Chinese Pandas: Kung Full of Pandas

Posted on 11/14/2017

Some of the innovative designs for Chinese Panda coins were inspired by cartoons.

“Legend tells of a legendary warrior... whose kung fu skills were…so deadly in fact, that his enemies would go blind from overexposure to pure awesomeness.”

“Po! Get up! You'll be late for work! What are you doing up there?”


Of all the pandas that ever lived, the best-known one is actually a cartoon character. Po, the slacker star of the "King Fu Panda" series, is beloved by children and adults everywhere in the world. While there is no Po coin (yet), cartoons played a role in China’s Panda coin series since nearly its beginning.

“There was a competition (in 1984) between not only the Shenyang Mint, but the Shanghai Mint for the design of the 1985 Panda.”

The sunlight streamed into the Hong Kong, China hotel room, as Mr. Wang Fu De spoke. Two outstanding artists sat there: Mr. Wang and Mr. Zhao Qiang. Mr. Wang is retired from the Shenyang Mint. He designed the 1985 Panda, the first Panda design from Shenyang. Mr. Zhao works at the Shanghai Mint, where he gave us the designs for the 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2016 Panda coins. He very kindly served as my translator that day, working right through a bad case of laryngitis. He was determined to make this interview possible.

Mr. Wang continued, “There were, maybe, ten artists involved. I thought the standard way of showing pandas was boring: walking, standing, sitting. I wanted to break the pattern and create a new spirit in the coins.”

“I went to the zoo to do sketches. To me, the panda represents innocence and a simple life. The panda’s life revolves around bamboo. It is food, but it is also something to swing from and to be happy about.”

“One place that I drew inspiration from was the small Chinese paintings on bookmarks. Another was cartoons. Cartoons are a very interesting art form. I combined the two art styles together to create something new.”

Left to right: 1985 100 Yuan Gold Panda, Mr. Wang Fu De examining a NGC-graded coin,
1990 Asian Games Brass medal, 2012 2000 Gold Yuan 30th Anniversary coin,
2017 Shenyang Mint Lunar Panda designed by Ms. Chang Huan.

By 1990, the mascot for the Asian Games held in Beijing was a real cartoon panda. The little bear appears on both coins and medals for the Asian Games coins. On Asian Game coins, the pandas are small and set off to the side as supporting characters. They own the medals, though, front and center. These can be found in solid and gold-plated brass versions and there are lots of different kinds. Some of the sports the panda plays are baseball, bicycling, tennis, badminton, ping-pong, soccer, volleyball and basketball.

Just a few years later, in 1995, a young artist arrived to work in Shenyang. In due course, she would delve into popular culture and take cartoon pandas to another level. Her name is Chang Huan and her brilliantly cheerful design for the 2012 2000 Yuan 30th Anniversary Panda had an unexpected inspiration.

“My design began like many other designs; at first there was just a panda. My daughter influenced this coin’s design. At this time, 'Kung Fu Panda' was very popular. After seeing the movie, my daughter said that this panda is very funny and very lovely. That gave me an idea.”

The result was one of the most innovative designs in the history of the Panda series. But Miss Chang was not done with panda cartoons. In 2016, she drew a little panda for an internal mint project. It became one face of a bimetallic medal that promoted the Shenyang Mint at the 2016 Beijing International Coin Expo. In fact, the mintage of 1,000 was struck right on the floor of the Expo to the delight of visitors.

Early in her career Miss Chang was a disciple of Mr. Wang at the Shenyang Mint. When I asked her about him, she called Mr. Wang her master. She knew quite well that he designed the 1985 Panda. What surprised her was when I mentioned that cartoons influenced his design. This was news to her. There is no doubt, though, that the spirit of innovation that Mr. Wang sought passed from one generation of Chinese artist to the next, from master to student. That’s something that Po would appreciate – along with a good bowl of noodles.

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.

Related link
See images of hundreds of Panda coins at NGC's Hercules gallery

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