One jiao — what is it good for?

[Image removed because of this China Daily article.]

This is a one jiao note. A jiao (AKA mao) is a tenth of a yuan (AKA RMB). If, for the sake of convenience, we put RMB at 8 to the American dollar, that makes a jiao worth $0.0125. That’s slightly more than a penny. Jiao are necessary for making change (much like pennies), but you can’t really buy much with one jiao unless you’re in the vegetable market.

I certainly don’t like a pocket full of jiao, but I tolerate keeping coins to make change. One of the advantages (in my book) to living in Southern China is the predominance of coins over paper bills for the lower denominations (1 jiao, 5 jiao, 1 yuan). I get really annoyed, then, when I get handed paper jiao (pictured above). Paper jiao are for Beijingers!

So what do you do when you get handed paper jiao and you know you’re not going to be using it right away? I know some foreigners that don’t take their change if it’s paper jiao. You can try to give it to beggars, but some of them turn up their noses at anything less than 1 yuan. (The blind erhu players are usually less picky.) I once handed out paper jiao to kindergarteners as “prizes.” I got some funny looks for that. Even kindergarteners don’t like them.

My roommate Lenny gave me the best answer I’ve heard yet: use them for bookmarks. Genius. Any other ideas?


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Luo Dawei Says: February 3, 2005 at 2:21 am

    China needs to get rid of these confounded small denomination notes and go to coinage. Even worse is if you get a pocketfull of fen. It’s just fen-ny money! (Pardon the pun!) Are those fen notes still in circulation? They kind of look like Monopoly money. Once I was in Dongguan and had to change HK$ to RMB and got a bunch of fen. I gave them to a beggar and he looked at me like I kicked him or something. I also have a 100 RMB F.E.C. note. Do you ever see those around? I don’t think banks accept them anymore. Just for collection value now.

  2. Anonymous Says: February 3, 2005 at 4:55 am

    I use mine as bookmarks, too. But I had so many that I gave them to friends, family, etc to use as bookmarks/Chinese souvenirs. It’s cheaper than buying them postcards.

    I did consider using paper jiaos for Monopoly money though….

  3. I would use them as souvenirs. Remember those paper version of Ò¼·Ö£¿ what good are those things now?

    When I traveled through Costa Rica last summer, I brought back a lot of Costa Rican coins as souvenirs.

  4. Dude, I love those fen notes. I think that they’re adorable! I like showing them to people and hearing them say, “the hell? This is money?”

  5. Are you kidding? John, you’re the first person I know that prefers those darned little coins to lightweight paper money. I must have three drawers full of 1 mao coins!

  6. I agree with Whaaah?. Those tiny aluminum coins are a pain. I prefer the paper notes.

  7. I use them for bookmarks, or I save up five and use them for public toilets 🙂

    I got some new ones last time I was in China and brought them home to decorate my desk partition with. I know some people who have laminated them as gift bookmarks.

    I saw on Day after Tommorrow you can keep warm by stuffing your jacket with news paper — maybe you could use jiao??

    Or be really anal and count out your O.99 in jiao when you buy something at ther supermarket…

  8. I toss them in a box and then every so often put them in bundles of 10 to use for buying vegetables, newspapers, or taking buses (only the buses without ticket takers–giving a handful of jiao is worse than asking them to make change for a fifty, I think). It’s actually quite convenient, since bundled up they don’t stuff up your pocket.

    Up in Jilin it was all coins, too. I took after the street vendors and wrapped stacks of 10 in clear tape and used them for buying things off the street.

  9. Da Xiangchang Says: February 3, 2005 at 12:34 pm

    You can always roll cigarettes with them. If they’re too small, you can roll a joint. Just a thought for the druggies out there since I never smoke–tobacco or weed! 😉

  10. I didn’t know what to do with these so I started wrapping about 100 in rubberbands and storing them in drawer. My AiYi got excited one day and I started giving them as bonus money to her. She said they were great for the market. Once I gave to beggar on street and it was like giving food to guy on street with “will work for food sign” in USA. They got real angry. I agree they should be discontinued.

  11. From an economic standpoint, it is much better to put out coins rather than paper, they last much longer. Of course, as soon as the economy digitizes, then we can get rid of all this money in our pockets altogether.

