The yuan (元) is, in the Chinese language, the base unit of a number of modern Chinese currencies. The same character is used to refer to the cognate currency units of Japan and Korea, and is used to translate the currency unit "dollar"; for example, the US dollar is called Meiyuan (美元), or "American yuan", in Chinese. When used in English in the context of the modern foreign exchange market, the "Yuan" or "Chinese yuan" most commonly refers to the renminbi (CNY). The distinction between yuan and renminbi is analogous to that between pound and sterling.
One yuan is divided into 10 jiao (角) or colloquially "feathers" (mao) (毛). One jiao is divided into 10 fen (分). In Cantonese, widely spoken in Hong Kong and Macau, jiao and fen are called ho (毫) and sin (仙). "Sin" is a word borrowed into Cantonese from the English "cent".
First yuan, 1889-1948
The yuan was introduced at par with the Mexican peso, a silver coin deriving from the Spanish dollar which circulated widely in South East Asia since the 17th century due to Spanish presence in the region, namely Philippines and Guam. It was subdivided into 1000 cash (文, wén), 100 cents or fen (分, fēn), and 10 jiǎo (角, not given an English name, cf. dime). It replaced copper cash and various silver ingots called sycees. The sycees were denominated in tael. The yuan was valued at 0.72 tael, (or 7 mace and 2 candareens).
The earliest issues were silver coins produced at the Kwangtung mint. Other regional mints were opened in the 1890s. The central government began issuing its own coins in the yuan currency system in 1903. Banknotes were issued in yuan denominations from the 1890s by several local and private banks, along with banks established by the Imperial government.
After the revolution, a great many local, national and foreign banks issued currency. Although the provincial coinages mostly ended in the 1920s, the provincial banks continued issuing notes until 1949, including Communist issues from 1930. Most of the banknotes issued for use throughout the country bore the words "National Currency", as did some of the provincial banks. The remaining provincial banknotes bore the words "Local Currency". These circulated at varying exchange rates to the national currency issues.
During the 1930s, several new currencies came into being in China due to the activities of the invading Japanese. The pre-existing, national currency yuan came to be associated only with the Nationalist, Kuomintang government. In 1935, the Kuomintang Government enacted currency reforms to limit currency issuance to four major government controlled banks: the Bank of China, Central Bank of China, Bank of Communications and later the Farmers Bank of China. The circulation of silver yuan coins was prohibited and private ownership of silver was banned. The banknotes issued in its place were known as 法幣 ( Pinyin: fǎbì) or " Legal Tender". A new series of base metal coins began production in 1936 following the reforms.
Between 1930 and 1948, banknotes were also issued by the Central Bank of China denominated in customs gold units. These circulated as normal currency in the 1940s alongside the yuan.
In the aftermath of the Second World War and during the civil war which followed, Nationalist China suffered from hyperinflation, leading to the introduction of a new currency in 1948, the gold yuan.
Connection with dollar
Originally, a silver yuan had the same specifications as a silver dollar. During the Republican era (1911–1949), the English translation "yuan" was often printed on the reverse of the first yuan banknotes but sometimes "dollar" was used instead.
In the Republic of China, the common English name is the "New Taiwan dollar" but banknotes issued between 1949 and 1956 used "yuan" as the English translation  whilst more modern notes lack any English text.
The earliest issues were silver coins produced at the Guangdong (Canton) mint in denominations of 5 cents, 1, 2 and 5 jiǎo and 1 yuan. Other regional mints were opened in the 1890s producing similar silver coins along with copper coins in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10 and 20 cash.
The central government began issuing its own coins in the yuan currency system in 1903. These were brass 1 cash, copper 2, 5, 10 and 20 cash, and silver 1, 2 and 5 jiǎo and 1 yuan. After the revolution, although the designs changed, the sizes and metals used in the coinage remained mostly unchanged until the 1930s. From 1936, the central government issued nickel (later cupronickel) 5, 10 and 20 fen and ½ yuan coins. Aluminium 1 and 5 fen pieces were issued in 1940.
Banknotes were issued in yuan denominations from the 1890s by several local and private banks, along with the Imperial Bank of China and the "Hu Pu Bank" (later the "Ta-Ch'ing Government Bank"), established by the Imperial government. During the Imperial period, banknotes were issued in denominations of 1, 2 and 5 jiǎo, 1, 2, 5, 10, 50 and 100 yuan, although notes below 1 yuan were uncommon.
