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).

Even though Elonka listed the 1933 Chinese Gold Bar Cipher case on her “List of Famous Unsolved Codes and Ciphers” page many years ago, it isn’t something I’ve ever covered here, simply because the link she gave (to an International Association for Cryptologic Research page) is enough to answer most people’s questions.

Annoyingly, though, the same information has been cut-and-pasted so many times in the Internet that it is almost impossible to find any genuine opinion or insight. So perhaps taking a fresh look at this is somewhat overdue!

Also rather annoyingly, there isn’t a definitive numbering system in place for the ciphertexts on the seven gold bars: and it’s not entirely certain which is the front and which is the back of individual gold bars. It’s all a bit shabby, if you ask me. 🙁

Anyway, I’ll start by laying out my thoughts on a single side of a single gold bar, and it should quickly become apparent what I think of this whole matter…

One Of The Gold Bars


My transcription (only very slightly different from the IACR transcription) of this is:-


Note that the “GKJFHYXODIE” line is repeated twice here, and the bottom two lines are repeated on a different gold bar (“MQOLCSJTLGAJOKBSSBOMUPCE” repeats once and “FEWGDRHDDEEUMFFTEEMJXZR” repeats twice, side by side).

Cryptanalytically, the letter instance statistics for the above are very flat, which makes simple substitution ciphers and/or transposition ciphers highly unlikely: and yet entire lines appear to be repeated, which would seem to point away from polyalphabetic ciphers too.

  I  E  J  K  S  X  Y  C  D  O  P  U  W A F G N Z B H M Q R T V L
 13 11 11 11 11 11 11 10 10 10 10 10 10 9 9 9 9 9 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 7

I half-heartedly tried a number of well-known cipher solvers on it in CryptoCrack, but didn’t really believe any of them would produce anything plausible. And they didn’t. So… up close, it’s a bit of mess, right?

General Wang?

Presumably the military-looking man in the middle of this gold bar is “General Wang” of the alleged narrative.


There’s another (slightly clearer but still rather scronky-looking) image of what appears to be a General on a different gold bar, which I’ll include here for the sake of practicality:


One Redditor seems to have suggested (in a deleted comment) that this may be General Wang Jialie, though the Chinese ideograms beneath the picture look to me to be a different name (please correct me if I’m wrong!) And again, a rather different General Wang Yaowu wasn’t made a general until 1935, so the timing there seems wrong too.

Similarly, General Wang Sheng wasn’t yet a general in 1933: although he was instrumental in policing the introduction of the gold-backed Chin-yuan Chuan currency in China just after the Second World War, his life was a fairly open book, and I think it would be fairly surprising if there was an entire gold-bar-related chapter missing from it. 😐

Or could it have been General Wang Jun, who died in 1941? (But his shoulders look wrong?) Or General Wang Xidao who died in 1937? (But he was only promoted in 1936?) Yet again, I suspect we are looking at none of these generals, which is frustrating.

If this is a General Wang, which General Wang is it? I’d really like the opinion of someone able to read Chinese, in case the caption below the portrait on the gold bar is actually specifically naming him (as you’d hope).


A final note: I have to say I’m not feeling hugely convinced by the general’s hat as drawn: I’d have thought it ought to look more like General Wang Jun’s hat (in the link a little way above). So… all in all, I don’t think we’re doing hugely well here. 🙁

A 1933 Plane?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the image of a plane on this same gold bar also has me a little perplexed.


The reason for my perplexity is that planes of the 1920s were almost all biplanes: while all the planes of the 1930s that I could find better matching this design (all-metal, single wing mounted underneath the fuselage, single propellor on each wing, modern-looking nose, door over the wing) were built closer to WW2. Even so, the Douglas DC-3 was in 1936 [but doesn’t have a door over the wing], the Lockheed Model 10 Electra in 1935 [but the tail is wrong for that]): so really, I couldn’t find anything similar that was in production in 1933.

Perhaps someone with more specialist knowledge of planes circa 1933 will be able to throw some light on this plane. But for now, this too is somewhat unsatisfactory.

And The Signature Too?

At the bottom of the image, there’s apparently a signature:-


Is this “(Something) G. Denly”? “(Something) G. Dealy”? Beats me: any suggestions?

So, My Conclusion Is…

Numerous things about these gold bars have me stumped, not just its cryptogram-like text. If I were to sum up my feelings right now, I’d say that this looks like a post-WW2 fake (and probably even from the early-to-mid 1950s), trying to make something look as though it had been made in the 1930s, but not quite getting it right.

The situation in China and (what was becoming Taiwan) in the late 1940s and early 1950s was tense and intensely political: so perhaps these gold bars were intended for some kind of political propaganda purposes back then? I really don’t know… but perhaps we shall see!

(Incidentally, why was it that people were able to date these to 1933?)