  12. john,
    i’m with you…coins are the way to go. carl and i used to play a game in the elevator at zucc. he’d put them in the four corners of the elevator and we’d see how long it would take for someone to pick them up. 🙂

  13. Ah-ha, to settle the popularity rank between a paper jiao and a coin, you can place a 1-jiao coin and a paper jiao in the elevator and see which get picked up first.

  14. Red Cross Says: February 3, 2005 at 4:05 pm


  15. I always found jiao to be useful for those bicycle “parking lots,” i.e. those otherwise public sidewalks that some random guy tells you costs 2 jiao to park your bike on.

    It’s those fen that you basically only get when you’re exchanging money that are completely useless.

  16. When I was in the last months of my job in China, the first time the guy who replaced me came over he got a fen note in the bank. He had it framed and maybe still keeps it on his desk now.

    When some of my family came over for a visit they bickered over who would get to keep the few available fen as a souvenir.

  17. You could always make random paper constructions. One apartment I stayed in had a foot-long chinese-style paper boat composed entirely of jiao and fen notes. It made for a pretty good decoration.

  18. There are clear plastic panels that are double-sided-foam-taped to three walls in my elevator, for hanging posters. Except that our elevators are so old and dirty that nobody puts posters on them anymore. So the panels hang empty.

    One day I noticed that I could drop jiao coins in the couple of millimeters between the panel and the wall, and they could get caught in a trap created by the foam tape. Slowly over the next couple of weeks, more and more people dropped jiao coins next to mine. The tipping point came at RMB 2.2, at which somebody tore the panel away from the wall enough for the coins to drop out from behind.

    Now there are only two lonely jiao left.

  19. Not to sound cold or anything, but why are beggars getting angry if you give them ANY money, albeit a jiao? They should be grateful that you’re giving them anything in the first place… Besides, it only takes 10 jiao to make a yuan… I guess they’d be willing to accept jiao if you looked like a Chinese person, they probably expect us laowai to drop more money.

  20. Maybe it’s just that Shanghainese beggars are snooty — I used to drop my jiao on Beijingnese beggars, and none of them ever complained.

  21. I’m on holidays in Beijing and I have actually been given a couple of 1 fen coins in change. I’ve never gotten anything less than 1 jiao in change in Shanghai, it’s like they don’t even bother with fen there, kinda like the 1 and 2 cent coins have been abolished in Australia. When I was in Sichuan I tried to send 1 jiao, 2 jiao, 5 jiao and 1 yuan notes to my parents as souvenirs, but the lady at the post office said I couldn’t send Chinese money overseas. I gave her a pretty funny look for that. When I first came here and was given 1 jiao coins as change I thought they were made of plastic; in fact I was so convinced they were of plastic that I tested them by sinking them in a glass. I remember when I was in Vietnam, the 50 dong note (worth all of USD0.003 – that’s right: 3/100 of one cent, one dollar buying you 15,855 dong) is legendary stuff – if you were ever given one as change, which I wasn’t, you definitely held on to it

  22. Beggars in Xining wouldn’t turn down a jiao, I’m sure. From what I’ve seen, 2 – 5 jiao is pretty standard for alms here, I’ve never seen anyone give 1 yuan. But I can understand why a beggar wouldn’t be interested in fen — you can’t actually spend them, unless you have 10, and they are so uncommon that you’d probably never get that many.

    In Dalian, it was mostly coins (for 1 yuan and under), but here in Xining I’ve never been given coins as change except — here’s the odd thing — when I closed my bank account I was given fen coins, not those tiny fen notes.

  23. rainywindy Says: February 5, 2005 at 3:49 am

    I lived in Beijing four years. I remember my Beijing classmates hated coins. They sometimes even refused to get coins as their changes. I never figured out any particular reasons for that. i consider it rather ridiculous and sometime even a little bit impolite to ask for paper notes when handed coins. what’s wrong with coins? they are money, genuine.

