Chinese Coins: The Last Palace

Posted on 11/8/2016

2016 is the 150th anniversary of Sun Yat-sen’s birth and the People’s Republic of China has just released three coins to commemorate this event.

It feels like a train station. We weave though the milling crowd in the ticket office lobby. The glass barrier between the clerk and the public has the word “ticket” painted on it in English. Everything else is in Chinese. Like most places in China, except high security areas, my California Driver’s License is an acceptable form of ID. After a few minutes, my two friends and I emerge out into the bracing, gray cold of a Nanjing winter day.

Three arched walkways pierce the entry portal to the Republican Presidential Palace while a red flag flutters above. People stand about as the traffic rolls by. A lion statue distracts me and the cold attacks my right hand as I remove a glove to operate the camera. Then, tickets in hand, we stride straight through an archway to enter a broad courtyard rimmed by Ash trees. The sounds from the street fade behind us.

This palace is nothing like China’s famous imperial palaces. It was built in 1864 in neoclassical style and, for me at least, recalls other neoclassical buildings like the Frick Collection in New York. Like the Frick, the rooms are filled with fine artwork, except everything here is Chinese. At the rear of the grounds stands a multi-story office building.

It has no elevator, so we climb a few floors to finally arrive at a room with a numismatic connection—the president’s office. This is where Dr. Sun Yat-sen (pronounced Sun Zhong Shen in Chinese) worked. It takes me a while to work my way through the throng to the office doorway. The room is roped off to the public, but can be viewed from this spot. A portrait of the president leans out from the wall. His desk still sits near a window that looks out over the palace. Everything is neat and clean. It almost feels as if the room is quietly waiting for its owner to return and continue where he left off.

Dr. Sun filled many roles in his life: revolutionary, physician and the first president and founding father of the Republic of China after the Xinhai Revolution. That revolt toppled the Qing Dynasty and ended more than two thousand years of imperial rule in China. He is revered the world over. Visitors to the Chinatown area of my own Los Angeles walk by a statue of him.

2016 is the 150th anniversary of Sun Yat-sen’s birth and the People’s Republic of China has just released three coins to commemorate this event. There is a brand new 100 Yuan 8 gram gold coin (mintage 10,000), a 10 Yuan 30 gram silver coin (mintage 20,000) and a circulating copper alloy commemorative coin. This last one has a denomination of 5 Yuan and is made of yellow copper alloy (mintage 300 million).

If you go back 35 years to 1981, the first time that Sun Yat-sen’s image graced a modern Chinese coin was to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution. A 400 Yuan, ½ oz. gold coin shows him on one face and revolutionary fighters on the other.

Five years later, in 1986, the China Mint released two more Sun Yat-sen coins; these honor the 120th anniversary of his birth. A 10 Yuan 27 gram silver coin is .925 fine and a 5 oz. silver coin is .999 fine. A side note; if you come across these in their original packaging you may need the services of NCS. Many plastic pouches have partly decomposed and left a residue on the coins.

In 1991, Sun Yat-sen's image again appears on a set of coins that commemorate the 80th anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution. This set includes a 100 Yuan 1 oz. gold, a 100 Yuan 8 gram gold, a 50 Yuan 5 oz. silver coin and a 10 Yuan 1 oz. silver coin.

1993 saw the issuance of 500 Yuan 5 oz. gold and 100 Yuan 1 oz. gold Sun Yat-sen coins. In 1996 came 50 Yuan ½ gold and 10 Yuan 1 oz. silver coins for the 130th Anniversary of Sun Yat-sen’s birth.

Sun Yat-sen is represented on an extensive number of Chinese coins—and that does not even include the numerous medals that honor him. To form a Sun Yat-sen set would be a significant and interesting numismatic accomplishment.

Dr. Sun mostly spent his adult life in a struggle against tyranny, whether it was against the Qing Dynasty, or against Yuan Shih-Kai, another leader well known to coin collectors. His efforts are considered heralds of the later Communist revolution. Sun Yat-sen’s final words, reportedly, “Peace, struggle, save China,” echo through the decades and the world of coins.

Statue of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen in Los Angeles, California,
1986 50 Yuan silver coin and Dr. Sun’s office in Nanjing.

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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