Chinese Yansheng Coins


Yansheng coins (厌胜钱, yàn shèng qián), also known as "flower coins" (hua qian 花錢) are not circulating coins in China, and could only be used for that purpose for a limited time. Its beginnings are found in the decorative and commemorative coins of the Han Dynasty (2nd century). These were coins that copied the real ones that were in circulation, but while those in common use had two ideograms or hanzi, those made for decorative or magical purposes had many more hanzi, and also related symbols, messages or names. with a noble family, or with wishes for prosperity, fortune, health and longevity. In fact, Yansheng means to exorcise (yan 厭) and crush (sheng 勝) evil spirits. Coins in China were not only a form of payment and political advertising. Its functions were so varied that there were even coins with illustrations to show sexual positions.

However, for some time these copies also circulated as currency, since they were also made of bronze or other metals such as copper, and were valued by their weight. This made it easy for each region, or even each shrine or guild, to mint personalized coins. In periods when these materials were scarce, gold, silver or jade coins began to be made, which were usually created thinking more about their magical properties than their use as possible money.

During the Ming and Qing dynasties (14th-16th centuries), Yansheng coins had a commemorative function for important events, such as the emperor's birthday, national festivals, remembering victories...

It is believed that throughout the different battles and dynasties, the political messages on the coins in which "peace" or "prosperity" of certain periods were mentioned, ended up becoming an object of desire to invoke, in some way, form, the tranquility and stability of those times, and that these were the bases for the development of the standard coin-talisman. Hence, current Chinese coins that are intended for use as amulets have inscribed characters that speak of prosperity, longevity, happiness or luck, as well as include animals of good fortune such as dragons or rhinos, or fruits such as pomegranates.

At the same time, these "fake coins" were also used as gambling coins in betting, so another theory is that this is the reason why they are considered "lucky coins."

The first "designs" were actually mold points and region names. From these points we moved on to representation as stars, and then with suns and moons. Animals representative of regions or dynasties also spread, along with numerals and names. The dragon, a symbol of good luck and power, was also the emblem of the Emperor.

With Taoism, the two sides of the coin soon became related to ying and yang, and when they began to be taken into account as talismans, attention was paid to include, for example, cháng mìng fù guì (長命富貴) longevity, wealth and honor. The inclusion of the Five Elements (Wu Xing) was a development of the Hanzi of the Water element, which can also be read as Coin. From there, it was a matter of time before Chinese tradition, superstition and mysticism found an esoteric system in coins.

Chinese coins are also characterized by having a hole in the center (generally square, round or hexagonal) that has been associated with the guard of swords. Since swords are a recurring amulet in ancient China, having the "guard" of a sword at home guaranteed protection. The union of several coins through a red thread is the most common amulet, and still today in some parts it is called "coin sword". However, the coins were actually transported like this and joined together in these batches to count them more easily.

Good luck coins.

Nowadays and especially in the Western world it seems that any Chinese coin from an esoteric store can become a talisman. It is not entirely a lie, because most of the coins found follow Feng Shui models, and are practically identical to each other, which guarantees that they are correct for use.

Most of these coins for Feng Shui or the I Ching oracle are made of brass, or at most some copper alloy. However, you can find some handmade pieces of bronze, gold, silver, jade and other minerals, as well as glass or resins with inclusions.

One of the most common messages on coins that follow a historical pattern is rú yì jí xiáng (吉祥如意), "good luck in whatever you wish for." But the most common thing is that they contain horizontal 吉祥, good luck, and the vertical hanzi vary with words such as wealth, tranquility, stability, health, love, etc.

Certain animals and fruits had intrinsic symbolism: the pomegranate attracts, like its grains, many things: a lot of money, many children, many clients... The rhinoceros (whose horn was believed to allow contact with celestial spirits) is pronounced in a similar way to one of the words for "happiness" (Xi). A phoenix, of course, reborn from the ashes, starting a new project off on the right foot... And of course, dragons, surrounding the coin or in pairs.

In addition to the standard model with words of good fortune, health or wealth, we find ancient coins on which the desired messages are directly written: good children, success in study or work, or developing a talent. These are accompanied by related symbolism. For example, deer were identified with high court officials, which is why they were common on the talisman coins of those who took these exams.