The number of banks issuing paper money increased after the revolution. Significant national issuers included the "Commercial Bank of China" (the former Imperial Bank), the "Bank of China" (the former Ta-Ch'ing Government Bank), the "Bank of Communications", the "Ningpo Commercial Bank", the "Central Bank of China" and the "Farmers Bank of China". Of these, only the Central Bank of China issued notes beyond 1943. An exceptionally large number of banknotes were issued during the Republican era (1911-1949) by provincial banks (both Nationalist and Communist).
After the revolution, in addition to the denominations already in circulation, "small money" notes proliferated, with 1, 2 and 5 cent denominations appearing. Many notes were issued denominated in English in cash (wén).
In the 1940s, larger denominations of notes appeared due to the high inflation. 500 yuan notes were introduced in 1941, followed by 1000 and 2000 yuan in 1942, 2500 and 5000 yuan in 1945 and 10,000 yuan in 1947.
Second (Gold) yuan, 1948-1949
Banknotes of the first yuan suffered from hyperinflation following the Second World War and were replaced in August 1948 by notes denominated in gold yuan, worth 3 million old yuan. There was no link between the gold yuan and gold metal or coins and this yuan also suffered from hyperinflation.
In 1948, the Central Bank of China issued notes (some dated 1945 and 1946) in denominations of 1, 2 and 5 jiao, 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 yuan. In 1949, higher denominations of 500, 1000, 5000, 10,000, 50,000, 100,000, 500,000, 1,000,000 and 5,000,000 yuan were issued.
Third (Silver) yuan, 1949
In July 1949, the Nationalist Government introduced the silver yuan, which was initially worth 500 million gold yuan. It circulated for a few months on the mainland before the end of the civil war. This silver yuan remained the de jure official currency of the Republic government on Taiwan until 2000.
The Central Bank of China issued notes in denominations of 1 and 5 fen, 1, 2 and 5 jiao, 1, 5 and 10 yuan.
Manchurian (Fengtien) yuan, 1917-1932
In 1917, the warlord in control of Manchuria, Zhang Zuolin, introduced a new currency, known as the Fengtien yuan or dollar, for use in the Three Eastern Provinces. It was valued at 1.2 yuan in the earlier (and still circulating) "small money" banknotes and was initially set equal to the Japanese yen. It maintained its value (at times being worth a little more than the yen) until 1925, when Zhang Zuolin's military involvement in the rest of China lead to an increase in banknote production and a fall in the currency's value. The currency lost most of its value in 1928 as a consequence of the disturbance following Zhang Zuolin's assassination.
The Fengtien yuan was only issued in banknote form, with 1, 5 and 10 yuan notes issued in 1917, followed by 50 and 100 yuan notes in 1924. The last notes were issued in 1928.
Japanese Occupation yuan, 1937-1945
The Japanese occupiers issued coins and banknotes denominated in li (釐, 1/1000 of a yuan), fen, jiao and yuan. Issuers included a variety of banks, including the Central Reserve Bank of China (for the puppet government in Nanking) and the Federal Reserve Bank of China (for the puppet government in Beijing). The Japanese decreed the exchange rates between the various banks' issues and those of the Nationalists but the banknotes circulated with varying degrees of acceptance among the Chinese population. Between 1932 and 1945, the puppet state of Manchukuo issued its own yuan.
The Japanese established two collaborationist regimes during their occupation in China. In the north, the " Provisional Government of the Republic of China" (中華民國臨時政府) based in Beijing established the Federal Reserve Bank of China (中國聯合準備銀行, pinyin: Zhōngguó liánhé zhǔnbèi yínháng). The FRB issued notes in 1938 at par with Kuomintang yuan. Although initially equivalent, the Japanese banned the use of Nationalist currency in 1939 and set arbitrary exchange rates in favour of the FRB yuan. The FRB yuan was replaced by the Nationalist yuan in 1945 at 1 FRB yuan = 0.2 Nationalist yuan.
