It turns out that the Internet has a little bit more information about this affair than I thought, specifically a 2005 report about the Chinese Gold Bar Ciphers (in Chinese, and possibly copied from an earlier blog entry), which seems to paint a rather more complicated story.

(Incidentally, a commenter on Klaus Schmeh’s website (where the Chinese Gold Bar Cipher is #19 of his top 25 ciphers) Google-Translated parts of this page into rather wonky German (the commenter preferred to stick with Google rather than ask someone at a nearby Chinese restaurant), but it’s probably not the best translation you’ll ever see).

The Big Fat Secret History – and I think you’re going to like this – seems to be that at the Shanghai branch of Citibank on 3rd March 1933, General Wang Jialie allegedly bought 300 million of Citibank’s shares for just over $300 million, but that (inevitably) everyone involved has somehow managed to cover up this transaction ever since. Believe it or don’t (as is your right): but that is apparently what it says.

(Note that in 1933, it wasn’t yet “Citibank” but was still “National City Bank”: according to Schwikipedia, its Shanghai branch was opened in 1902 by the International Banking Corporation, which in 1918 then became a subsidiary of National City Bank. NCB seems to have been a very major contributor to the 1929 Stock Market Crash: its boss at that time, Charles E. Mitchell, resigned in 1933, following investigation by the Pecora Commission. Hence 1933 was both the bottom of the stock market and an interesting time in the NCB’s history.)

Anyway, one of the gold bars is claimed to be a licence attesting to this transaction and its witnesses: (Kuomintang Generals) [He] Yingqin, Zhu Peide, Li Fulin; as well as Governor Sijie, Ruanruo Fu, and secretary Anna Si Lina.

“王家烈将军于中华民国 1933 年 3 月 3 日 10 时 30 分 3 秒( 股票以秒计算 ),以黄金、珠宝、法郎、马克、英磅折美元叁亿伍仟伍佰万元。存入美利坚合众国美国花旗银行上海分行。鉴存人何应钦、朱培德、李福林等( 当时都是军长 )三人座谈入行。行长斯杰、阮若夫,秘书安娜斯丽娜,金货总重壹点捌公斤”

Zhu Peide was a Military Intelligence man who had worked his way up to become a general: here’s a photo of Chiang Kaishek crying at Zhu Peide’s 1937 funeral. Li Fulin was also a General – there’s a (roughly-translated) biography of him here (e.g. it says he died of hypertension aged 79 in Hong Kong in 1952). And He Yingqin was also a General: there’s a picture of him as he accepts the Japanese Instrument of Surrender in 1945.

However, “Governor Sijie, Ruanruo Fu, and secretary Anna Si Lina” I don’t (yet) know anything about.

The same page also reproduces three American Chinese-language newspaper articles from 1993, which I’m guessing are all saying much the same thing (but please feel free to correct me on this).

12 thoughts on “Those Chinese Gold Bar Ciphers, once again…

  1. Anton Alipov on March 19, 2015 at 9:53 am said:

    Anna Silina is a Russian name.

  2. xplor on March 19, 2015 at 4:29 pm said:

    Is this proof the Dragon family shipped all their gold to the U.S. before the Japanese looted it?

  3. Tricia on March 20, 2015 at 10:18 am said:

    NFP – Nick there is online a “Who’s Who in China” for 1933, with photographs of some of the officials. I have difficulty being sure of a translation between Wades-Giles and Pinyin romanisation, so can’t be sure the critical figures are there.

    The volume I’ve seen is the 1933 supplement. It should come up if you hunt (in quotes)
    “Who’s who in China; biographies of Chinese. Suppl. to 4th ed” AND “internet archive”.
    Good luck. D.

  4. NickT on March 20, 2015 at 2:45 pm said:

    On the subject of the “gold bar” you cite as a supposed licence:

    I’d be fairly suspicious of any document claiming to give the time of an event down to the exact second – which is what your supposed license claims to be doing. I am also not convinced by the formula used for the date. Usually you would expect “in the xth year of the Republic” or “in the year 1933”, but the document tries to say “in the year 1933 of the Republic”, which is unusual, to put it kindly.
    The document’s Chinese also looks questionable to me – as if it were written by someone who didn’t quite know how wenyanwen (literary Chinese) was supposed to work and was trying to cobble together something that might fool a casual observer. There’s also an oddity in that historical information is inserted in parentheses (“at that time they were all generals”) as if to certify the document’s provenance, in a way that it’s hard to imagine an actual license doing. Usually you would expect to see the title following the name of each person to whom it belonged.
    I would also expect Wang Jialie to have been mentioned by his title as the Chairman of the Government of Guizhou, since he had announced that he was resuming his duties shortly before his supposed trip to Shanghai. It also makes relatively little sense for him to have deposited bullion, pearls, francs, marks, pounds and dollars at the bank, as the “license” claims, in return for share certificates, which would have been of very little use to him. Nor is it likely that a receipt would have been issued in the form of a gold bar!

