Chinese Coins: Tea and Swords

Fencing is a popular activity in China and is part of the country’s numismatic heritage.

“We are going to a fencing class. Do you want to come?”

“Yes.”

The snow from last week’s storm in the Nanjing area is still piled up in shady spots, but the streets and sidewalks in Xianlin, a suburb, are clear. The sun was out this morning, but then fled. Now, the sky is steel gray. If there is any precipitation, it will snow again.

Four of us, Shao Yong, Chen Chen (a talented artist for the Nanjing Mint who has designed many Chinese coins and medals), their four-year old daughter Shao Jing Wei, or Yu-Yu, and I are bundled up against the cold as we get out of the car and cross the street. On the far side is a new office complex. Its third-floor occupant is the White Knight Fencing School. As we walk toward it, a large coffee house on the ground floor tempts me. A sign above it announces in English: “Coffee – Massages.” I point this out to my friends and, after a moment of trying to explain the combination, we all laugh.

It is a first visit for all of us. One of the owners, Mr. Wang Hongchen, invited my friends, so here we are. He and his staff greet us warmly and offer fencing outfits and shoes to change into. I beg off on the grounds that it will be more useful for me to take notes and photos (a good excuse!).

The atmosphere in the gym is relaxed with brightly colored chairs that contrast with the white floor area. The fencing area is large, L-shaped and roped off. Opposite it, in one corner, a spiral staircase leads up to a glass-walled observation room. In all, there is 1,600 square meters of fencer’s heaven here. On the wall is embedded the school’s motto, “Humbleness, honor, dedication, heroism, mercy, honesty and fairness.” Today it is quiet with mostly children receiving lessons, but I can picture the space alive with spectators and competitors for a match. The only adult pupils now are Shao Yong and Chen Chen.

Parents, grandparents and friends sit, talk, drink tea and observe the activities carefully. The warm tea is delightful after the cold outside. Yu-Yu is with a female instructor named Gao Ning. She first leads Yu-Yu through warm-up exercises, then ends with a lesson in footwork. Gao Ning, whom I guess is in her 20s, is extraordinarily nurturing. At times, the two pause to play patty cake, or to hug each other. Yu-Yu is an apt student and soon is sliding forward with authority.

Nearby, a tall female instructor named Jiang Min teaches a boy around eight years old. His father watches attentively from the sidelines. The teacher looks like she could have been a dancer. During breaks, she often slips into little dance routines to express herself. She has the long, clean line of a dancer and happy feet. Regardless, with cat-quick reflexes and a long reach, I imagine Jiang Min is a formidable fencer. In fact, the women’s team of White Knight Fencing has won provincial team fencing championships.

Fencing Instruction at White Knight Fencing School, Xianlin, China.

Another instructor, named Cai Zhengnan, works with Shao Yong and Chen Chen. Mr. Cai is also tall and slender and moves with the easy grace of a born athlete. He is a serious teacher, and I never see him smile as he demonstrates his points to Shao Yong. I later learn that he is one of the finest fencers in China and made the top 50 at the World Championships in 2017.

Fencing is a popular activity in the country. There are supposed to be more than 10,000 fencers in Beijing alone. Not surprisingly, the sport is part of the country’s numismatic heritage. A 1988 5 Yuan silver coin for the Seoul Olympic games shows a fencer. The coin weighs 27 grams and, interestingly, is only .900 fine. Mintage was a small 20,000. One hundred and thirty-three of these have been graded by NGC, with 43 achieving a PF 69 grade. There are no PF 70s to date. The People’s Republic of China sent 15 fencers to Seoul: 10 men and 5 women. Although China won 28 total medals at the games, including five golds, none were in fencing.

In 1993, a 10 Yuan fencing coin was released to mark the centenary of the Olympics. This time, the mintage was 30,000 for 30 grams of .900 fine silver. It is considered to be part of a set with a gold coin and three silver coins. Those four all have 1994 dates, but are classified by the China Mint and NGC as 1993 issues. 313 have been graded by NGC, with most scoring very well: 220 PF 69 and 50 perfect PF 70 coins.

After his instruction ends, Shao Yong and Wang Hongchen square off for a friendly contest. Each has an electronic tether attached to record touches. Shao Yong looks like he might have a speed advantage, but Mr. Wang has quick feet and more experience. I cannot follow the scoring, but the fun quotient is high. Afterward, they pose for a photo together and smile at the end of an afternoon as perfect as a PF 70 fencing coin.

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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