Thursday, July 8, 2010

China's picturesque money

I've always been fascinated with Chinese money, even going back to my first trip to China in 1984. At that time, and for many years afterward, foreigners were required to change money for Foreign Exchange Certificates, aka FECs, Foreigners were restricted to shopping only at places which accepted FECs, usually the Friendship Store in any city. The exchange rate was two FECs for $1US.

When i returned to China 10 years later to work in Beijing for a year, FECs were on their way out. Foreigners could now exchange their currency for real Chinese money which literally came in all sizes and colors. The smallest denomination is a fen, worth about a tenth of a cent. It came in both coins and bills.The largest was a 100 renminbi note, renminbi means "people's money. Renminbi is also known as yuan and, in street slang, as kuai. Each note has a different picture on it, usually of a historical place in China. Each note also is a different color and size. I'm so intrigued with Chinese money I even wrote an article about it.

Recently the Chinese government announced plans to strengthen the value of the renminbi. So far it doesn't appear to have made a lot of difference since we were last in China. In 1994, the official exchange rate was about 8.3 yuan to the US dollar, though it you changed with a reputable black market dealer (yeah, I know that's an oxymoron, but there are reputable dealers out there), you could get about five yuan over the official rate. Where I lived in Beijing, the nearest bank that would exchange dollars was several miles away, while money changers were just half a block away. They were there day in and day out, and made their profit by charging the Chinese 1,000 yuan for $100US.

When we were in Beijing two years ago, we exchanged (only at banks this time) our dollars that got us about 6.8 yuan per dollar. China's money had grown in value over the years. The rate today however about 6.7-6.8.

Are you going to China?

If you're planning a trip to China, please take a look at my website, Cheryl's China. If you have questions about travel in China, especially Beijing, please feel free to email me. And don't forget to check out my mini-guides about traveling in Beijing.

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