Chinese Pandas: Name That Panda

Posted on 7/12/2016

Chinese Panda coins seem to be a growing interest among numismatists, celebrating new births and the recovery of the species with new coins and medals.

Pandas seem to be pretty weather-proof; the animals, not the coins. A visit on a rainy day to the Chengdu Field Research Station Centre for Giant Pandas makes that clear. It is home to pandas of all ages and they happily ignore the wet conditions.

This panda reserve is only about a year old and while there is still a feeling of newness to it, it is also quite enchanting. A single paved path zigs and zags upward through the forested hills of Szichuan. Red lanterns hang from trees and the scarlet red flowers of quinces and camellia bushes line the single path. Even the bursts of rain could not dull my spirits any more than it did the pandas.

The quiet reserve is actually something of a celebrity hangout. Two of the best-known pandas in China are residents here. One is a young bear named Chen Bao Bao who was adopted by China Gold Coin Inc., the government branch that issues Panda coins. The other is Tai Shan, who was born at the National Zoo in the USA. Tai Shan returned to China to be part of a breeding program to help rescue his species from near-extinction.

The focus on individual pandas and their names is a new trend in Chinese numismatics. The young panda on the 2016 gold and silver coins is named Pingping. According to Zhao Qiang, the designer of the coins, the name means peace, quiet and peaceful inquiry. Pingping is the first panda on a coin to be identified. Back in 1987, though, Tong Tong was named on two Sino-Japan Friendship Show Pandas, a 5 oz. gold coin and a 1 oz. gold coin.

Tai Shan, the first panda born at the National Zoo in Washington D.C.,
now lives outside of Chengdu in Sichuan Province.
The 5 oz. silver medal features his parents, who still live in the USA.
Click image to enlarge.

That said, the Golden Age of Named Pandas is today. In 2014, through cooperation between China Gold Coin Inc. and the Smithsonian Institution, four gold and two silver medals were minted. All carry the names of Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, two adult pandas loaned by the People’s Republic of China to the National Zoo in Washington D.C. The gold medals range from 5 oz. down to 1/10 oz. There are actually two 1/10 oz. gold medals: one design for Mei Xiang and another for Tian Tian. The panda pair is also featured on 5 oz. silver and 1 oz. silver medals.

The series did an encore in 2015 with five more medals. These celebrate the birth of a new Panda at the National Zoo. Bao Bao was the second cub of Mei Xiang and Tian Tian to survive more than a short time. The first was Tai Shan. The 5 oz. gold features the mother and her new baby. All the rest of the 2015 Smithsonian medals, the 1 oz. gold, the 1/10 oz. gold, as well as the 2 oz. silver and 1 oz. silver, show only an image of Bao Bao

Bao Bao now has a younger brother, Bei Bei. The 2016 5 oz. gold Smithsonian medal portrays the family of all four pandas together. The 1 oz. gold and 1/10 oz. golds, along with a 2 oz. and a 1 oz. silver, are devoted to Bei Bei. A very cute 5 oz. silver medal shows siblings Bao Bao and Bei Bei together.

As numismatists become more and more interested in pandas, the chances are that more and more specific pandas will appear on coins and medals. That’s good news all around.

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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