Tag Archives: Coinage

Elizabeth Scheuerman

Plaque: Elizabeth Scheuerman

Plaque Info
Time Period High Tang Period (during the Tang Dynasty)
(c. 8th century CE)
Geographical Region Eastern half of modern-day China,
south of Manchuria
List of Symbols
  1. Emperor
  2. Woman
  3. Coin
  4. Buddha and Monastery
  5. Yin yang
  6. Pottery and horse

My plaque is representative of the High Tang period, often called the Golden Age of Chinese history. During this period, immense wealth and great contributions to culture were built. The Tang period was a very important period in Chinese history, as the changes brought about during it impacted Chinese history for hundreds of years to come.

The man on the plaque signifies the position of emperor during the dynasty. Like in previous dynasties, the emperor was the head of state in the empire. The emperor was an incredibly strong presence in the government during the high Tang period, and the emperors during the high Tang period were able to implement important and vast changes in governance, including a new legal code, a new economic system, and more patronization of religion and the arts. If the emperor were depicted in color, he would be wearing yellow, since that was the imperial color and signified his power as Son of Heaven and controller of the land around the Yellow River.

The woman is representative of women’s place in Tang society. Though the society was very much patriarchal, women played a very important role for several pivotal events. The woman depicted in my design is an example of the Tang ideal of feminine beauty, with a round face, high hair, and flowing garments. Women played an important role for politically affluent families, as they allowed influential families to form alliances and gain advantages through marriage into other important families. Powerful women also played an influential role at court, wielding influence through control of their husbands or sons, or even ruling as a dowager empress. (Later, a woman would even take the empire’s throne and rule as emperor in her own right.)

The coin is representative of the economy of the period. Though bronze coins, like the one depicted, were very important in the economy, they were not the only type of currency. Silk and silver were equally as important in the economy, with silk being almost more valuable. The Tang dynasty also implemented land redistribution in a program called the equal-field system. Families were given specific allotments of land, based on the number of people in the household as well as their situation in life. They were then required to pay taxes and perform government-mandated labor in exchange for the land. For all the economic success of the Tang dynasty, the equal-field system never managed to bring the government a good source of revenue.

The Buddha statue and the pagoda/monastery represent the importance of Buddhism during the Tang period. The government strongly supported Buddhism during this time, and though the empire remained strongly Confucian, Buddhism also played a very important role in society. Influential families sponsored monasteries and monks, encouraging the building of religious sites and the translation and writing of religious documents.

The yin yang symbol represents Daoism. In addition to the state support of Buddhism, Daoism continued to be an important religious presence for citizens of the empire. Daoism along with Buddhism allowed the people to find serenity in life, in addition to reassurance about their personal and their family members’ place in the after-life.

The pottery and horse are representative of the rich culture and artwork of the time. The period is very famous for its development of many styles, including pottery, porcelain, paintings, calligraphy, and more. Since the period was marked by prosperity, people were able to afford patronizing the arts. Ceramic art was especially well developed during this time, and beautiful works of poetry and literature were also written.

These symbols are important because they represent some of the main important qualities and developments of the High Tang period. By understanding them, one is better able to understand the history and culture of the time, and therefore is better able to understand later developments in Chinese history.

Thumbnail: Elizabeth ScheuermanELIZABETH SCHEUERMAN is a History, English, and Art History major at the University of Rochester. She works at UR’s Department of Rare Books & Special Collections, and hopes to pursue a career in Museum Studies. In her free time, Elizabeth enjoys foreign films and reading. More by Elizabeth

Bonnie Nortz

Plaque: Bonnie Nortz

Plaque Info
Time Period Sui Dynasty
Geographical Region Eastern portion of modern-day China
List of Symbols
  1. Emperor
  2. Sun and clouds
  3. Broken and whole coin
  4. Meditating Buddha in 8-spoked wheel
  5. Rice and wheat workers, connected by canal

My plaque deals with the Sui Dynasty, which lasted from years 589-618 AD. Based on project description, I designed this plaque based on the hypothetical situation that it would have been made by someone in the Sui court wanting to leave a good impression of the Sui dynasty for posterity. Therefore, the plaque’s primary theme was that of unification, and the symbols in the plaque are gravitating around the symbol in the center, the emperor. Viewers of the plaque would presumably be able to find record of the traditional clothing worn at the time, so they would learn that the clothing worn by the central figure was worn by courtiers, and because of the placement of the figure directly in the center of the plaque, they could infer its importance and therefore deduce that it is probably a depiction of the emperor. The sun and clouds above the robed figure also lend significance to the emperor figure. The belief that the emperor was the son of heaven existed in China since antiquity, and it gives the emperor a powerful air of cultural and moral authority. In the plaque, this is represented by the sun shining down on the emperor, showing that heaven smiles upon him.

