The People's Money
The Chinese currency, or the money they use in the Chinese Mainland or the People's Republic of China, is called the Renminbi or 人民币. This word translates literally into "the People's Money". "Renminbi" is a mouthful so you will often see it shortened to "RMB" on currency exchange sign boards. Another way you'll see it written is CNY. Here, the CN stands for "China" and Yuan stands for "Yuan".
More about that below.
What It's Actually Called in China
Other common terms for the Renminbi are
- yuan, pronounced "you-on"
- kuai, pronounced "kwhy"
As noted above, it is common to see the Chinese currency noted as "CNY" in foreign exchange bureaus and banks. The symbol is ¥ or 元.
There are a lot of little denominations but the highest denomination to date is 100. It's rather vexing as if you have to pay a large amount in cash, the stack you have to carry around is rather large. Luckily, more and more stores and vendors use credit and debit cards as well as other forms of electronic payment methods.
Here's a breakdown of the Renminbi denominations you'll come across while on the Mainland.
- 1 (note, the 1 RMB note is used more often in some places than others. To my experience, I've seen more often the note used in northern China and the coin used in southern China. Sometimes vendors won't accept one form over the other - but this is rare.)
- 0.5 - less than 1 RMB is referred to as the jiao or "jow". So 0.5 RMB is 5 jiao.
- 0.2 (2 jiao)
- 0.1 (1 jiao)
- 0.05 - less than 1 jiao is referred to as the fen or "fen". So 0.05 RMB is 5 fen. These very small denominations are less and less common.
- 0.02 (2 fen)
- 0.01 (1 fen)
What the Renminbi Looks Like
The RMB bills are nicely differentiated by color so you won't accidentally hand over a 100 RMB note when you mean to give a ten.
All the notes are virtually the same on the face side with a portrait of Chairman Mao on every note. Here are the color codes:
- 100 RMB Note - red, featuring the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on the back.
- 50 RMB Note - green, featuring the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet on the back.
- 20 RMB Note - orange, featuring the karst mountains in Guilin on the back.
- 10 RMB Note - blue, featuring the Three Gorges of the Yangtze River on the back.
- 5 RMB Note - purple, featuring Mt. Tai on the back.
- 1 RMB Note - green, featuring West Lake in Hangzhou on the back.
Money in Other Parts of China
Despite officially being part of the People's Republic of China, Hong Kong still uses the Hong Kong Dollar (HK$) and Macau uses the pataca (M$ or ptca). Both the HK$ and the M$ have exchange rates that are more or less equivalent to the RMB. Note that RMB can't be used in Hong Kong or Macau so you'll need to exchange money once you're in these areas if your travel includes these places.
Read more about going to Hong Kong and Macau.