Coins in Feng Shui

Characters with the wish for good luck may appear on coins, such as cháng mìng fù guì (長命富貴, longevity, wealth and honor), but also other symbols of the same, such as dragons, pomegranates, rhinos, fish, birds, shells , wheels...

The coins must be joined into a number other than 4, and are usually hung near the entrances of houses, or carried as an amulet. A coin symbolizes balance, the union of heaven and earth. Two coins symbolize communication and exchange. Three coins symbolize fidelity and marital union. However, in Feng Shui there are three standard coins for the creation and activation of this talisman, being suitable for all purposes (love, work, health, money...), depending on where it is placed (bag, purse, door). ...)

Five coins are protective. Six coins symbolize friendship and family. Seven coins symbolize friendship and family. Eight coins symbolize represent the greatest prosperity, fortune and luck. Nine coins represent the universe and can help in every purpose.

Most amulets are joined with red thread, as red is a color of life and of the Chinese people themselves, and the decoration includes the infinity knot or mystical knot. This knot seems to have no beginning or end, which suggests that it attracts an eternal flow of good energy, money, health, love and happiness. Its gaps and points are reminiscent of the number 8 and the infinity symbol, however this seems a more modern interpretation. However, it is true that the most common knot is 64 points, that is, 8x8.

The infinity knot is known throughout Asia and appears to have its origins in Hindu culture, being the symbol of the goddess of wealth Shri/Lakshmi. However, in China it is not associated with any deity, and its use has spread thanks to the culture of Feng shui, which considers that it should be placed in the southwestern corner of houses or rooms, where the talisman is activated most vividly.

The 24 Hanzi coin

It is considered one of the most powerful talismans, as it contains 24 variations of 福, fú, happiness. 24 is a multiple of 8 (8x3) and is also twice the zodiacal cycle (12 yin and 12 yang). On the reverse of the coin you can find engravings of good fortune or a new repetition of another word 24 times.

The number 24 is also important in Feng Shui culture, since they divide the directions into 24 "mountains" (8 directions subdivided into three parts), and most pendulum planes are circles.

The number 24 is also related to the 8 trigrams of the Pa Kua.

Coins with sigils.

Also called celestial writing and oracular writing, these are seals and modifications of ideograms, either through decoration or the strokes themselves. It is considered a clerical writing system, that is, from the times when only the religious classes had access to writing. This turns the engravings on these coins into a talisman with messages of encrypted magical power, as occurs with Western sigils.

Enameled coins

These coins occur mainly in the Ming dynasty (14th and 15th centuries). These are metal pieces on which colored or transparent enamels have been applied to be able to put words or illustrations in a more visual and colorful way. With enamels it was easier to draw more complex things, not only hanzi, but peacocks, phoenixes, dragons, or even specific scenes.

Protection Coins

-Against evil

Since coins were already considered talismans, we find some intended directly for protection against evil spirits and energies. This is the case of the message: qū xié qiǎn shà (驅邪遣煞) "expel and eliminate bad influences." On these coins are swords and other weapons against evil, as well as good luck symbols such as infinity knots (which also function as nets), and predators such as the bat (蝠), which is a symbol of good luck because it sounds like happiness (Fú,福).

Another type of talisman against evil spirits is one that is shaped like a flat lock. Being flat, some have wanted to consider it among coin-talismans, but it is not the most common.


If luck was desired on a trip, one side of the coin contained the message, and on the other side trigrams of the I Ching or the entire Pa Kua were placed, as well as lions, dogs and other fierce animals, and weapons, for purposes defensive.


Talismans for the home are usually placed following the Feng shui philosophy. Sometimes several coins could be hidden in the floors or foundations of houses to ensure their stability and safety.

Its messages are similar to those of good luck: Longevity, wealth and honor (長命富貴). They also contain representations of bats or divinities against evil spirits, such as the god Zhong Kui (鍾馗), although nowadays it is more common to have figurines of them, rather than coins.

A special talisman for the protection of homes is one that merges two coins into one, forming an eight, which is a good luck number and symbol of infinity. They are mainly used against evil spirits. They are known as "gourds" (vessel gourds) because of their shape, and the gourd is a symbol of prosperity because of its abundant seeds. In Chinese they are called Hú lu qián (葫芦钱), and the first character, 葫 (Hú), sounds similar to the words blessing (祜) and protection (護).

