Ancient Chinese Economy for Kids - Chinese coins and paper money, farming and trade routes
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Ancient Chinese Economy

Chinese rice paddy
Rice Paddy

In China, as in West Asia, Africa, or Europe, most people have spent most of their time farming for the last ten thousand years. In northern China, people mostly farm wheat, while in southern China it is mostly rice.


A video of people picking rice:

But there was also a lot of trade in China, and between China and the West. Some of the traders went south to India, and some went along the northern Silk Road through Turkestan and Uzbekistan to the Persian Empire. Mainly people shipped silk to the West, and imported gold.

Chinese coin
Han Dynasty coin of the Empress Kuo

People first used cowrie shells for money in China as early as 1800 BC, under the Shang Dynasty. Then people used metal imitations of cowrie shells, and then metal strings of beads called cash. We don't know whether the idea to make coins with writing on them guaranteed by the government came from Western Asia or not. But there were definitely bronze coins in China by the 400s BC in the Chou Dynasty.

Chinese paper money
Chinese paper money

By about 1100 AD, under the Sung Dynasty, people had begun to use paper money in China.

Another important industry in China was mining. In the Han Dynasty, people in China began running businesses digging deep pits to get salt to sell. Most of the men who worked in the mines were probably slaves.

To find out more about the ancient Chinese economy, check out these books from Amazon.com or from your library:


Eyewitness: Ancient China, by Arthur Cotterell, Alan Hills, and Geoff Brightling (2000). For kids.

Negotiating Daily Life in Traditional China: How Ordinary People Used Contracts, 600-1400, by Valerie Hansen (1995).

Craft project: make your own Chinese coins
Main Economy Page
Main China Page



Copyright 2012-2014 Karen Carr, Portland State University. This page last updated 2014. Powered by Dewahost.

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