The Story Behind the Yuan

The Story Behind the Yuan


Every day in China, we take out our bags to buy our groceries, our water and bargains but we never stop to think about the currency of this country and its origins: The renminbi (RMB) is the official currency of the People’s Republic of China. The name literally means “people’s currency”. The currency is issued by the People’s Bank of China, the monetary authority of China. What they issue currently is: ¥0.1, ¥0.2, ¥0.5 (1, 2, and 5 jiao), ¥1, ¥2, ¥3, ¥5, ¥10, ¥20, ¥50, and ¥100 Yuan. I will mainly be talking about the larger notes – Yuan. All bank notes are made by China Banknote Printing and Minting Corporation, there is one in Chengdu so have a visit if you are there sometime!

InternChina - Chinese Money
InternChina – Chinese Money

As a British citizen, currently one pound Stirling will equal ten Yuan (roughly) so it is convenient as I can divide or multiply by ten accordingly to judge the value of goods. It also makes you realize how inexpensive daily life in China is; for example where I live in Buckinghamshire (north of London), it costs me £3.75 for a twenty minute journey into town. When I compare this to my commuting cost in Qingdao, it is one Yuan for the same bus duration. My daily bus ticket in England now seems 37 times more expensive than it should be, so here I present you the humble one Yuan which can take you basically anywhere in the City.
On the 1-yuan note, there is a portrait of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong, while the reverse is the Xihu Lake in the south-eastern Chinese city Hangzhou. Just to add confusion, there is also a one Yuan coin, but we will just stick with bank notes in this blog.

InternChina - 1 Yuan
InternChina – 1 Yuan

The 5 yuan – This note also has a portrait of Mao Zedong and the reverse is Taishan Maintain, a mountain in east China’s Shandong province listed by the UNESCO as a world natural and cultural heritage.

InternChina - 5 Yuan
InternChina – 5 Yuan
InternChina - 5 Yuan Scenic
InternChina – 5 Yuan Scenic

What can this get you? A five Yuan note can roughly give you a packet of Oreo cookies if you’re craving western biscuits. For some bizarre reason, I normally consume around five packets per week but need to stop this immediately as summer is coming and I do not want to be mistaken as a whale, whilst I sunbathe on Qingdao beach.  However, they are delicious and a handy snack …

The 10-yuan banknote is a very useful one. The obverse of the ordinary one is a portrait of Mao Zedong while its reverse is the drawing of the scenic Three Gorges. See below:

InternChina - 10 Yuan note
InternChina – 10 Yuan note
InternChina - 10 Yuan Scenic
InternChina – 10 Yuan Scenic

10 Yuan can get you a variety of things. In Qingdao, you will be able to give this note to a taxi driver for your trip around the main area of the city centre. If we go back to the price of my bus ticket in Buckinghamshire, this taxi journey is still around 4 times cheaper, so if you have lots of luggage, shopping or coming back from a club, this ten Yuan is definitely worth spending.

InternChina - 20 Yuan
InternChina – 20 Yuan
InternChina - 20 Yuan Scenic
InternChina – 20 Yuan Scenic

The 20-yuan banknote, debuted in 1999, has yet another portrait of Mao Zedong and its reverse features a drawing of the scenic Lijiang River in South China. If you budget well and you are with many people, you can usually use a 20 Yuan note and maybe a bit more change for a delicious traditional meal at a restaurant. This is one thing I love about eating out in China; you can get such good value and meal choices for between 20 and 35 RMB. Qingdao is famous for its delicious sea food so many different dishes are available. But if you like sea life but not for eating, an InternChina friend last week bought a pet gold fish, with the bowl and food included just with the 20 Yuan note!

InternChina - 50 Yuan
InternChina – 50 Yuan

I love seeing a 50 Yuan in my bag as it can mean I can buy all of the above , so usually your basics for the day. A meal out – tick, a bus journey – tick …some more Oreo cookies – Yes! So usually, you will at least need a 50 Yuan note for the day.

InternChina - 100 RMB
InternChina – 100 RMB

Last weekend, I thought I would treat myself to a nice bottle of Californian rose, and the sales assistant did suggest a White Zinfandel (my favourite) so I was delighted to pay the hefty 100 Yuan price tag. However, you can get wine for cheaper – I am just picky. Similarly the 100 Yuan note can get you pretty much anything, dinners out, bus tickets, taxi journeys, a pet fish and even more Oreo cookies! The obverse of the 1999-type 100-yuan notes is a portrait of …you’ve guessed it – Mao Zedong while a picture of the Great Hall of the People is printed on the reverse.

So who was Mao Zedong?
Mao Zedong, also transcribed as Mao Tse-tung, and commonly referred to as Chairman Mao, was a Chinese Communist revolutionary and the founding father of the People’s Republic of China, He was responsible for the policies of the ‘Great Leap Forward’ and the ‘Cultural Revolution’.

So hopefully this has given you a rough outline of the current Chinese currency and makes you want to come to China and start spending. Overall, as mentioned in the blog, the daily cost of living here is very inexpensive in comparison to western countries.

Want to explore the culture of China and also get some bargains – Apply now for an internship this summer.