Chinese Coins: The Wedding Gift Was a Gun

Posted on 8/14/2018

Song Ching-ling, a popular Chinese political figure, appears on quite a few Chinese coins and medals.

The weather is mild, the sky blue and Beijing’s Houhai (pronounced Ho-hi) district teems with people as an escalator lifts me out of the Shichahai subway station. A quick left turn down a shop-lined alley leads to the long canal that is part of Houhai Lake. The crowds thin out a bit once you get past the commercial area. Out on the water a rowboat slides by. A young fellow passes me (I make up for not being quick by being slow) carrying his laughing girlfriend, her arms happily draped around his neck.

I pause at a playground. There are people of all ages here, but the kings of the park today are half a dozen gymnasts. They gather around the monkey bars. With short leaps onto the apparatus, they swiftly hoist themselves up to spin and twirl high above the ground. It’s a fantastic show, but the afternoon is slipping away.

Just a couple of hundred meters from the playground, an imposing wall of stone faces the street. This wall used to cloister an imperial garden. In the 1920s, a foreigner added a mansion to the grounds. The outside signs, though, announce the home of Song Ching-ling. Who is this?

Song Ching-ling’s father was part of China’s Hakka minority. Back in the 1880s, he went to the United States as a sailor, found Christianity, was baptized Charles Jones Soon and returned to China as a Methodist missionary. In Shanghai, his focus shifted from improving the country through religion to political change. He started a business and became a quiet financial supporter and secret friend of Dr. Sun Yat-sen. Dr. Sun plotted a failed coup in 1895, but later was the leader of the Xinhai Revolution in 1911 that overthrew the Qing Dynasty.

The Song family was blessed with three daughters. Ching-ling, the middle one, came into this world in 1893. As a young adult, she was sent off to Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia and graduated in 1913. She then returned to China, where she went to work for – and developed a relationship with – her father’s friend, Sun Yat-sen.

“I didn’t fall in love. It was hero worship from afar. It was a romantic girls' idea when I ran away to work for him — but a good one. I wanted to help save China and Dr. Sun was the one man who could do it, so I wanted to help him.” In 1915, despite a 26-year gap in their ages, as well as the strong disapproval of her family, she became his third wife.

Life with Dr. Sun was far from calm. As a wedding present he gave her a small pistol. She had a chance to use it. On June 16, 1922, the Army Minister led a coup against the national government. The house in Guangzhou where Song Ching-ling and Sun Yat-sen stayed was shelled. After her husband reached safety, Song Ching-ling rallied the guards to counterattack. When their ammunition ran out she and the others escaped under fire.

Dr. Sun died in 1925. Song believed that socialism best reflected his vision for China’s future. She followed this path, even though it meant breaking with her own sister and family. Her younger sister Mei-ling actually married Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of the nationalist faction.

Through the 1930s and '40s, Song Ching-ling continued to follow her own beliefs and serve China and its Communist Party, often through fund-raising. This included raising money to fight against the Japanese invasion. When the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) met in 1948 to shape the new government, she was there. On October 1, 1949, when there was a ceremony in Tiananmen Square to mark the birth of the new People's Republic of China, Song Ching-ling was there. The nationalist government issued an order for her arrest, but could never touch her and it soon fled to Taiwan.

Song Ching-ling on a 1993 one Yuan coin (right) and a 2010 brass medal (left).
In the background is the Beijing house where she lived from 1963-1981.

Song continued to serve China in prominent roles through the 1950s. In 1963, Premier Chou Enlai recommended that she move into the Houhai residence, an offer she accepted. She spent her remaining years there until passing away in 1981. Before her death, she was given the title of Honorary Chairwoman of the People's Republic of China, the sole person ever so honored.

Fittingly for such a prominent figure, Song Ching-ling appears on quite a few coins and medals. Most date from 1981, the year of her death, or 1993, the centenary of her birth. The top issues would be four 1993 legal tender Chinese coins. This includes the 1993 100 Yuan, eight gram gold coin that reportedly has a true mintage of 2,000. There is also a pair of 1993 Song Ching-ling 10 Yuan, one oz. silver coins. 2,003 standing pose coins were struck compared to only 1,003 of a seated pose. NGC has graded 119 of the standing version and 60 of the seated pose coins. Not surprisingly, the scarcer “seated” silver coin is the more valuable one. It typically trades for more than $2,000 in Proof 69 condition.

Probably the best-known of all Song Ching-ling coins is a 1993 6.05 gram nickel-bonded steel 1 Yuan circulating coin. 10,448,000 business strikes and 250,000 proofs of this design were released. There are also some rare bank specimens. Several sources distributed the BU coin in various styles of packaging. (Thanks to Sun Keqin for the information on the steel coin.)

On the medal side there are quite a few Song Ching-ling items. There is a 1981 59 mm antiqued bronze bust portrait with a stylized dove on the opposite face, a Shenyang Mint 1981 brass medal portrait, a 1993 1/10 oz. gold with the years 1893 and 1981 around a bust portrait, a 1995 100 gram silver medal that features a portrait of her and a 2010 brass 60 mm medal.

The stream that flows through Song Ching-ling’s garden sparkles in the sunlight. It is in no rush to reach the end of its course. This is a good place to consider that what she helped set in motion continues to flow through the world today and that for collectors, her coins and medals shine like reflections off water.

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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