A new “Life in China” post is here 🙂 . This week, I’m kind of focusing on Money and Banking in China. I wanted to start by looking at Chinese currency or money and what it is worth. 🙂
In China there are three important money terms you should know- Yuan, Jiao, and Renminbi.
Renminbi (Ruhn meen bee) is the official name of the Chinese currency and is abbreviated on the foreign exchange market as RMB. So if you wanted to exchange money to the US Dollar (USD), you would officially say “I need to exchange RMB to USD.”
The RMB is then broken down into Yuan (yoo ehn), their most basic unity of money which is usually noted with a ¥. Because the Yuan is more commonly discussed, the exchange market will sometimes informally abbreviate the currency as CNY. Do not confuse this with the Japanese Yen ( ¥) which has the same symbol or the Korean Won which sounds remarkably similar (the names of both the Japanese and Korean currencies are actually derived from the word Yuan and thus it can be quite confusing).
Basically, the RMB has its own version of the dollar bill called a Yuan. So if we were talking about the Chinese currency, we would use Renminbi. But if we were asking about specific amounts of money (i.e. how much is that, how much is in your bank, this costs _____), we use Yuan. ¥6 is approximately $1 in foreign exchange (meaning that for every $1 you would get ¥6 or vice versa.
On the streets, Yuan = Mao = Kuai = Kuai Qian. Mao because the bills all have the face of Chairman Mao on them–to be honest this is more common amongst expats than locals 🙂 . Kuai (coo aye) because that is the ancient Chinese word for “piece” when they used pieces of silver. Kuai Qian (coo aya chee ehn) because that is the ancient Chinese phrase for “Pieces of Money.” So just like Americans speak in both “dollars” and “bucks,” the Chinese might at any given moment talk about “Five Yuan,” “Five Kuai” or “Five Kuai Qian.” Listen carefully when they speak–and don’t mix up the Qian (money) for Qi (7) since they sound similar to us!
Yuan come in bills of ¥1, ¥5, ¥10, ¥20, ¥50, and ¥100 respectively. ¥100 is the highest possible bill you can use (which makes for a funny sight for companies since it’s not actually a lot of money – $16 – and most people don’t use cards here. So you are constantly paying in cash, which means that the store always has tons of cash on hand. You’ll see people coming and leaving the bank with hundreds of “¥100” bills in their purses. I have to deposit a whole wad each time my paycheck. Little dangerous, but makes me feel quite rich! 🙂
One Yuan (Yi Yuan)
On the front is Chairman Mao Zedong and the number 1. On the back is the very famous Xi Hu Lake or West Lake in Hangzhou.
There is also a One Yuan Coin:
Five Yuan (Wu Yuan)
On the front is Chairman Mao Zedong and the number 5. On the back is Taishan Mountain (泰山) in the Shandong Province.
Ten Yuan (Shi Yuan)
On the front is Chairman Mao Zedong and the number 10. On the back is the Yangtze River’s Three Gorges (Qutan, Wu, and Xiling).
Twenty Yuan (Er Shi Yuan)
On the front is Chairman Mao Zedong and the number 20. On the back is the Lijiang River at Guilin
Fifty Yuan (Wu Shi Yuan)
On the front is Chairman Mao Zedong and the number 50. On the back is the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet.
One Hundred Yuan (Yi Bai Yuan)
On the front is Chairman Mao Zedong and the number 100. On the back is the Great Hall of the People (close to Tienanmen Square in Beijing) which is where the National Congress is held.
Chinese Coins or Cents
Of course, where America has its dimes, nickels, and quarters, China has its Jiao (fractions of a Yuan). Jiao actually comes in either coins or bills as you can see pictured below. There are 5 Jiao (1/2 of a Yuan in value) and 1 Jiao (1/10 of a Yuan in value). For Americans, it would be similar to having a 50 cent piece and a dime. So we have Cash (Yuan ¥) and Fractions of a Yuan (Jiao) used in the daily, current Chinese Renminbi currency or RMB.
Five Jiao (usually written as ¥.5) (Wu Jiao)
One Jiao (usually written as ¥.1) (Yi Jiao)