To the left of the emperor is a depiction of the geographical unification of the empire. In the top-most of the two diagrams is the region split into four kingdoms, and in the diagram below it, they have all been united into one dynasty. This is further symbolized by the image of the Sui coin. In the top diagram, the coin is broken up among the kingdoms, whereas it is shown as one whole coin in the bottom. This transformation from pieces to a whole helps symbolize geographic as well as cultural unification, which was the goal of the Sui. When the Sui united the empire, the culture of the north and the south were quite different from each other, primarily because of the heavy influence of Turko-Mongol people in the north. Therefore, the Sui took measures to unite the empire not only geographically, but also culturally. Many of these will be described below, and they are broadly symbolized in this section of the plaque by the image of a coin transforming from broken pieces into a unified whole.

Above the emperor is the figure of a meditating Buddha, sitting within an eight-spoked wheel. Both of these images are iconic symbols of Buddhism, which the Sui government patronized in order to try to gain the support of the people. Because of the donations of the emperor, Buddhist monasteries, and Buddhism itself, flourished in the empire during this time.

Below and to the right of the emperor is a depiction of the Grand Canal, built during the Sui Empire. Yet another means of unification, the Grand Canal connected the Yangzi River in the south to the Yellow River in the north. One primary reason for having the canal built was to transport rice from the south to the capital in the north. Therefore, the south is represented by the rice paddies, depicted to the bottom of the plaque, and the north is represented by the wheat fields at the top of the plaque. Because the Grand Canal is a man-made structure, its banks are represented by straight, linear walls contrasting with the rounded, natural banks of the rivers. The Grand Canal also served as another piece of political unification. As mentioned earlier, the culture of the north and the south of China had grown to be quite different from one another, and they had been ruled by different governments since the Han dynasty fell in 220 AD. Therefore, with the Grand Canal serving as a method of transportation between the north and the south, it also served as a political symbol that the two regions were now the same under the Sui.

Finally, I wanted to discuss a number of symbols not depicted in this plaque. Given the situation that a person within the Sui government created this plaque for the Sui dynasty to be remembered favorably, there were a number of actions of the Sui that were not as laudable or popular. The second emperor of Sui in particular, came to be infamous for his extravagance, especially with the way he had the capital at Luoyang rebuilt. Compounding this were the military campaigns he began against the people in modern Vietnam, modern Korea, and the Eastern Turks. These campaigns were unpopular and unsuccessful, and were the primary motivation for the rebellions that toppled the Sui dynasty. However, since these events do not cast the Sui in as favorable a light as its successes in unification, they are left out from this plaque.

The overall theme of this plaque is that of the unification of the Chinese empire, which was the main accomplishment of the Sui dynasty. The Sui unified the empire not only geographically, but also culturally and politically with the state promotion of Buddhism and the building of the Grand Canal. Although the Sui only ruled for three decades, the effects of their unification lasted for centuries.

Thumbnail: Bonnie NortzBONNIE NORTZ is a double major in Mathematics and Linguistics, with a minor in Computer Science. This year she is a Take Five student for Chinese Language and Art. She is also involved in SOCKS and Swing Dance Club. More by Bonnie

Alex Du

Plaque: Alex Du

Plaque Info
Time Period Eastern Zhou
Geographical Region The State of Qi
List of Symbols
  1. Melting down and crafting iron
  2. Knife shaped currencies of Qi
  3. A brocken Ding
  4. A horseman and a chariot on battlefield
  5. Zhong the instrument
  6. Man with nature
  7. Dismember of a criminal through chariots/cows


The first picture shows a burning furnace with a newly crafted iron sword. Iron was first introduced and widely used under the times of the Eastern Zhou dynasty. The earliest trace of iron in China is dated back to the Spring and Autumn time, and the technology of blacksmithing developed significantly during the warring states period. Iron are used in all sorts of ways. For example, they can be used to make excellent agricultural tools for farming, or weapons for war. However, despite its superiority against bronze, iron tools and weapons did not overtake the position of bronze tools and weapons, because crafting with iron requires a higher technology and better skills.

The second picture, the currency used in the state of Qi, demonstrates the location where the individual is from. In fact, this is the currency that the man used during his time in the state of Qi. During Eastern Zhou dynasty, rulers of individual states had the right to create their own money as currency. The states of Qi, Zhao and Yan had their currencies in the shape of a knife, and each of them had slight variations. Because every state had different currencies, and different measuring systems, sometimes it is rather inconvenient for merchants that conduct trade in different states. This specific one drew here is that was used in the state of Qi. It is different than those that are used by Zhao and Yan as it is slightly longer and heavier.