    Incidentally, your “governor” Sijie is Bank President Sijie and he has a colleague in Ruan Ruofu. Sijie might be a western name, with Ruan Ruofu as his Chinese colleague. For what it’s worth, I’ll note that Si is the last character of Thomas and Jie is the first character of Jefferson in Chinese transliteration. Given Jefferson’s views on banks, feel free to make of that interesting coincidence what you will.

    Overall, if they are “genuine”, I’d say that your cipher plates look like a dummy run for currency printing, with a mixture of symbols, Chinese characters, western alphabetical characters, and “official” text filling out a sample set of blanks for the issuer of the currency to choose from. The reason for the multiple blocks is that the customer would have wanted to issue more than one denomination for his currency – the equivalent of $1, $5, $10 etc bills. This would explain why the text in both Chinese and Latin script makes no sense – you don’t want anyone to be able to print up “your” currency as currency until you give the word and have the necessary backing squared away. My guess might be that the person behind this was Wang Jialie and he was planning to issue a separate currency for his own little warlord regime in Guizhou, by agreement with the rising Guomindang regime, backed by the sums of hard currency which he was going to deposit into a reputable western bank in Shanghai. I think it’s noteworthy in this context that that you have the Guomindang symbol (the “blue sun with a white sky”) appearing on one of the plates in conjunction with “USA”. I very much doubt that he ever made the deposit, much less went to Shanghai. The plates are testimony to a plan that never went anywhere.

    My guess as to the document’s style and various oddities is that we are seeing an attempt by the printer to mock up something “official” which would have been polished up and made respectable by Wang Jialie’s own officials. The printer probably wasn’t particularly well-educated, which explains why he made a bit of a hash of things stylistically.

    As for the 300,000,000 which appears on one bar – it’s probably a sample number, but it might also reflect a period of high inflation in China, which began in 1933 when silver was remonetized as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal. In other words, it has nothing to do with shares and everything to do with anticipations of the high denomination bank notes that might be needed in the near future.

    In sum then: no cipher here, but perhaps a little bit of forgotten and rather interesting history.

  5. SirHubert on March 20, 2015 at 6:56 pm said:

    When we get to extra-terrestrials, secret Nazi weapons and the Bilderberg Group, I’m out 🙂

  6. NickT: lots of good points and thoughts there, thanks! Before speculating about Thomas Jefferson, I’d rather find out the names of the people who were actually running the National City Bank of New York circa 1933 (perhaps they might be found in “A History of Modern Shanghai Banking: The Rise and Decline of China’s Finance Capitalism”, if anyone has access to a copy?): because the people named could indeed, as you suggest, have had Western names.

    As to the matter of the parentheses, may I ask if you were remarking on the Chinese text as stamped on the bars or the text as reported in the article?

  7. bdid1dr on March 22, 2015 at 4:09 pm said:

    Is it possible that the finagling may have been a result of the stock market crash of 1929?

  8. xplor on March 22, 2015 at 5:35 pm said:

    looking up brings up hichina zhicheng technology ltd. noted for selling fake goods. We need someone from Chenchen China to tell us what this is all about.

  9. bdid1dr on March 25, 2015 at 3:29 pm said:

    xplor: Chinesepatri ot ?


  10. bdid1dr on March 28, 2015 at 12:11 am said:

    Maybe Chechen?

  11. Atoqsaykuchi on March 28, 2015 at 1:48 am said:

    As pointed out above, the use of a Gregorian year where one would expect the Minguo calendar year to be used is extremely suspicious. But if anyone still wants to hunt down who these names belong to, I think it’s more likely that 斯杰阮若夫 is the name of one person (who was the 行长, i.e. director of the bank/branch), not two, because it’s very unlikely 斯杰 would be a complete name on its own. The lack of punctuation in traditional Chinese writing and the fact that 阮 is a Chinese surname seems to have led people to parse this string of characters as two names.

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