Copper coins originated in the late Warring States period (480-221 B.C.). Round on the outside with a square hole in the center, these ancient coins became a potent symbol of wealth and prosperity. The circular shape represents heaven, and the internal square signifies earth.


Often the coins are inscribed with lucky phrases such as cháng mìng fù guì (長命富貴), ‘a long life of wealth and abundance,’ or cháng mìng rú yì (長命如意), ‘as much luck as you wish’.


A picture of two coins hung above a shop door represents the God of Wealth and attracts wealth to a business. Coins strung together with red thread form a charm to bring a 'continuous flow of wealth’, which is especially auspicious for business. Necklaces made from red thread and coins offer protection from evil spirits and bring luck to the wearer. The coin is also one of the eight treasures, symbol that possess the power to draw good fortune.


Used as a play on words, ‘coin’ can mean ‘before one’s eyes,’ because the hole in the center is known as an ‘eye’, yǎn (眼), and the coin itself, is a rebus for ‘before (前).’ Any number of objects can be paired with the coin in this context. For example, the ‘magpie’, xǐ què (喜鵲), is a symbol of conjugal happiness, and thus its image in conjunction with a coin conveys the message ‘happiness before your eyes’ (福在眼前).

  Vivien Sung, Five-Fold Happiness: Chinese Concepts of Luck, Prosperity, Longevity, Happiness and Wealth, pp. 226-227, Chronicle Books, 2002</p