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Hell money: continued

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'The US Secret Service was not too pleased'

Almost all the Hell notes I've seen use a Yu Huang portrait showing him in his trademark flat hat with the beads dangling from it. He's generally placed where a US President would appear on American currency, or the Queen on a British banknote.
        Most of the other images used, as I've detailed in the captions, are good luck symbols of one kind or another: a fish, a phoenix, a dragon and so on. Hell notes are mostly found in Cantonese areas throughout Asia, and draw on both Taoist belief and Chinese folk religion for their customs and imagery. (7, 8)
        The Chinese characters on the notes say the same sort of things as the English text, mostly just giving the note's value or naming its issuer as some variety of Hell Bank.
        Some notes go a step further, and blur the line between innocent parody of a real banknote and something more like deliberate forgery. "The Chinese printers often copy images and names from legitimate bank notes to make the Hell notes more authentic," Anderson told me. "One of my favourites copied a US $100 bill, changing only the legend on the back. Understandably, the US Secret Service was not too pleased, and that issue seems to have been discontinued."
        You can see the $100 Hell note Anderson has in mind here, where it's wrongly described as movie prop money. These notes were produced in Vietnam in the late 1990s or early 2000s, and the only change they make to the genuine $100 bill is replacing the words "The United States of America" with "Ngan Hang Dia Phu" on the reverse side. This translates as "Bank of Limbo". (9)
        Among my own collection, the note that comes closest to a forgery is the 500 note shown here, which takes almost all its imagery from genuine Hong Kong banknotes like this one.
        China's currency designers have suffered their share of theft too. The image of the Hukou waterfall shown on the back of my 50 Hell note, for example, is lifted from China's genuine 50 note.
        The long flat building shown on the back of my red 100 Hell note is China's Great Hall of the People, and the image itself is lifted from China's real 100 note. Even the use of four Jade Emperors on my blue 100 Hell note seems based on the genuine 100 note's design. Scroll down the China Today page here for pictures of the three real Chinese notes.
        With this degree of detailed copying in their design, it's small wonder some people mistake Hell notes for genuine currency.
         "A few years ago, I got a phone call from someone in India who had a high denomination Hell banknote and wanted to know how to contact the bank to redeem it," Anderson told me. "I tried to explain that it was not a real banknote, but was printed for use by dead people.
         "He did not grasp the concept, and a few minutes later his wife called with the same question. Again, I tried to explain that Bank of Hell did not exist. I added that the money could only be used by dead Chinese, but she too did not grasp the explanation.
         "They were convinced that they had a real banknote that could be redeemed by some bank in China or Hong Kong."

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