  24. Just an addition to the ‘aka’ mao… I always use the word mao, but in Pengzhou, Sichuan, the local dialect for jiao/mao sounds to me like zhuo4. So my first few weeks in Pengzhou I used to like buying my stuff off street vendors rather than supermarkets in order to support local farming economy etc etc, but one day I bought some overpriced bananas (I don’t mind if they overcharge me..) and the lady asked for ‘si kuai wu zhuo’, but I missed the ‘wu zhuo’ and only gave her 4 yuan. She started yelling at me ‘haiyou wu zhuo’ but in this kind of hard to understand accent and I couldnt figure out what she was saying. So a whole lot of other people came over on the street to yell at me too. So I cant’ hear anything by then. Finally another guy came over and yelled at them all to shut up and leave me alone because I tingbudong!! He spoke clearer Mandarin and told me the old lady still needed ‘wu jiao, wu mao’ to make sure I understood. I handed over the stupid jiao and cried all the way home, thinking ‘why did I ever leave NZ!!’. Fortunately that was the only time anything like that happened (apart from getting hauled in and screamed at by the PSB in Aba, but that’s another story…).

    Everytime I can’t understand now, my Sichuan friends yell ‘wu zhuo’ at me and wet themselves giggling. So I got a Sichuan friend to teach me how to say “Ni xiang gan zua zi me?” in a really tough sichuan accent. I guess its the Chinese equivalent to “what da hell you lookin’ at?”

    Anyway, no deep meaningful comment here. Just another word for Mao if anyone ever goes to Pengzhou.

  25. Da Xiangchang Says: February 5, 2005 at 7:29 am

    I always found Chinese money to be quite ugly–and it’s uglier now that Mao’s balding, fat mug is on every bill! Not that American bills are any better–boring green presidents and Ben Franklin.

    The Chinese should get rid of Mao and put their great historical stuff in there. Great Wall, cute little pandas, etc. And forget the ethnic minorities–most of them hate the Han anyway so why the hell put them on?!

    America should forget the presidents. Worshipping personalities instead of principles smacks too much of a third-world mentality. America should put like Disneyland, McDonald’s, Microsoft, and so on on its bills. They represent modern America a lot more than dead presidents!

  26. Tape them together (the coins, not the paper notes) and use them to pay the Taxi, if they complain, tell them that it’s all you got and flee. Embarrassing…but practical. If you’ve got a wad a paper notes, stack a hundred or so and rubber band them together. Now, the next time you walk by a beggar, you can drop a fat wad of cash in front of them, ala the Godfather.

  27. I have a giant mural of them on my wall. And since I mostly buy my food at the veggie market, I don’t accumulate that many. They’re good for the bus too. As fen go, I like to get a giant handful of them and use them when I have to pay those bike guys. I really hate those guys.

  28. At the risk of repetition, Da Xiangchang you are one scary guy.

    If you ever come to NZ on holiday, I’m happy to help you out, as long as you never open your mouth in front of my kiwi friends 🙂

    At least the internet is a mind-broadening experience of different opinions when your online! You generally brighten my day with a laugh but I’m never sure if you are serious or not.

  29. I have a 0.5 jiao coin. Absolutely worthless. I can’t spend it until I find another 0.5 to put together to make 1 jiao.

  30. I find the one kuai and jiao notes get really scabby and disgusting, so I try to get rid of them as soon as possible, usually on the bus or in the corner shop near the office. Coins are better, but take up more room. I’ve never seen a fen coin or note, though.

  31. Da Xiangchang Says: February 8, 2005 at 2:22 am


    Thanks for the compliment. You’re a pretty hilarious writer too. And I just might take you up on your offer. I have a friend in Sydney whom I might visit in 2006 (I REALLY want to hit all 7 continents), and NZ as a secondary trip might be tempting then. 😉

  32. Save all your one jiaos and keep them for your furture trip to Tibet!!! One jiao paper note will be highly appreciated by the temples and religious beggars. Don’t try to give them any coins. They dislike coins as you might find also in Hainan.

  33. I have all 1 Yuan, Jiao and Fen coins. The jiao coins are not bad looks wise. I hate the new 1 Yuan coins with the eye! Lousy Masonic power control freak creeps! The fen are a joke, seriously! It probably costs more to make these coins than they’re actually worth!! I have a theory that these worthless coins are helping to contribute to the debt of nations. They’re conspiracies. Paper money though is the biggest fraud as it is not backed by anything and gets overprinted and becomes worthless. Coins not made in silver or better metals are just not worth accepting, simple as that! Once a currency goes under or gets revalued one’s wealth cannot be protected unless in metal coinage worth at least the coin’s face.

    By the way, Xiangchang, I totally agree with everything you say! Speaking of New Zealand, I love their monies! America and China are clueless as to printing nice general non-collector notes and coins.

Leave a Reply