Chinese Coins: Beyond the Little Gate

Posted on 10/8/2019

China has issued numerous coins to commemorate China’s National Day.

Sunshine filters through the tree leaves on a late summer afternoon. Streams of shoppers bustle in and out of glittering malls. It’s Huaihai Road, Shanghai's answer to New York City's Fifth Avenue. Crowds line up to buy sweets and savories at local hangouts, children amble home from school, fashionistas walk their immaculately groomed little dogs. Haawnk! squaaawk! Yes, there’s traffic, too.

But with one quick pivot, I put the crush of people and machines behind me. A modest but sturdy gate opens to a row of parked bicycles and then to a shaded lane. This is a Shikumen, a type of Shanghai neighborhood that became popular in the late 1800s. A sign points me toward No. 6 Yu Yang Alley. Except for the addition of pipes and electrical wires, it must look pretty much the same as it did a century ago.

A century ago, this little street often saw furtive comings and goings. Was there a secret knock? Did the neighbors notice and wonder about No. 6’s visitors? They were young, but who could guess? In August of 1921, right here in Yu Yang Alley, China’s first Communist Party Youth League was founded. Just one month earlier, also in Shanghai, the National Congress of the Communist Party of China met for its first session. There were 13 members.

Such is the power of an idea that within a year, there were youth leagues in 17 cities in China. After World War I, student protests and strikes against the results of the Paris Peace Talks awoke the Chinese people. This led to a nationwide general strike and a rejection of the pact by China.

The Chinese working class emerged as a political force. As tensions bubbled, revolutionary intellectuals like Mao Zedong and Li Dazhao (who was executed in 1927 and appears on a 1993 5 Yuan silver coin) formed communist groups to spread Marxism and shape the country’s future.

Twenty-eight years, one world war and a civil war later, any surviving members of the Shanghai’s Communist Party Youth League might have stared up at a much, much larger gate. It was October 1, 1949 in Beijing. From massive Tian'anmen Gate Tower, Chairman Mao Zedong looked out at the overflow crowd in Tian'anmen Square. He announced to them — and to the world — the birth of a new nation. That event is celebrated each year on the same day, October 1, as China’s National Day.

This year’s holiday marked the 70th anniversary. It is on people’s minds. Preparations were everywhere. In September, at the excellent China International Coin Expo (CICE) in Guangzhou, I spoke with cable TV host Zeng Wen and coin show sponsor Chen Haomin. As part of a wide-ranging conversation, we talked about the importance of the 70th Anniversary and the future of Chinese collector coins (including Pandas). So, this month seems like an excellent time to reflect on the National Day’s numismatic legacy.

The first coins to commemorate the 30th anniversary were released in 1979, the same year as China’s Reform and Opening. 70,000 four-coin sets in .999 gold were authorized. Each coin has a denomination of 400 Yuan, weighs ½ oz. and is 27 mm in diameter. The obverses on all four coins have the same design. They show the dates 1949-1979, an anniversary inscription and the five-star emblem of the People’s Republic of China. This design is by Mr. Wang Fude (pronounced foo-duh) of the Shenyang Mint.

Tian’anmen Square is central to the story of the People’s Republic of China. It is the largest center plaza in the world. The subjects on the four coins’ reverse faces are all buildings in and around Tian’anmen Square: the Chairman Mao Zedong Memorial Hall, the Gate of Heavenly Peace (Tian’anmen Gate), People’s Heroes Monument and the Great Hall of People.

The four-gold-coin 30th Anniversary of the People's Republic of China set.
In the background is the People's Heroes Monument located in Tian'anmen Square.

The artistic style of the 1979 40th Anniversary set is typical for the era of hand-carved dies. The Shanghai Mint’s Mr. Chen Jian, who designed the 1982 Panda, is the artist of the Heroes Monument coin. He modestly attributes his involvement in this project to both luck and diligence. Mr. Wang Fude (1985 Panda) contributed the art for the Tian’anmen Gate coin. The revered Luo Yonghui (1989 Panda) designed the Great Hall of the People coin and Shen Xianzhang and Song Jenmin did the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall.

Tian’anmen Gate stands across Chang’An Street from the Square. The event there on October 1, 1949 is the subject of a 1984 1 Yuan 35th Anniversary circulating coin. Chairman Mao speaks to the throng gathered in Tian’anmen Square about their new country. A painting, “The Founding Ceremony of the Nation,” by artist Dong Xiwen, famously portrays this speech. It is the source image for the coin design.

The 1989 1500 Yuan 20 oz. gold 40th Anniversary of the People's Republic of China coin
and the 1999 500 Yuan 5 oz. gold 50th Anniversary of the People's Republic of China rectangular coin.
The design of both coins is based on a painting of Chairman Mao Zedong announcing the birth of the new nation.

Two other 1 Yuan 35th Anniversary coins were minted: a Dragon Column — like the ones that stand in front of Tian’anmen Gate — and dancers. The themes on these three 1984 coins will recur again and again in future People’s Republic of China coinage.

The same painting was tapped once more five years later as a subject for the 40th Anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. It is on the reverse of an impressive 1500 Yuan commemorative coin that contains 20 oz. of .999 gold and is 90 mm in diameter. The authorized mintage of this Shenyang Mint product is 100 coins, but a handful more are said to exist. It is the first grand-scale commemorative gold coin struck by China. A relatively small number of 27-gram .925 silver coins were also released.

