prince Shotoku an obscene gesture. Not sure if that story is true, but I hope it is.
To the extent you do get symbols of Traditional China on Chinese money they tend to be abstract and cleaned up by a connection to nationalism, like the note below, with a traditional ritual vessel and Sun Yat-sen
Like many other nations China has tried to symbolize the national past with common people, like the Farmer’s Bank note below.
Below is one from Xinjiang which shows both farming (the canonical occupation for men) and weaving (the canonical occupation for women) Given that Xinjiang was not a very Han place under the Republic they may have been trying to emphasize their Chinese-ness
Foreign banks could tie themselves to China too, as with the Sino-Scandinavian Bank note below, which emphasizes the great historic links between China and Scandinavia. Frankly I’m not sure if in the 1920’s pictures that bring to mind white people coming from across the sea to rob you was the best selling point for a Chinese audience. The bank folded in 1927
Regional banks could of course do national symbols, but a lot of them seem to have done scenic spots to play up local identity, such as the Guangxi note below
Or this Anhui note, which gives the impression that Anhui does not have much for scenery.
The big theme that comes out if you look at a lot of Chinese money however is modernization. Lots of pictures of how we are making China into a developed country.
Provincial banks did it, like the Guanxi note above with a road and a building (this is a 1912 note, and they seem to be blurring their political position by putting in all three revolutionary flags) Below is a Guangdong note with yet another modern building.
Many of these seem pretty unimpressive today. So China has trains, big deal
Or they seem to emphasize bits of modernization that one might not celebrate, as with this circulating bond to build a new (modern) prison.
The Communists at first did some fairly radical stuff, as below
But they pretty soon settled down into doing fairly standard development stuff. (a lot of their pre-1949 notes were actually very traditional and could just as well have been from any provincial bank)
But as below, it was Communist development, with the all-important tractor and of course a woman driving it.
The note above has People’s Bank of China written in lots of minority languages. Minorities get a lot of play since 1976
But it is mostly all Mao all the time. The real issue of course will not be who to put on if we take Mao off some of the notes, it will be will anyone have the nerve to take him off at all.
I’ve always thought that American money had remained stuck in the 19th century because of a lack of national confidence. If someone did suggest changing our money some Democrat would probably suggest putting MLK on there and Republicans would go nuts about political correctness. Easier to stick with Jackson. Plus, if we went with more modern designs and colors like most of the world has done in might turn us gay. ↩