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Gold ingots
Western Han dynasty (206 BCE–9 CE)
996, Shuangrushan, Changqing
Inscription (larger ingot): ji wang
Collection of Changqing District Museum
(cat. #33)


These two gold ingots (jin bing) of different size were among the twenty found in the royal tomb of Liu Kuan (r. 97–87 BCE), the last ruler of the Jibei Kingdom (Jibei guo) during the Western Han dynasty (reign of Emperor Wudi). Its capital city, Lu, was thought to be five kilometers north of the tomb at today’s Luchengwa. Of the twenty gold ingots found in the tomb, nineteen were of the larger dimension. A gold button, the only other gold object found in the tomb, was located at the waist of the interred, while the gold ingots were found placed next to his head on the jade pillow (cat. no. 35). The exact location of the gold ingots in the tomb can be seen in Beningson, “Spiritual Geography,” fig. 2, in this catalogue. On the reverse side of the larger of the two ingots included in this exhibition is incised the two characters ji wang, “king of Ji,” indicating that the deceased was the king of the Jibei Kingdom, or perhaps a marquis per the excavation report. Seven other of the large ingots have the character wang, and the remaining have no inscriptions. Large button-ingots like these were worth 10,000 cash in the Han period.[1] A small number of bronze wuzhu coins, similar to those in our exhibition (see cat. no. 19) were also found in the tomb. The twenty gold ingots weigh more than 4260 grams, and although fewer in number, their total weight exceeds that of the coins found in two lavish tombs located at Dingxian and Lingshan at Mancheng in Hebei province.[2]

Similar gold bing ingots were also excavated in 1961 from the Western Han tomb at Dongtaibao village near Taiyuan, Shanxi province. That tomb dates from the second year of the reign of the emperor Han Wudi (95 BCE). Some of those gold discs were inscribed with the character for “good fortune” (ji) and more than ten other characters.[3]

Recent excavations have revealed that gold bing ingots circulated in the Qin state during the Eastern Zhou dynasty.[4] After Qin Shihuang unified China in 221 BCE, gold was legal tender in the newly established empire. Ingots like these were sometimes cut into pieces and circulated during the Western Han dynasty. Gold currency was also cast in the form of horses and unicorn (qilin) hooves (see cat. no. 50). During the Eastern Han dynasty, gold bing ingots were hoarded and gold rarely circulated. In addition, the rise of Buddhism saw gold primarily used to cast religious statues and to prepare sutras.

all text & images © China Institute Gallery


1. Ren Xianghong, “Shuangrushan yihao mu muzhu kaolue,” p. 12.

2. Ibid. The tomb at Mancheng had 40 gold ingots (jin bing). See Zhongguo shehui kexueyuan, Mancheng Hanmu fajue baogao, vol. 1, p. 207 and vol. 2, fig. 159.

3. There were five gold ingots (sometimes called “biscuits”) found in the Dongtaibao tomb; the three smallest measure 5 cm each, the next two largest measure the same as our ingot, 6.3 cm, and the largest measures 6.4 cm. The weight of the five gold ingots totaled 245 grams. They are all the same shape as our gold ingots, except that the outer rim on those is more pronounced than on ours. All have sunken depressions in the center. Song Fusheng, Shanxi sheng bowuguan cang wenwu jinghua [Masterworks of the Shanxi Provincial Museum Collection] (Taiyuan: Shanxi People’s Publishing House, 1999), p. 201, no. 360. These same gold ingots are also published in Zhongguo wenwu jinghua da cidian, p. 246, no. 19. The Shaanxi Provincial Museum in Xi’an also had a large group of gold ingots on display in June 2004. Their label stated that they comprised the largest group of these ingots yet found.

4. Li Zude, “A Preliminary Study of Qin and Han Gold Currency,” English summary, China Archaeology and Art Digest 2, no. 1 (January-March 1997), pp. 146–47. The original Chinese article appeared in Zhongguo shi yanjiu [Journal of Chinese Historical Studies] (issued by History Institute, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing), no. 1 (1997), pp. 52–61.

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