Chinese Currency Explained

Chinese Currency

The official currency in China is Renminbi. It means the People’s Currency and abbreviated as RMB. Internationally, it is the Chinese Yuan, abbreviated as CNY. Most noteworthy, Renminbi and Chinese Yuan do not have any difference. It is one currency, different names. You can write CNY 200 or RMB 200. The symbol for the yuan is ¥.

The Chinese Yuan is only used in mainland China. Hongkong uses the Hongkong Dollar, while Macau uses the Pataca.

History of Chinese Currency

The history of the Chinese currency spans over 3000 years. China established the Silver Dollar as its official currency in 1914. In the 1930s, nickel, fen and copper coins was added to the list of accepted currencies. The value of silver kept rising. Hence, it became expensive to manufacture silver coins.  As such, China could not keep up and had to explore alternative currency options.

This led to the introduction of a new currency, the Fabi. In 1948, the Gold Yuan replaced the Fabi. Similarly, in the same year, they introduced the Yuan Renminbi to stabilize the economy of mainland China.

In 1955, a revalued Yuan Renminbi got introduced. This is the currency that has been in use on mainland China to date.

The Yuan Today

The Chinese Yuan is an elite global currency according to the International Monetary Fund. It competes against the US Dollar, Euro, British Pound as well as the Japanese Yen. The Renminbi Yuan is a safe, reliable and freely usable currency.

Most notably, China practices currency manipulation in an effort to influence the value of their currency. Currency manipulation is the avoidance of negative market effects. This is so for countries with a strong currency. The value of a currency depends on how much or how little it gets spent. In turn, this determines the balance of trade for a country.

Renminbi Yuan Denominations

The Renminbi comes in a series of notes and coins. Each of them has distinctive features.


one-hundredth of a yuan and a tenth of a jiao. These are pennies. They come in 1 fen, 2 fen and 5 fen notes and coins. Most noteworthy, fen continues to lose popularity. The economy of China has grown and small denominations of currency have become valueless.

A jiao

a tenth of a yuan. These are cents. They come in 1 jiao, 2 jiao and 5 jiao notes and coins. Just like fen, jiao is becoming devalued owing to high rates of inflation.

The yuan is commonly used. It has denominations of:

1 yuan:

Available in coin and note bills. The 1 yuan has two types of notes. The older note has a red colour. The front side shows a picture of two women from Chinese minority ethnic groups. The back side has the Great Wall. The newer note is green in colour. The front carries the picture of Mao Zedong, while the back carries a picture of Xihu Lake.

2 yuan:

The notes are green in colour. The front has pictures of minority ethnicities while the back has the South China Sea. However, the 2-yuan note is rarely used and therefore, it is not in high circulation.

5 yuan:

This bill has two types of notes. The older version is brown in colour. It has a picture of minority groups on its obverse, while the reverse has River Yangtze. On the other hand, the newer version is purple in colour. The front side carries the portrait of Mao Zedong. the back has Taishan Mountain, a world cultural and heritage site.

10 yuan:

the 10 yuan note has Mao Zedong’s picture on the obverse side and the Three Gorges Dam on the reverse side. A new 10-yuan bill debuted China during the 2008 Beijing Olympic. On its front side, is the picture of the Beijing Olympic Stadium known as the bird’s nest. On the back side, there is a statue, pictures of popular athletes and 2008 inscribed in Arabic numerals.

20 yuan:

This note was introduced in 1999.  The obverse side has Mao Zedong’s face while the reverse has a picture Li River.

50 yuan:

There are two types of note. One is yellow and pink in colour. It has the picture of an intellectual, a farmer and worker on the front side. The hind side carries the picture of Hukou waterfall on Yellow River. The second type has a green colour, with Mao Zedong’s face on the front side and the Potala Palace on the back.

100 yuan:

This bill also has two types of notes. The older type is grey-blue in colour. The face has pictures of Chinese leaders while the back carries the picture of Jinggangshan Mountain. The newest has a red colour. The face has Mao Zedong’s portrait. The hind side carries the Great Peoples Hall found in Tiananmen Square.

The 100-yuan bill is China’s largest currency note. Similarly, it is the only denomination dispensed by ATMs. For this reason, there are many counterfeit 100-yuan notes in circulation.

Avoid fake notes

As a foreigner, it is best to learn how to differentiate between real and counterfeit notes. Likewise, be on the lookout to avoid getting defrauded. These are tips to avoid this.

First of all, always withdraw or exchange your money at ATMs belonging to reputable financial institutions. It is safer since most of them have a reputation to uphold.

Secondly, avoid using 100-yuan bills when paying for taxis and other smaller transactions. Make efforts to have your currency in smaller denominations. This makes you less prone to fraud cases.

Finally, digital platforms are excellent ways to make payments. WeChat and Alipay offer these services. As such you will not handle cash and is safer.