The third picture is a broken Ding. Ding is an instrument that originally used to cook, however as time passes it starts to symbolize power. According to legends, when Yu the Great established the first dynasty, the legendary Xia dynasty, he ordered his men to build nine bronze Ding, symbolizing his position as their ruler. Also, there is a strict regulation of the number of Ding one can own, and the regulation is based on one’s status. For example, dukes can own up to seven Ding, and lesser governors can own five, according to some text. Therefore, Ding is also an instrument for “Li”, a set of rules and rituals that must be followed for the harmony of the society, according to Confucius. This broken Ding here symbolizes the lack of “Li” and the lack of centralized power in the Eastern Zhou dynasty. Due to invasions of barbarians, the central government of Zhou was forced to move its capital, and its power have had diminished. Overtime, the dukes of states became more powerful than the central government, hence the Zhou, though still in existence, is muck like a broken Ding, which is incomplete and unstable. Similarly, the orders and the rituals established during the peaceful years of Western Zhou is abolished, as the local governments became stronger and started waging war on each other. The ritual rights, or the “Li”, is often violated by the powerful governors as well.

The fourth symbol used depicts a horseman charging against an incoming chariot. This image signifies two things. Firstly, it represents the never ending warfare in Eastern Zhou dynasty. At the beginning of Spring and Autumn, there were roughly 140 states, and at the time of Warring states period, the main states only included the Qi, Chu, Yan, Han, Zhao, Wei, and Qin, which constantly fought against each other. The chaos and war lead to the death of many soldiers as well as civilians, but it also inspired new ideas. Therefore, the picture also symbolizes the introduction of horse back riding and how it slowly replaced chariots during this period of time. For example, the introduction of horse riding. Also, the war and chaos inspired philosophers to discuss and debate about the nature of governing and life, creating countless classes of philosophy that have long lasting impacts.

The fifth symbol is an ancient Chinese instrument called Zhong. In this case, it represents Confucianism, a school of philosophy that had huge impact during the Eastern Zhou dynasty. Zhong the instrument is often used as a symbol of ordered society, and “Li”, rituals and manners, which the Confucians believed is crucial to have for an ordered society. The Confucian scholar believed that people must listen to proper music and have a certain number of “Zhong”, fitting their ranks in the society, in order to achieve harmony. Apart from “Li”, there were also many other sets of rules that Confucians followed, which they believed to be able to end the chaos of the Eastern Zhou dynasty and retrieve the society back to what it was like during the Western Zhou dynasty. In order to do so, argues Confucian scholars, a series of practice must performed. For example, filial piety, or “Xiao”, says that children must respect and follow the parents, such to establish order within family. And also there is the idea “Ren”, which means humane, the right way for a ruler to treat his people. Confucians believed that harmony within a family can be achieved by having wives obeying husbands and children obeying parents, the harmony of country can be achieved by subjects obeying rulers, and the ruler shall rule with “Ren”.

The sixth symbol shows a man sitting in the wilderness, with trees and mountains in the background. This represents Taoists, another influential philosophy during the Eastern Zhou dynasty. Daoists preferred the hermit’s path, and enjoyed life in the wilderness, just like the man in the picture, rather than holding a position in the court. Another aspect of this symbol is that it shows the Daoist philosophy to rule. The philosophers believed that rulers should rule by doing nothing, like the man in the picture, because the people knows how to rule themselves, hence the government should limit their interference with its people.

The last symbol is a criminal that is undergoing the prosecution known as “Che Lie” (having five cows or horses tied to limbs and head to rip the criminal apart). It symbolizes legalism, another school of philosophy that flourished during the Eastern Zhou dynasty. Legalists believed that the best way to end the chaos of its time is to impose harsh laws on the people to prevent criminal acts. They are famous for having harsh punishments, and one of their most famous punishments was “Che Lie”. One of the most famous cases of somebody being prosecuted in such a way was Shang Yang, a legalist who served under the Qin and reformed the state’s law. He was the one who established the laws in Qin, but ironically he was prosecuted under the laws he proposed. Though legalist thoughts were widely recognized as inhumane and is often strongly opposed by Confucianism, it made Qin the strongest state of its time.

Thumbnail: Alex Yuhui Du

Hi! I am Alex Du, I am from New Zealand but was raised in China. I have been interested in Chinese history since I was a child, and that’s why I enjoyed the History 142 course at U of R. More by Alex Du