For the 50th Anniversary in 1999, collectors finally got a view of the entire “The Founding Ceremony of the Nation” painting: 990 rectangular 5 oz., .999 gold and 21,850 5 oz. silver coins were minted. These both show the entire picture. Also issued were a ½ oz. gold Dragon Column coin and three 1 oz. silvers. There were 15,750 of the gold ½ oz. and 84,900 of each of the silver 1 oz. coins struck. Finally, there is also a bimetallic 10 Yuan circulating 50th Anniversary coin. It is made of a brass core set in a copper-nickel ring.

In 2009, five 60th Anniversary of the People’s Republic of China coins were minted. From the Shenyang Mint came a 10,000 Yuan, 1 kg .999 gold and 90 mm diameter coin with a mintage of 100. Six hundred of a 5 oz. .999 gold, 60 mm diameter were also struck there. The Shenzhen Guobao Mint produced: a 300 Yuan, 1 kg .999 silver, 100 mm diameter with a mintage of 6,000, a 2,000 Yuan, a 100 Yuan, ¼ oz. .999 gold, 22 mm diameter with a mintage of 60,000 and a 10 Yuan, 1 oz. .999 silver, 40 mm diameter with a mintage of 100,000.

The 2009 designs shift the focus from 1949 to the many sides of the country’s new development. The reverse images cover everything from the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing to high-speed rail, medical technology, the space program and the country’s extraordinary economic growth. The obverse of the coins show China's national five-star emblem surrounded by a frieze of peonies that symbolize prosperity. The frieze of peonies is the work of Shenyang artist Ms. Fu Lili. The reverse designs include the work of a rising star in Chinese coin design, Mr. Zhu Xihua along with Bian Lei. Mr. Zhu is now the leader of the Shanghai Mint art department.

Incidentally, there were unauthorized coins issued by counterfeiters for the 60th Anniversary. The coins show previous Chinese leaders' portraits on one side and the Great Wall on the other. This set of fake coins contains two coins marked “gold” with denominations of 100 and 150 Yuan and four coins marked “silver” with face values of 10 Yuan, according to China's Public Security Ministry. Remember, NGC-graded coins can be relied on to be genuine.

This year, we welcome six new 2019 70th Anniversary of the People’s Republic of China coins. First, a 2000 Yuan, 150 gram, . 999 gold, 60 mm diameter beauty. The reverse design of peonies and pomegranates evoke the values of the National Day celebration. Pomegranates symbolize unity. The Chinese characters 中华人民共和国成立70周年 translate to, “The 70th Anniversary of the Founding of the People’s Republic of China.”

2019 70th Anniversary People's Republic of China coins. From lowest to highest:100 Yuan 8 grams gold,
10 Yuan 30 grams silver, 10 Yuan 30 grams silver, 300 Yuan 1 kg. silver.
Not shown: 2000 Yuan 150 grams gold.

Next is an 8 grams gold coin with a 100 Yuan denomination, a diameter of 22 mm and a 60,000 mintage. Its reverse has a bold design built around Zhu Xihua’s logo for the 70th Anniversary. Once more, the words “The 70th Anniversary of the Founding of the People’s Republic of China” appear.

The largest of the silver 70th Anniversary coins is a 300 Yuan, 1 kg .999 silver, 100 mm diameter. Its mintage is 5,000. The same design motif of peonies and pomegranates as the 2000 Yuan gold coin appears on its reverse.

Third is a 50 Yuan, 5 oz. .999 silver coin. The reverse includes the numeral 70, together with a flock of doves in flight above a field of blooming peony flowers. It is 70 mm in diameter and 7,000 were planned.

Finally, there are two 10 Yuan 30 gram .999 silver coins. One has the same design motif as the 300 Yuan silver, while the other shares designs with the 50 Yuan silver. Each is 40 mm diameter with 100,000 minted.

That makes five coins, but didn’t I say six? There is another: a 10 Yuan bimetallic circulating coin. It is 27 mm in diameter and 9.38 grams in weight. The core is cupro-nickel set in a gold-colored ring. The obverse design presents the five-star emblem of the PRC in the center. The ring shows the date flanked by peonies. The reverse has a gleaming design based on the 70th Anniversary logo surrounded by light rays. The face value and two sprigs of pomegranates occupy the lower part of the ring. The reverse design is the work of artist Liao Bo. Around the upper ring is in Chinese, “The 70th Anniversary of the Founding of the People’s Republic of China.” Incidentally, these coins were selling for 17 RMB in the Chinese coin markets. The quality of the examples I saw was exceptionally high.

I walk out of the Communist Party Youth League museum, down the alley and out onto Huaihai Road again. Red flags fly from each lamp pole. Store windows are filled with 70th Anniversary displays. In their own ways, this busy street and the museum both honor what began with just a determined few.

Everyone I talked to in China in September was anticipating the great day. A coin shop manager told me that demand for the 70th Anniversary gold and silver coins was so strong that supplies have been allocated to only regular customers. No wonder — whether gold, silver or brass, the coins are precious mementos of the march of progress by the people and the People’s Republic of China.

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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