Chinese Coins: 2012 Peking Opera Mask

Posted on 12/5/2013

Peking Opera is a breathtakingly diverse art form.

In 2012 the People's Bank of China released a set of coins that feature masks from the Peking Opera. The Peking (or Beijing) opera has been a cornerstone of Chinese culture for nearly 200 years. It has become in many ways the very soul of Chinese artistic expression.

Despite its name the opera is far more than just singing. A typical play will involve ballet, acrobatics, dialogue, monologues, stunning martial arts displays, mime, and of course, song. The opera is instantly recognizable for its elaborate costumes and ornate face paint as well as its highly distinctive musical style that involves traditional Chinese instruments coupled with piercing vocals.

The incredible range of skills needed to perform Peking Opera is only matched by the scope of plays that can be performed. There currently exist over 1,000 different plays based on folklore, history, and oral tradition many of which supersede the opera by hundreds or sometimes thousands of years.

2012 Peking Opera Coin
Click images to enlarge.

The 2012 China Peking Opera mask coins have exceptionally expressive designs that convey each role’s psychological and physical characteristics. The masks are partly colorized and make use of their gold or silver backgrounds. Two gold coins were struck: a 2,000 Yuan 5 oz. with a mintage of 2,000 and a 100 Yuan ¼ oz. with a mintage of 30,000. The 2,000 Yuan coin represents in red Guan Yu, a Chinese general from the time of the Three Kingdoms (220-280) who is known for his fidelity to his emperor.

In silver there is a 50 Yuan 5 oz. coin and a pair of one oz. 10 Yuan coins. The 50 Yuan coin has a mintage of 10,000. It portrays Zhong Kui, the ghost vanquisher who had up to 80,000 demons at his command.

The 10 Yuan coins show masks for Zhang Fei and Tao Hong. Zhang Fei is a fierce looking general of the Three Kingdoms. He is known for his military skill and for treating his superiors respectfully, but not those who served under him. Tao Hong, by contrast, is a kindly, clownish old soldier who stars in a story called, The Fight in a Melon Garden. Both 10 Yuan coins have mintages of 50,000.

Peter Anthony is an expert on Chinese modern coins with a particular focus on Panda coins. He is an analyst for the NGC Chinese Modern Coin Price Guide as well as a consultant on Chinese modern coins.

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