A numismatic story of the Chinese New Year

Ang Pow or 紅包

he 2017 Chinese New Year is just around the corner. We wish all fellow collectors and numismatist a very prosperous new year ahead and may you find what you seek for your collections.

The Chinese New Year (of the Lunar Calendar), also know was Spring Festival (春節) in China, is widely celebrated throughout East Asian countries like Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. In Malaysia, we get 2 days off and most ethnic Chinese folks will travel to their home towns for the reunion dinner with their families on the new year eve, followed by 15 days of celebration, visiting friends and relatives, with lots of feasting and gift giving.

Speaking of gifts, one of the most prominent practices during this period is the giving of  紅包 (hong bao) or "Ang Pow" meaning "red packets". These are essentially decorative red colored envelopes filled with money, given to unmarried children by parents and also to all the children of  their friends and relatives whom we visit or even bumped into!  As a child, we all grew up looking forward to receiving them during the new year and would most probably spend them on sweets, toys and fire works, despite our parents advising us to save the money!

Curious as to where and how did this practice came to be, we did a little research of our own.

As expected, there are several versions as to the origins of Ang Pow.

It is commonly believed that during the Sung Dynasty ( 宋朝) era in China (A.D. 960-1279), in a village called Chang-Chieu a huge demon used to terrorize the villagers once every year. No warrior can defeat it. Then along came a young orphan, armed with a sacred sabre inherited from his ancestors fought this evil demon and defeated it. Grateful for this noble deed, the villagers presented the young lad with red packets filled with money in it as a reward.

Interesting no doubt but some how it does not sound very convincing, the story is far too simple to be believable right? ....  the good news is that there is an alternative version to this, which happens to be our favorite,  the story goes like this :

In ancient times, they were not called Ang Pows, the name only came in to use only in the last century or so.  During the early Ching Dynasty era (1644 - 1911), they were called 壓歲錢 (ya sui qian), translated it means "lucky money" but the literal translation sounds more intriguing -  壓 (ya) means to press or put pressure on something,  歲 (sui) means age in years and 錢 (qian) means money.

So why such a weird name you ask? Legend has it that in ancient times, there were little demons called 祟 (sui), with dark body and white hands that goes around harming little children during the night before the Chinese New Year. Note that the sound of the word 祟 (sui) is akin to 歲 or 睡 also pronounced as sui, meaning age or to sleep.

These little demons (and mind you there are hundreds of types of demons in Chinese mythology) would roam the cities and villages late at night, they put their hand on a sleeping child's forehead and a bout high fever will ensue and they will be eventually become mentally ill for life.

Needless to say, parents are worried about these little creatures, they encourage their kids of stay up all night since the demons can only harm sleeping children. One family strung together 8 pieces of coins for their child to play in attempt to keep him awake. Unfortunately the child was too tired and fell asleep and the parents put the string of 8 coins under the child's pillow and decided to stay up all night with candles lit to keep watch over their precious little one. But they too, fell asleep ..... a gust blew off the candle.

A string of ancient Chinese coins

The little demon sneaked into the room with glee and as its white hands reaches out to touch the poor child's forehead, the glittering coins startled the little devil which shrieked and ran away as fast as it could, thus the coins have saved the child from harm.

Those were obviously brilliant uncirculated coins!

It was later revealed that the coins were a physical manifestation of the famous 8 deities or 8 immortals (八仙) in Chinese mythology. And so word got around that we should put a string of coins under the pillow to protect our children from harm. So giving coins to children is to protect them from sickness and we've been practicing it ever since.

The glittering coin scared off the little demon 

Nice ending right ?

Do note that in the story, the glittering coins that the parents used must has been in Brilliant Uncirculated condition! Which also explains why til this very day we insist in getting uncirculated banknotes to put into our red packets!


恭喜發財  紅包那來!

Translation : Happy New Year, Can I have my red packet now please? 

Straits Settlements 10 Dollars - A Contemporary Forgery

We're back!  From a long absence because we were working on a book project with Mr. Saran Singh. Now that the book has been published and launched, we can do go back to our usual "business".

For our first blog posting of 2017, we have a interesting piece of a forgery note - a Straits Settlements $10 note, dated 1 January 1935. We believe is may be a contemporary forgery (due to the apparent ageing of the paper), which means that it as created at the time when these notes were legal tender and in active circulation.

Take a look :

Fig 1. : Straits Settlements $10 - Obverse (Counterfeit)