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1895 Formosan Republic Tainan Official Silver Note 5 Dollars

Uploader: NIKKOPublication: 2018-07-21
Basic Information Category: Money Subcategory: Paper Money Year: 1895 CE Century: 19 CE Country of Origin: Taiwan Issuer: Acting Tainan Governor Zhong
SpecificationLength: 25 cm Width: 13 cm
This is a Tainan Official Silver Note (台南官銀票) issued by the Republic of Formosa (臺灣民主國) government.  At the time, Japanese army had taken over the Taipei city. Most of the wealthy people in Taiwan, including the first president of Formosan Republic Tang Jingsong (唐景崧, 1841-1903), had fled back to China with money. Tainan, then, became the capital. This note was issued as a war bond for the Republic of Formosa to raise money in the hope of fighting against the empire of Japan.

  1. Tainan Official Silver Note (臺南官銀票). It is interesting to see that the character “南” (literally means south) used on the note is in an altered form. Although there was no official explanation but the scholars agreed that the Formosan Republic government deliberatedly used this character to differentiate themselves from the previous Tainan government of the Chinese Qing dynasty.

  2. Acting Tainan Governor Zhong (護理臺南府正堂忠). As the original Tainan governor Zhu Hejun  (朱和鈞) already fled back to China, Zhong Man (忠滿) became the acting governor.

  3. Seven-Three Tael Five Dollars (圳平銀伍大員). During the Qing dynasty, a dollar is usually defined as Six-Eight tael; that is 6 maces and 8 candareens of treasury standard silver (庫平銀), roughly 25.36 grams of 93.5% pure silver. A dollar defined here, however, is Seven-Three tael, which is 27.23 grams. The character used on the note “圳” is actually a portmanteau character of Seven (七) and Three (三). At the time, Chinese monetary notes were all denominated in tael, not dollar, to avoid confusion. This note was the first being denominated in dollar. The intention was that people can use normal 5 dollar silver coins to purchase this five dollar note and get an extra 7.37% silver in return in the future, if the Republic of Formosa wins the war.

  4. Tian Word (天字). It is the initial of the silver note serial number. It was originated from Thousand Character Classic (千字文), a poem that contains exactly one thousand Chinese basic characters for teaching children. The character “天”, literally means sky, is the first character of the poem, much like “A” in the English alphabets.

  5. Six Hundred and Seventy (陸佰柒拾). This is the numeric part of the silver note serial number, supposedly ranging from 0 to 999 as no four digit serial example has been found.

  6. June 10th, Guangxu Year 21 (光緒廿一年六月初十). Chinese used lunar calendar at the time, so the date was actually July 31st, 1895 in Gregorian calendar.

  7. Tian Word Six Hundred and Seventieth (天字陸佰柒拾號). A repeated note serial number to match the seal alone the right edge to prevent forgery.

The Republic of Formosa issued a total of four waves of war bonds. All of those notes were spammed with various seals and stamps in order to increase its creditability. This silver note issued by the Acting Tainan Governor Zhong (護理臺南府正堂忠) was among the first wave. All of the first issue notes were dated June 10th (1895-07-31) and there were only three types of face value: one (serial initial 地, 黃 and 郡), five (serial initial 天 and郡) and ten dollars (serial initial 南 and 元).

The second wave of bonds was issued between June 19th (1895-08-09) and July 17th (1895-09-05). The design and face value remained the same. However, the issuer was changed to Official Silver and Monetary Note General Bureau (官銀錢票總局), probably because the government thought notes issued by an agency is more creditable than the governor himself (besides the fact that Governor Zhong had already fled back to China with his son and the money). The second issue had the longest lifespan, thus the most common of the four. Estimated around 70,000 second issue notes were printed. Therefore, this is the only issue used more than one printing plate (total of four variations has been found).

