The Chinese Monetary System
Banknotes that Circulated in the Shanghai Ghetto
In the Late 30's and 40

Not too long ago, a report on Chinese postage stamps that we, the Shanghailanders licked and pasted on envelopes, appeared on the Rickshaw Express Website.
The following report will focus on another category, the issuance of banknotes that were also in part controlled by the government of China.
Shortly before the last wave of Jewish emigrants began to arrive in Shanghai, there were close to 250 banks in China. Most had Shanghai branches, and were permitted to issue their own banknotes. This may have been the reason why Shanghai became known as the financial center of the Far East.


 A list of banks, with their addresses, that were in operation during our arrival in Shanghai in 1938-1940, are shown on the left.

At the end of 1935, the Kuomintang government regulated and set up a number of banks including the Bank of China and Farmers Bank that issued uniform banknotes which became the only legal tender in China. The Central Bank of China, established by the Chinese National Government in 1928, issued banknotes until 1949.
Shanghailanders may remember the following banknotes that were in circulation at the time of the ghetto:

Issued in 1941

Issued in 1941

1000 YUAN
Issued in 1942

2000 YUAN
Issued in 1942

Issued in 1944

500 YUAN
Issued in 1944

1000 YUAN
Issued in 1945

5000 YUAN
Issued in 1945

10000 YUAN
Issued in 1947


However, the first banknotes we used to buy our daily necessities, was the 1 Fen, issued by the Central Bank of China in 1939, and the 10 cents and 20 cents banknotes issued by the Farmers Bank in 1937 and 1939 respectively. All three banknotes are shown here on the right.


We note that most of the banknotes issued by the Central Bank of China carried, where space allowed, the portrait of Sun Yat-sen, Chinese revolutionary leader, and Father of the Republic of China.


An example of the spiraling inflation experienced in 1945; a 100 Yuan was worth approximately five US cents. Money was carried around not in wallets, but large sacks. (A wallet, popular with refugees in Hongkew, shown in on the left, was suited to carry only “Knackedicke Dollars — crisp US dollar bills paid to civilians who worked for the US Armed Forces).


Two more banknotes, worth almost nothing while they were in circulation, are illustrated on the right.



Shanghailanders may remember another type of banknote, the Customs Gold Unit (CGU), that was also issued by the Central Bank of China. The note was usually printed in a vertical format. This issue was primarily intended to facilitate customs payment, however were also for general circulation during and after the war. A 10 CGU note issued in 1930 is illustrated on the left.


Hostilities between China and Japan hastened in 1937 with Japanese launching an invasion of China. Shanghai fell in November 1937. Nanking fell in December and was established as a puppet state under a Chinese president.
During the existence of the China-Japanese puppet states, Japanese occupation authorities issued currency through Japanese puppet banks. Among those was the Central Reserve Bank of China established in Manchuria in the late 30 ‘s. Operation of the bank, the state bank of the puppet Republic of China at Nanking, began sometime in 1940.


Prior to leaving Shanghai, a friend of John (Hans) Wolff - John himself a fellow Shanghailander, pointed out the initials “USAC”, and the date 1945 hidden on a 200 Yuan note that was issued by the Central Reserve Bank of China in 1944. The initials “USAC” and the date 1945 refer to “US Army coming, 1945 “. Wolff recently reproduced the banknote with the initials on a photocopy shown in figures on the left.


Yours truly learned later that the presence of the clandestine propaganda message were engraved on some of the plates by patriotic engravers, To encourage acceptance by the sympathetic public, the notes also carried the portrait of Sun Yat- sen side by side with his mausoleum. The actual 200 Yuan note is shown on the right.


Two other banknotes, also issued by the Central Reserve Bank of China, are illustrated on the left. My aim in presenting this report was to make us remember the trials and tribulations we encountered by trying to stay abreast with the rapid change and fluctuation of the currency in the strange land.
Granted, compared to the other obstacles we had to face in order to survive, this was one of the smaller hurdles we were able to overcome.


Ralph Harpuder‘s personal collection of Shanghai memorabilia. Standard catalog of World Paper Money.