Although it was originally intended that cash should be in pure copper, in actual practice the coin was of bronze, i.e., a mixture of copper and spelter or zinc. It is useless to attempt to give the standard weight of this coin. As far as is known at present, those of the reigns of Shun Chih, K'ang Hsi, and Yung Cheng are larger and of better quality than those of the reigns of Ch'ien Lung, Chia Ch'ing and Tao Kuang; the cash coins issued during all these reigns are superior to the issue of the later reigns, both in size and weight. We can only compare the different coins issued during the rule of the Manchus, for the issues of previous dynasties are mostly defaced and very much worn. During the last fifty years of Manchu rule counterfeiting was extremely common, the counterfeit coins were accepted without question and the Government rarely made any successful attempt to check this practice; the result usually has been an inflation of prices in proportion to the extent of the activity of counterfeiters.
The lack of uniformity in the size and weight of coins in this country may be attributed to the following causes: Circulation of the issues of the several reigns of the Manchu dynasty at one and the same time, along with the survivals of the issues of the previous dynasties, extending as far back as the eighth century; the primitive method of coining through moulds which rendered uniformity almost impossible, and as mints were not all under the control and management of a central authority imitation became easy; lastly, the practice of accepting counterfeit coins, even when known as such.
The cash currency is reckoned in the terms of Tiao of nominally a thousand coins. But in practice the Tiao is only 490 coins in Tientsin, 160/163 in and near Lanchow, 620 in Yunnan city, and 980 in the province. Just what this means is graphically explained in the "North-China Herald" in 1889 as follows:-
"The subject of Chinese currency demands not a brief paragraph but a comprehensive essay, or rather a volume. These chaotic eccentricities would drive any Occidental nation to madness in a single generation, or more probably such gigantic evils would speedily work their own cure. In speaking of the disregard of accuracy we have mentioned a few of the more prominent annoyances. A hundred cash are not a hundred, and a thousand cash are not a thousand, but some other and totally uncertain number, to be ascertained only by experience. In wide regions of the Empire, one cash counts for two, that is, it does so in numbers above twenty, so that when one hears that he is to be paid five hundred cash he understands that he will receive two hundred and fifty pieces, less the local abatement, which perpetually shifts in different places. There is a constant intermixture of small and spurious cash, leading to inevitable dispute between dealers in any commodity. At irregular intervals, local magistrates become impressed with the evil of this debasement of the currency, and issue stern proclamations against it. This gives the swarm of underlings in the magistrate's yamen an opportunity to levy squeezes on all the cash shops in the district, and to make the transaction of all business more or less difficult. Prices at once rise, to meet the temporary necessity for pure cash. As soon as the paying ore in this vein is exhausted, and it is not worked to any extent, the bad cash returns, but prices do not fall. Thus the irrepressible law by which the worse currency drives out the better, is never for an instant suspended. The condition of the cash becomes worse and worse, until, as in some parts of the province of Honan, everyone goes to market with two entirely distinct sets of cash, one of which is the ordinary mixture of good and bad, and the other is composed exclusively of counterfeit pieces. Certain articles are paid for with the spurious cash only. But in regard to other commodities this is a matter of special bargain, and accordingly there is for these articles a double market price. That enormous losses must result from such a state of things, is to any Westerner obvious at a glance, although the Chinese are so accustomed to inconveniences of this sort, that they seem almost unconscious of their existence, and the evils are felt only as the pressure of the atmosphere is felt. Chinese cash is emphatically ' filthy lucre.' It cannot be handled without contamination. The strings, of five hundred or a thousand (nominal) pieces, are exceedingly liable to break, which involves great trouble in re-counting and re-tying. There is no uniformity of weight in the current copper cash, but all is bulky and heavy. Cash to the value of a Mexican dollar weigh not less than eight pounds avoirdupois. A few hundred cash are all that anyone can carry about in the little bags which are suspended for this purpose from the girdle.
If it is desired to use a larger sum than a few strings, the transportation becomes a serious matter. The losses in transactions in ingots of sycee are always great, and the person who uses them is inevitably cheated both in buying and in selling. If he employs the bills of cash-shops, the difficulty is not greatly relieved, since those of one region are either wholly uncurrent in another region not far away, or will be taken only at a heavy discount, while the person who at last takes them to be redeemed, has in prospect a certain battle with the harpies of the shop by which the bills were issued, as to the quality of the cash which is to be paid for them. Under these grave disabilities the wonder is that the Chinese are able to do any business at all; and yet, as we daily perceive, they are so accustomed to these annoyances, that their burden appears scarcely felt, and the only serious complaint on this score comes from foreigners."