The costly error occurred after Hao Bin’s husband, Wang, borrowed the money to pay workers on a major construction project his firm was running in the city of Shaoshan, in central China’s Hunan province.

Hao, 35, decided to pop the sizeable wad in her wood-burner overnight. But the next morning she unthinkingly shoved a lit match and some burning paper into the stove while boiling water to make tea. She only realised her ghastly mistake when she went to add wood to the blaze and spotted the plastic bag containing the money almost completely incinerated.

Having well and truly cooked the books, a distraught Hao took the remaining charred fragments to the Bank of China in a desperate effort to make amends for her blunder. However, she was told by officials that when less than half of a banknote remains intact it cannot be exchanged for a new one.

Better news is that 39-year-old Wang has taken the setback on the chin. “It was a hard blow, and my wife is devastated. But I have forgiven her and we will survive,” he said, as reported in the Daily Mirror. “We had not been paid ourselves yet for our work, but I needed to pay the workers so we borrowed the money from friends and family, and we wanted somewhere to keep it safe for a day before paying it out.”

The sad tale may in part reflect the lack of trust many Chinese have in banks. People frequently prefer to shove their money into socks or pillowcases in order to hide it from thieves.