Chinese Coins: One Small Step for Man

Posted on 9/10/2019

Coins celebrate the Chinese space program.

Athletic, well dressed and always surrounded by people, he was a magnet for the other guests at my friend Hugh O’Brian’s parties. Only once, though, did I go up to Buzz Aldrin to shake his hand. That was likely as close as I will ever get to the moon; meeting one of the first men to land there.

In the quiet of the collector exhibit section at this August’s ANA World’s Fair of Money, my thoughts wandered across the years to those times. After all, this is the 50th anniversary year of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Not surprisingly, a popular exhibition topic was coins, medals and memorabilia associated with the US space program.

There were vinyl recordings of the news of the moon landing, commemorative coins and even Oreo cookies with outlines of astronauts and spaceships. One case was devoted to the women of NASA: Christa McAuliffe of the Challenger crew, Margaret Hamilton who led Apollo guidance and navigation software development and Nancy Grace Roman, “Mother of Hubble.”

After a while, my imagination turned to China. It has an active rover on the moon right now. What coins would I choose for an exhibit about the Chinese space program?

The first would be a pair of 2003 coins that celebrate “The Success of China’s First Manned Space Flight.” This flight made China only the third country ever to put a man in space. The set includes 150 Yuan, 1/3 oz. gold (mintage 30,000) and 10 Yuan 1 oz. silver (mintage 60,000) coins. Both coins sport identical designs: the obverses present a map of the Solar System while the reverses portray astronaut Yang Liwei. Inside his capsule as he circled the globe, Yang waved two small flags—the People's Republic of China and the United Nations—for state television.

The artists and engravers for these two coins are something of a dream team themselves in the Chinese numismatic world. The obverse face was created by Yu Min. His many designs, including the Panda on the 1983 Silver 10 Yuan Proof, are well known to collectors.

The reverse face is the work of Luo Yonghui who has designed more than 80 commemorative coins, including the 1989 Panda. He is also an inspiration and mentor to many of China’s younger generation of coin artists, like Tong Fang, the 2019 Panda coin artist. His approach to coin design is, “A good design needs to have a message for the present and also the future. It should resonate with people today, with people in the decades to come and with people who live hundreds of years from now."*

Both Mr. Yu and Mr. Luo are associated with the Shanghai Mint. The engraving work, however, was produced by two artists at the Shenyang Mint: Liu Hongpeng engraved the 150 Yuan coin and Han Xiaosheng produced the Silver 10 Yuan. Mr. Han, who remains an active and busy designer today, also engraved the 2019 Panda coin. His art was featured in a previous NGC column, “Chinese Coins: The Songs of Summer,” published in June 2018.

The same obverse design by Mr. Yu appears again in 2007. The occasion is, “Success of the First Exploration of China’s Spacecraft to the Moon.” As in 2003, a pair of coins make up the set: a 150 Yuan, 1/3 oz. gold (mintage 20,000) and a 10 Yuan 1 oz. silver (mintage 40,000) coins. The reverse design is by Li Jiye. It shows the spacecraft orbiting the moon with the Earth in the distance.

Some coins about China's space program, from left to right: 1) 2003, 10 Yuan silver “The Success of China’s First Manned Space Flight.” 2) 2008, 10 Yuan silver, “The Success of China’s First Spacewalk,” obverse showing a map of the Solar System 3) 2008, 150 Yuan gold, “The Success of China’s First Spacewalk” 4) 2014, 10 Yuan silver, “China Lunar Exploration Program’s First Successful Moon Landing” 5) 2008, 10 Yuan silver, “The Success of China’s First Spacewalk.”

In 2008, the next mission to appear is “The Success of China’s First Spacewalk.” The Shenzhou 7 mission was China’s third manned foray into space and it was the first time that crew members performed extra-vehicular activity (EVA) outside the capsule.

Once again, a pair of coins were released and, once again, the obverse bears the Solar System design by Mr. Yu. These are: a 150 Yuan, 1/3 oz. gold (mintage 30,000) and a 10 Yuan 1 oz. silver (mintage 60,000) coins. The reverse image, designed by Song Yingchun, shows a tethered astronaut floating above the Earth.

On December 14, 2013 China’s Chang'e 3 soft-landed a rover on the moon—the first lunar soft landing since 1976. This accomplishment is the subject of the most recent pair of space exploration coins, “China Lunar Exploration Program’s First Successful Moon Landing.” The 2014 set contains a 100 Yuan, 1/4 oz. gold (mintage 10,000) and a 10 Yuan 1 oz. silver (mintage 20,000) coins.

The 2014 coins are products of the Shenzhen Guobao Mint and its design team. The obverse design of both coins is the familiar 5-Star emblem of the People’s Republic of China. The reverse is a view of the rover on the moon’s surface with the Earth high above.

China’s moon exploration continues — the Chang’e 4 mission touched down on the far side of the moon in January this year. It is mankind’s first robotic mission to land there.

Conditions on the far side are different and more extreme than on the Earth-facing side. Scientists hope that Chang’e 4 will help us begin to understand the causes of this disparity. To that end the Chang'e 4 rover has deployed instruments like an infrared spectrometer and neutron detectors. Both the lander and rover have cameras, too, and have transmitted home new views of our lunar neighbor.

These eight “China Space” coins could make up a very nice NGC Registry set, or form the basis of an exhibit. Not to mention the numerous medals on space themes struck at Chinese mints. There should be more to come, too. A Chinese space station, the Tianhe-1 (“Harmony of the Heavens”), is planned to orbit the Earth and be operational in 2020. China also has plans to establish the world’s first research station on the moon’s surface – at the lunar south pole. These are just a couple of the many future opportunities for the China Mint to issue space-themed coins.

Will there be an exhibit of Chinese space coins at a World’s Fair of Money someday soon? That’s not a far-fetched idea at all. In fact, it sounds like another small step for man.

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.

* Source: China Daily, Dec. 19, 2017

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