The Wang Jingwei government in Nanjing established the collaborationist Reformed Government of the Republic of China (南京維新政府) in 1938. This was later reorganised into the Wang Jingwei Government (南京國民政府) in 1940. They established the Central Reserve Bank of China (中央儲備銀行, pinyin: Zhōngyāng chǔbèi yínháng) which began issuing CRB yuan in 1941. Although initially set at par with the Nationalist yuan, it was also arbitrarily changed to equal 0.18 Japanese Military yen. In 1945, it was also replaced by the Nationalist yuan at 1 CRB yuan = 0.005 Nationalist yuan.
Introducing the Chinese 1 Yuan Banknote Video
In 1937, the Chi Tung Bank issued copper 5 li and 1 fen, and cupronickel 5 fen and 1 and 2 jiao in East Hebei. The Mengchiang Bank issued cupronickel 5 jiao in northern China in 1938. The Hua Hsing Commercial Bank issued coins (dated 1940) in Shanghai in 1941. These were bronze 1 fen and cupronickel 10 fen. The Federal Reserve Bank issued aluminium 1 and 5 fen and 1 jiao between 1941 and 1943 from Beijing.
Five banks, the Central Reserve Bank of China, Federal Reserve Bank of China, Hua Hsing Commercial Bank, Mengchiang Bank and Chi Tung Bank, issued notes for use in the Japanese occupied areas. Denominations included ½, 1 and 5 fen, 1, 2 and 5 jiao, 1, 5, 10, 100, 200, 500, 1000, 5000, 10,000 and 100,000 yuan, with the denominations above 100 yuan only appearing in 1944 and 1945.
North-Eastern yuan, 1945-1948
After the defeat of Japan in 1945, the Central Bank of China issued a separate currency in the northeast to replace those issued by the puppet banks. Termed "東北九省流通券" ( pinyin:Dōngběi jiǔ shěng liútōngquàn), it was worth 20 of the yuan which circulated in the rest of the country. It was replaced in 1948 by the gold yuan at a rate of 150,000 north-eastern yuan = 1 gold yuan.
In 1945, notes were introduced in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 50 and 100 yuan. 500 yuan notes were added in 1946, followed by 1000 and 2000 yuan in 1947 and 5000 and 10,000 yuan in 1948.
First Communist yuan, 1930-1949
The various Soviets under the control of China's communists issued coins between 1931 and 1935, and banknotes between 1930 and 1949. Some of the banknotes were denominated in ch'uan, strings of wén coins. The People's Bank was founded in 1948 and began issuing currency that year, but some of the regional banks continued to issue their own notes in to 1949.
Various, mostly crude coins were produced by the Soviets. Some only issued silver 1 yuan coins ( Hunan, Hupeh-Honan-Anhwei, Min-Che-Kan, North Shensi and P'ing Chiang) whilst the Hsiang-O-Hsi Soviet only issued copper 1 fen coins and the Wan-Hsi-Pei Soviet issued only copper 50 wén coins. The Chinese Soviet Republic issued copper 1 and 5 fen and silver 2 jiao and 1 yuan coins. The Szechuan-Shensi Soviet issued copper 200 and 500 wén and silver 1 yuan coins.
Notes were produced by many different banks. There were two phases of note production. The first, up until 1936, involved banks in a total of seven areas, most of which were organized as Soviets. These were:
Production of banknotes by communist forces ceased in 1936 but resumed in 1938 and continued through to the centralization of money production in 1948. A great many regional banks and other entities issued notes. Before 1942, denominations up to 100 yuan were issued. That year, the first notes up to 1000 yuan appeared. Notes up to 5000 yuan appeared in 1943, with 10,000 yuan notes appearing in 1947, 50,000 yuan in 1948 and 100,000 yuan in 1949.
Second Communist yuan, 1948-1955
As the communist forces took control of most of China, they introduced a new currency, in banknote form only, denominated in yuan. This became the sole currency of mainland China at the end of the civil war.
Renminbi yuan, 1955-
A new yuan was introduced in 1955 at a rate of 10,000 old yuan = 1 new yuan. It is known as the renminbi yuan.
First Taiwanese yuan
Second Taiwanese yuan
In 1949, a second yuan (New Taiwan dollar ) was introduced in Taiwan, replacing the first at a rate of 40,000 to 1. This is the currency of Taiwan today.