Coins of the deceased

As in many other cultures, so that the deceased did not lack anything, he was accompanied by a trousseau that in most cases included money. In ancient Chinese tombs, grave goods with bags and chests have been found, as well as trees with "coins" instead of leaves, as can be seen in this article a little later. Sometimes the coins were made of mother-of-pearl, as it was considered a more spiritual material.

Messages such as rù tǔ wéi ān (入土为安), "rest in peace," were inscribed on the coins. At first they were real coins, but they ended up being exchanged for replicas due to the proliferation of tomb raiders.

However, the coins of the deceased were very recognizable and were full of taboos that complicated the business. Evidently it was not only an object stolen from a deceased person, but it would be loaded with bad energy, or even a vengeful spirit. Partly out of tradition and partly to hide them, the coins were also put in the mouth of the deceased, which added even more morbidity to the possible curses. Today, even among numismatic collectors, it is a type of coin to avoid.

However, there are those who consider it a powerful cursing tool, with proper precautions taken.

-The money tree

The money tree (摇钱树, yáo qián shù), is a decorative element that has evolved in its use in the West. A legend says that a farmer found a seed, planted it and watered it with the sweat and blood of his hard work. The tree grew and when it bore fruit they were treasures of gold. In the end, it is a moral that it is effort that brings success. However, in Asia there were legends of certain trees that, when shaking their branches, "dropped" coins and jewels.

In Sanguo Zhi (三國志), or History of the Three Kingdoms, another legend appears, in which a man found a strip of coins (remember that Chinese coins were transported tied) and left it hanging on a tree, so that if anyone he had lost it came back, he could find it easily. However, the people who passed by later on the road interpreted it as an offering, and began to hang more coins on the branches, requesting prosperity.

For some scholars and historians, it has its origin in Paulownia trees (桐, tóng), whose leaves turn yellow, reminiscent of bronze coins (銅, tóng).

Money trees should not contain real money, but rather replicas of coins, and may include figurines of animals of good fortune, such as dogs, deer, bats, phoenixes, elephants, etc., or fruits that are considered to bring good luck. , like tangerine or pomegranate.

Although the use of a money tree in the home or business is popular, originally it seemed more intended for the funeral context, so that the deceased would never be short of money. Nowadays they can be easily found in many places and decoration and esoteric stores, and made of many different materials (even LEGO pieces). There is also a parallel version of these trees, mineral trees, normally made with wires and small quartz, jade, jasper, tiger's eye, moonstone.

To health

The aforementioned Hú lu qián (two coins combined into 8) are appreciated as talismans for health because the gourd, whose silhouette they share, was an important ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine, especially used against smallpox.

It is also common to attach coins to small Wu Lou (gourd) amulets, which are also attached with red ribbons. Coins and gourds made of jade are considered bringers of health in Feng Shui.

For the treasures

There was a large, heavy coin that was evidently more functional than magical. This heavy coin, which usually had the gods of wealth engraved on it, was decorated and covered with ribbons and silks, and was placed on top of the trunks where jewelry, coins, family treasures, expensive fabrics were kept... The function of the coin currency was to prevent someone from opening that trunk (hence its weight and difficulty), and at the same time enhance the wealth of the home.

Peace coins

With the inscription tiān xià tài píng (天下太平), "peace under heaven", these types of coins became popular as a reminder of political stability. Due to the mention of the sky, stars and the zodiac also began to be represented.

Coins for a good marriage

In this category we find coins with sexual illustrations (intended to "teach" the newlyweds on their wedding night), and others with wishes for abundance and great offspring. Among the most common illustrations we find the pomegranate again, as well as chestnuts, peanuts, wheat seeds, lotuses...

Those coins that wished the couple a good life usually represented animals in pairs (dragons, birds, fish...). Animals that were auspicious in themselves could also be represented separately, such as a phoenix, a dragon, and frequently a Qilin (the misnamed Chinese "unicorn").

The coins that wished happiness to the bride and groom included images of the gifts that are truly traditional in Chinese weddings: mirrors, shoes, candles, cakes...

As can be seen, it would be a shame to reduce all existing Yansheng coins to those of the I Ching oracle or those of Feng Shui, when they have a much longer history and, if desired, could continue to evolve.

Pietro V. Carracedo Ahumada -


-Fang, A., Thierry, F. (eds) The Language and Iconography of Chinese Charms. Springer, Singapore. (2016)

-Hartill, D. Cast Chinese Amulets. New Generation Pub, 2020

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