Wednesday, April 11, 2012

What's That? Wednesday: Chinese Currency

Put your thinking caps’s lesson is all about math.  Strangely enough I wanted to become a math teacher for a while until it became glaringly obvious that language was a bit more of my thing.  Anyways...figuring out China’s currency was one of our first tasks when we moved here.  The actual denominations are not much different than US currency.  The initial challenge for me was understanding all the different words used when discussing money.  I’ve thought about how best to explain it and this is what I’ve come up with using my limited knowledge...

When discussing foreign currencies or using a foreign currency calculator, we would label the money from the US as a United States Dollar or a “USD”.  In China, the currency is often referred to as “RMB” or Reinminbi.
In more general terms, US money might be called “dollar bills” and in China the term “yuan” might be used.  Just like the dollar sign ($) is used when writing money in the US, the Chinese character for the yuan (¥) is written in front of prices in China.  
Finally, when reading a price out loud, a price from the US would be read 3 dollars, 50 cents using the money terms of dollars and cents.  In Chinese, the “measure word” (the use of “measure words” is a whole other blog post, trust me!) for money is “kuai” (pronounced q-why).  Three kuai is the appropriate way to say an amount of money.
Bills are in denominations of 100, 50, 20, 10, 5, and 1’s.  There is also a bill for a .50 RMB and coins for 1 RMB, .50 RMB, .10 RMB, and .01 RMB.
The most notable difference are the coins.  Amounts less than 1 RMB are usually measured in units of 10 (like a dime in the US).  However, unlike the US, China measures the actual number of units of 10.  So, $0.50 would be read as 50 cents in the US, but in China you would say 5 “mao” (the equivalent of 0.10 RMB).  This basically means a person is saying 5 x 0.10.

Here are some other examples:
.10 = 1 mao (or 1 x .10)
.20 = 2 mao (or 2 x .10)
.30 = 3 mao (or 3 x .10)

It seems a bit confusing, but it really comes down to how the Chinese count.  Jamie has read a book about statistical analysis called Outliers: The Story of Success, which states that because of the way parts of Asia learn to count, it gives them an advantage on advance mathematics. 

When learning to count in Chinese, a person memorizes the names of numbers up to 10 and then the rest is either simple addition or multiplication.  
11 in Chinese is 10 + 1 (shi yi)
12 in Chinese is 10 +2 (shi er)
13 in Chinese is 10 + 3 (shi san) 
20 in Chinese is 2 x 10 (er shi) 
21 in Chinese is 2 x 10 + 1 (er shi yi)
30 in Chinese is 3 x 10 (san shi)
31 in Chinese is 3 x 10 + 1 (san shi yi)
40 in Chinese is 4 x 10 (si shi)
41 in Chinese is 4 x 10 + 1 (si shi yi)
Much of China is still strictly cash-based.  It was such a change for us debit-card-lovin’ people.  Now that I’m used to it, I enjoy not having to use an entire child’s nap-time’s worth of peace and quiet entering stacks of receipts into Quicken.  (Dave Ramsey would be so proud!)  Not only is China cash-based, but it’s a pre-pay society.   The gas for the stove and water heater is pre-paid, cell phones are pre-paid, any specially-made clothing or furniture guessed it, pre-paid (well actually you pay half when you order and half when you pick up).  I take a huge wad of cash to pay for EBean’s preschool, to pay for medical exams and anything else you might think of.
We do have a Chinese debit card and most grocery stores and the mall will accept it.  But, there have been a few times when the connection is not good and the debit card machine will not work, so I’ve learned to have enough cash on hand anyway, just in case!


  1. so i can completely do this. that's how we count here.

    1. It really makes so much sense, yes, you'll be able to do it no problem.

  2. Yeah, so glad to read this! I too read outliers. Very fascinating book! Thanks for the math lesson!

  3. Outliers is a great book! Who knew statistics could be so interesting? I'm working on answering the rest of your questions!