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The first mention of the use of paper as money is found in historic Chinese texts. Emperor Chen Tsung (998-1022) awarded rights to issue universal bills of exchange to 16 merchants during his rein. When, however, several of these merchants failed to redeem notes on presentation, the credibility of the money was undermined and the public refused to accept it. In 1023, the Emperor rescinded the merchantsí issue rights and established a Bureau of Exchange within the government charged with issuing circulating paper notes. These are now considered the first true government-issued banknotes. Printing plates made of brass from this period have been found by archaeologists and have been used to print recreated examples of these early banknotes. No original-issue notes of this series are known to have survived.
In 1296, Marco Polo, describing his travels in China, made a fleeting reference to paper used as money in the Chinese Empire. Europeans found the idea so preposterous and unbelievable, the very credibility of his accounts of having traveled and lived in China were questioned.
The oldest existing original banknote found to date was a fragment discovered in a cave. This banknote was issued by the Chinese Emperor Hiao Tsung sometime between 1165 and 1174. On its face, this surviving, rather sophisticated example depicted the amount or number of coins it represented, and is clearly descended from earlier issues, none of which have survived.