The third wave was issued after August 20th (1895-10-08). Title was changed to Taiwan Democratic State Bond (臺灣民主國股份票) this time. The note promised the bearer three times of face value in return if the republic wins the war. The printing color also changed from dark blue to green. The types of face value should also remain the same but only one and five dollar examples were found. It could be that people no longer wish to invest in the ten dollars.

The final wave of the bonds was issued on August 26th (1895-10-14). The title was changed to Tainan Official Monetary Note (臺南官錢票). The printing color is also green and all existing examples are half dollar ones. Since the Republic of Formosa was extinguished on 1895-10-21, this final issue proves that people started losing faith in the government that higher value notes were no longer viable. Interestingly, the existing Taiwan Democratic State Bonds and Tainan Official Monetary Notes are among the rarest types of the four issues, because very few people were willing to buy those worthless bonds when issued as the Formosan Republic was losing the war.

By observing the market, the estimated numbers of existing notes are:
Tainan Official Silver Note (Acting Tainan Governor Zhong)

  • One Dollar - 30

  • Five Dollar - 60

  • Ten Dollar - 40

Tainan Official Silver Note (Official Silver and Monetary Note General Bureau)

  • One Dollar - 200

  • Five Dollar - 70

  • Ten Dollar - 20

Taiwan Democratic State Bond

  • One Dollar - 1

  • Five Dollar - 6

  • Ten Dollar – N/A

Tainan Official Monetary Note

  • Half Dollar - 6

  • One Dollar - N/A

  • Five Dollar – N/A

The number of existing Formosan Republic notes is extremely low. For example, out of the 70,000 second issue notes, only less than 300 hundred are known to have survived. It is because those notes were only issued in Taiwan, and they became worthless after the end of the Republic. Those notes were thrown away as trash. Another important factor is the climate condition in Taiwan. Taiwan, a tropical island, has an average of 70% humidity and the temperature can be as hot as 37 °C for over one third of a year. This is an extremely harsh environment for record keeping.

According to the seized documents by the Japanese troops, the Formosan Republic government raised a total of over 800,000 taels of silver (almost 300 tons) in funding, although the historians estimated the actual number might be close to 250,000 taels. Most of the money was embezzled by the fleeing government officials and the notes became worthless papers after the war. Taiwanese people no longer trusted paper currency and Japanese government spent a long time trying to convince Taiwanese people to adopt its bills. After WWII, the Republic of China government made all the old currency virtually worthless again by introducing the New Taiwanese Dollar with an exchange rate of 40,000 to 1. It is probably why old Taiwanese people have a habit of holding onto gold jewels, and gold trading is still very active and convenient in the pawn shops.

War bonds issued by Formosan Republic like this note are so rare that there is almost no online documentation available, especially in English. This article is probably one of the first English literatures on Tainan Official Silver Note available online. I want to add this personal note at the end because of the special sentimental value of the Formosan Republic. Not many people, including Taiwanese, know the history of the Republic of Formosa. Formosan Republic was often used as propaganda to promote anti-Japanese colonial movement by the Chinese (both past and present). It is a symbol for them to fight against Japan. Many current Taiwanese independence supporters also view Formosan Republic as an ideal, because, at the time, Taiwan was a separate, independent state from China. It is very intriguing to see two ends of spectrum can interpret one same thing so differently. Therefore, people should be very careful when studying literatures about the Republic of Formosa, because the authors often inject their own sentimental views into the articles (both the nationalists or the separatists).

To me, there is nothing romantic about the Republic of Formosa. What I see is a group of opportunists tried to take advantage of the situation and made a fortune. The fact that the Western philatelists call stamps issued by the Formosan Republic “Black Flag stamps” says it all. There is nothing Formosan or Taiwanese about it. All they see is the Black Flag, the nickname of Liu Yongfu’s (劉永福) private army originated near Vietnam. Also, almost all of the historic documents suggested that Japanese army faced little or no resistance from the Formosan Republic army at the time. That makes me wonder where all the money raised by the bonds were spent. I think the answer is very obvious.
Ownership InformationAcquisition Date: 2018-07-05
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