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Josef Stalin, World Leaders Hell Notes: 1 Million Yuan (China, Unknown)-Article

Updated: Jan 23, 2022

This small novelty note is a 冥鈔 (míngchāo), more commonly known in Western nations as "Hell Money". These notes are produced by a wide array of companies making proper documentation difficult. As many competing companies will copy, combine, and modify designs. As these notes are designed for ritual burning to the ancestors, during funerals and traditional festivals.

This note is a part of larger hell note series, which depicts famous world leaders.


The observe features a portrait of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin (1878-1953), listed as "J.V. Stalin". Stalin served General Secretary of the Soviet Union from 1924-1953. The title below lists Stalin name (Sīdàlín) in Hanzi characters. While further below he's listed as "J.V. Stalin", for Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin.

The header above the portrait refers to the note as "Hell Bank Note". This header is flanked by dual-false serial number, they read "E64865". Besides the portrait Hanzi characters representing the note's fictional 1 Million Yuan value. This same Hanzi value is repeated on the note's corners, they are printed in an outward facing angle.

Each of these instances rests on a false guilloché backing, which also appears along the note's borders.


The reverse depicts the Jade Buddha Palace, in Anshan. This temple houses one of the world largest jade Buddhas, which was formed from a single piece. The temple is an impressive 33 m (108 ft) tall, representing the 33 layers of heaven. It's said to be the tallest existing building, in the ancient Chinese architectural style.

The reverse header is printed in English, unlike the observe. Again stating the note is a "Hell Bank Note". To the left is a single "E64465" serial number. Below is a large number "1 000 000" on a guilloché backing. Each corner features additional number 1 Millions, on guilloché backings. Unlike the observe they are printed in an inward facing angle.

The reverse border is formed from halved, outward facing floral guilloché patterns.

Offerings To The Ancestors

A Chinese family respectfully burns offerings, at an ancestor's grave. Chinese Ghost Festival,
Joss paper notes and yuanbao being burned, during the Ghost Festival

"Hell money" is the western term for East Asian joss paper notes. These novelty notes are often burnt as offering, during Chinese ancestral worship ceremonies. Over the centuries this traditional Chinese practice. Has extended to other religions throughout East Asia. Being adopted by Buddhist, Taoist (China/Taiwan) and Shinto (Japan) temples.

The revenue from selling these notes, often helps to maintain the temple grounds and finance renovations. Although in general, the notes are most often burned during funerals and the Chinese Ghost Festival. The universal tradition being so one's ancestor "has good things in the afterlife".

The act of burning the notes, symbolically represents it's transition from the material to sprit realm. The practice also extends to burning yuánbǎo ("valuable treasure"), special imitations of gold and silver ingots. Although in modern times has extended to paper credit cards, cell phones, and cheques. Since 2006, the burning of more extravagant items (imitation clothes, electronics and cars), has been banned in mainland China.

Traditionally joss paper offerings were handmade from course bamboo paper. Cut into squares and rectangles shapes, hand applied stamps and seals. These handmade notes can be identified, by their personal imperfections and styles. It should be noted the collection of of handmade joss paper notes. Is it's own sub-field within numismatics. As a general rule, one should only buy antique joss paper notes, from reputable dealers.

A Dabai Shoujin ("longevity gold"), it features Fu, Lu & Shou (the Three Stars). These notes can be offered to heavenly deities.
Traditional Dabai Shoujin ("longevity gold") note, offered to heavenly deities.

This it in contrast to to modern mass produced joss paper "banknotes". Which are often made of cheaper rice paper, rather than bamboo. These modern notes almost universally feature whimsical takes on banknotes. Although a few past example have appeared so close to real banknotes. That they've been mistaken for counterfeits, leading to criminal investigations.

Stacks of joss paper "Yuan" and "Dollars". Can bought at many common shops in mainland China.
Stacks of joss paper "Yuan" and "Dollars", in the foreground.

Despite this, most common examples are brightly colored. And can be easily recognized, as novelty notes. Keeping in line with the more playful nature of modern joss paper notes. Unusually high denominations, ranging into the the millions are common. Their observe often features an imagine of the mythical Jade Emperor. While their reverse made differ, may say "Hell Notes", along with their Hanzi (Chinese characters) equivalent.

That said, the collection of joss paper notes, is well suited for youth and causal collectors. As they're low cost and lack the risk attached to potentially purchasing imitations. They're often sold in small sets, making it easy to create a collection, at minimum cost.


Additional Notes

  • This note's dimensions are 118 x 63 mm or 4.65 x 2.48 in, smaller than a US Dollar.

  • Joss paper offering are intended to persuade Yama, Lord of Dìyù for better judgment.

  • The term "hell" was a western concept introduced by Christian missionaries.

  • Some newer "Hell Notes" replace the word "Hell", with "Heaven" or "Paradise".

  • This "Hell Note" features a relatively false low value, making it somewhat uncommon.

  • Most common "Hell Notes" feature absurdly high fictional values, within the millions.

Photo Credits

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