Chinese Coins: Bombs by Moonlight

“Shanghai Memory” medals portray the experiences of World War II refugees and honor the fellowship between the Chinese people and their foreign guests.

“I’ll never forget, I think it was on the 17th of July that the Hongkou District of Shanghai was bombed. Mainly it was warehouses that the American planes targeted at night.”

Henry M. sits across from me in a Sizzler eatery not far from LAX airport and stares across his cup of real (not decaf) coffee. Between sips, Henry describes what he saw as a young man in Shanghai during the Japanese occupation. Although 95, his eyes are clear and steady as he shares his memories in German-accented English.

Henry continues: “Then later in the daytime, they came again. You could set your clock by it; we had lunch from 12 to 1 and then there was another hour-long air raid. Usually, they didn’t hit our area — except for one day. Unfortunately, they missed a Japanese radio station and hit a camp and killed around 30 of our people, wounded many others and knocked down many buildings with people inside. When the war in the Pacific broke out, we (the Jewish refugees in Shanghai) and the Chinese were both ruled by a common enemy, Japan, so we already had something in common.”

“(That day) there were four of us; the oldest was 32 and I was about 22. We worked across from the Japanese jail and near a hospital. We were in shock ourselves, but we went toward the blast area. Buildings had collapsed and we picked up a wounded Chinese man. We went to the Chinese hospital. Hundreds of people lay bleeding there on the floor, dragging themselves in.”

I saw just one man in a white smock and told the others, “No use leaving anybody here.” Then I did something really stupid. I said, “I know where there is a Japanese clinic. It’s a big clinic and I am sure it’s different there. Let’s bring him over there.’ None of us thought about what we were doing. That was outside our restricted area.”

“I knew the place was close by. We came there and saw barricades around it and there was one soldier with a rifle guarding the entrance. He saw us coming — four foreigners and a Chinese man — and opened the gate for us.”

“Inside there were wounded people and the staff was working. We left the man in their care and went out. The same soldier opened the gate for us. If a Japanese officer had seen this, he would have shot the soldier first and then us. Later, I thought, ‘We could have all gotten killed — and I’m not kidding.’ But after that bombing, every Chinese person we met on the street smiled at us.”

The talk turns to Shanghai Ghetto-related numismatics. Henry talks about a Chinese 2 Yuan note with a message of support for the USA hidden in the design. When the Japanese discovered this, they tried to destroy all of them, but some survived. Henry adds with resignation that he used to own one, but sold it for a good price: “They are rare.”

More recently, “Shanghai Memory” medals were issued by the Shanghai Mint in 2013. These portray the life of the refugees and honor the fellowship between the Chinese people and their foreign guests. A serial number is inscribed on each one of these popular medals — a first for modern Chinese coinage.

On the obverse side, a Chinese woman holds up an umbrella to shelter a Jewish girl cuddling a Panda doll. The reverse features a harbor scene. The beautiful images on the medals are the work of Zhao Qiang, who also designed the 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2016 Panda coins. 570 were struck in 1 oz. gold, 5,773 in 1 oz. silver and 36 in 5 oz. gold. Why 5,773? Because the year 5773 is the same as 2013 by the Jewish calendar’s reckoning.

Reverse of the 5 oz. Shanghai Memories gold medal,
reverse and obverse of 1989 NYINC 1 oz. silver show Panda,
reverse and obverse of 1989 NYINC 1/4 oz. gold show Panda,
the obverse of the 2013 1 oz. Shanghai Memories silver medal with the rebuilt White Horse Inn in the background.

The Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum is located in the Hongkou District’s old Jewish synagogue. The museum offers both permanent and temporary exhibits about those terrible, yet inspiring years. Henry talks about how he is proud that it honors both Jews and Chinese. I tell him that the museum built an annex across the street from the main building. It’s called the White Horse Inn, after a popular Jewish social spot during the war years.

“Yes, there was a White Horse Inn. It was named after a tavern in Austria. In fact, there was a movie called 'The White Horse Inn,' and one of the actors in it was a great opera singer. She had been in Shanghai. It was in a different spot, though, than the new one.”

Henry then adds: “In the night, we had air raid watch duty at the White Horse Inn. It was mostly young men, but also some young women. We would rest on the stone tables under the moonlight, because there were no other lights. Among us was an actor named Herbert who was well-known at one time. He liked to drink. If someone would buy him a beer then, for an hour or two during the air raid, he would tell fascinating stories. He was a brilliant comedian and actor, really, and as long as someone kept the beer flowing he would talk. That is actually one of my fondest memories of Shanghai. We would lay there inside the White Horse Inn on stone tables, watching the moon and listening to Herbert tell his stories.”

Speaking of white horses, there are a couple of Pandas with horses on them. A horse? For the Year of the Horse, of course. The pair were struck at the Shanghai Mint and released in 1989 for the New York International Numismatic Convention. The next Horse Year was not until 1990, but they were meant for the upcoming lunar year celebration, anyway.

Martin Weiss, who founded Panda America, recalls that this project was sponsored by a Chinese-American coin dealer, Frank Chen, who lived in New York. The gold 1989 Horse Panda weighs in at a quarter ounce, while the silver tips the scales at one troy ounce. According to the certificate, there is a “Chinese horse” on the obverse and a Panda on the reverse. The mintages are 5,000 gold and 4,000 silver, an unusual situation where more golds than silvers were minted.

One important note on the gold version: it has been counterfeited. The counterfeit has good details, but also a rougher surface texture than the genuine China Mint product. This is visible with a good loupe and collectors should check ungraded, or raw, specimens carefully. Ones graded by NGC should have their certificate numbers verified.

“Learning is like sailing against the tide; if not forward, then backward,” according to a Chinese proverb. Keep on learning and happy collecting.

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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