Chinese Lunar Coins

Chinese Lunar Coins


Thousands of years ago, the ancient Chinese developed a special counting system, known as the twelve dizhi (literally “Earthly Branches”), for recording the date and time. Many astronomers and archeologists believe that the dizhi system is based on the position of Jupiter on the Zodiac. Since Jupiter orbits around the sun with a period of approximately 12 years, the Chinese divided the path of Jupiter across the Zodiac into twelve segments, and assigned each segment a dizhi: Zi, chou, yin, mao, chen, si, wu, wei, shen, you, xu and hai. From this, each year is then assigned with a dizhi according to the position of Jupiter, thereby creating the dizhi dating system, where twelve years form a complete cycle. Note that the dizhi dating system was developed further by integrating the basic ordinals of ancient China, tiangan (literally “Heavenly Stems”), to create the Stem-Branch system, which gives a much larger calendrical cycle of 60 years.

For ceremonial purposes, twelve animals and mystical beasts were chosen to represent the twelve dizhi: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog and Pig. The Chinese Zodiac was so born. These Chinese Zodiac animals play an important role in many aspects of the Chinese culture, such as fortune telling, folk stories and festive celebrations. Since 1981, the People’s Bank of China has issued Chinese Zodiac Coins every year to commemorate the Chinese Zodiac of the year. These coins are sometime known as the Chinese Lunar coins for the inseparable link between the Chinese Zodiac and the Lunar Calendar, the moon and agricultural cycle based calendar that was used for the past centuries by the Chinese.

Since its inception, the Chinese Lunar Coin series has performed very well, receiving popularity that is similar to the Panda coins in both coin-collection and investment prospective. This is because firstly, similar to the Panda coins, the Chinese Lunar Coin series is a staple coin series that is issued every year and therefore benefits from both public exposure and vast collection value for complete sets. Secondly, again similar to Panda Coins, the Chinese Lunar Coins come in a variety of sizes and weights, ranging from standard 1 oz Gold and Silver coins to Silver piedforts to the rare kilo Gold and Silver coins. The many of ways in which the Chinese Lunar Coin Series can be collected and invested in make it a popular choice for beginners as well as seasoned investors and collectors. Finally, the Chinese Lunar Coins also come in different shapes, in particular fan and flower scallop shaped coins. This variety in shape is unique to Chinese Lunar Coins and is one thing that makes this series especially distinctive and adorable.

In this article, we will take a look at the Gold coins in the series: the Gold Fan series (years 2000 to 2011), the Gold scallop (flower) series (1993-2004), the One Ounce Gold Series and the 8 gram Gold Series. 

Gold Fan series

First issued in 2000 (the year of Dragon), the Gold Fan series are fan-shaped gold coins that are unique to the Chinese Lunar series. In addition to commemorating the Chinese Zodiacs, this series pays tribute to paper fan drawings and fan-shaped canvas drawings – two very important aspects of traditional Chinese art. The Gold Fans are ½ oz in size, with a radius of curvature of 52 mm for the outer edge and 33 mm for the inner edge. The sides of the coin form a central angle of 30°, meaning that 12 coins fit together when placed side-by-side to form a circular ring, representing the twelve-year cycle of the Chinese Zodiac. All Gold Fans have 99.9% purity and a mintage of 6600 (each year), and they all have a denomination of 200 Yuan except for the 2000 Dragon Gold Fan, which has a denomination of 50 Yuan.
The obverse design of the Gold Fan series features the words “People’s Republic of China” in Chinese, the year, and a picture depicting different parts of the Great Wall of China. For example, the 2006 Dog Gold Fan features the Qingyuan Tower, a famous watchtower on the Great Wall located at the ancient city of Xuanhua, Hebei; while the 2004 Monkey Gold Fan features Badaling, one of the most visited sections of the Great Wall located approximately 80 km from urban Beijing. On the reverse, the coins feature the denomination, the year in the Stem-Branch system, and a picture depicting the Chinese Zodiac animal.

Gold scallop series

The Gold scallop series is another set of uniquely shaped coins exclusive to the Chinese Lunar series. The Gold Scallop coins are in fact shaped like plum blossoms, a flower highly regarded by the Chinese and is, incidentally, the floral emblem of Taiwan. Blooming the brightest during the coldest winter days, the plum blossom is regarded by the Chinese as a symbol of resilience in the face of hardship, and is favored by many since the ancient times. The Gold Scallop coins were so designed to pay a tribute to this amazing flower that frequently appears in paintings, poems and other traditional artwork and literatures.
The Gold Scallop coins come in two varieties: ½ oz Gold Scallop and 1kg Gold Scallop. The ½ oz Gold Scallop was first issued in 1993, with a diameter of 27 mm and a purity of 91.6%. The annual mintage of the ½ oz Gold Scallop is 2300. For the ½ oz Gold Scallops issued from 1993 to 2002, the obverse of each coin features the words “People’s Republic of China” in Chinese, the year, and a picture showing one of the many historic architectures across the country. For example, the 1995 Pig Gold Scallop features the Wanfu Pavilion of the Lama Temple, Beijing, which used to be the palace for the fourth son of the Kangxi Emperor of the Qing Dynasty (who later became the Yongzheng Emperor), and hosts one of the biggest wooden Buddha in the world. For the ½ oz Gold Scallops issued after 2002, the obverse features ancient drawings of the Chinese Zodiac of the year instead. The reverse of all ½ oz Gold Scallops features the Chinese Zodiac of the year and the year in Stem-Branch format. Interestingly, unlike the Gold Fan series, the ½ oz Gold Scallops feature classic artworks from world-renowned Chinese artists, such as Xu Beihong and Qi Baishi.
First issued in 1995, the 1kg Gold Scallops are especially rare, with a mintage of 15 for each coin. The design of the 1kg Gold Scallops is essentially the same as the ½ oz Gold Scallops. The obverse design for these 1kg Gold Scallops is exactly the same as the ½ oz Gold variety, while the reverse uses a different set of artwork, again drawn by world-renowned Chinese artists, to depict the Chinese Zodiac of each year.

One Ounce Gold Series

First Issued in 1988, the One Ounce Gold series was released much earlier compared to the uniquely shaped Gold Fan and Gold Scallop coins. The Ounce Gold series can be considered as the standard coins of the Chinese Lunar series, as their sizes and formats are commonly used for other modern Chinese coins. Originally, there were three Ounce Gold Lunar Coins Series: 1 oz Gold, 5 oz Gold and 12 oz Gold Series. In 1997, an additional type, the 1/10 oz Gold Series, was introduced.
Different designs were used for the different Ounce Gold formats. For the 1 oz Gold Series, the obverse features the PRC national emblem, the words “People’s Republic of China” and the year. An exception is the very first 1 oz gold coin, the 1988 Dragon 1 oz gold which has on it the Tiantan (the Temple of Heaven) instead of the PRC national emblem. The 5 oz gold coins, 12 oz gold coins and the 1/10 oz gold coins use the same obverse design, with pictures of ancient architectures for coins issued from 1988 – 2002, and ancient diagrams depicting the Chinese Zodiac for coins issued from 2003 onwards. This obverse design is identical to that used by the Gold Scallop coins. The reverse designs of these Ounce Gold series are also similar to the Gold Scallop coins, with all the coins featuring on the reverse classical artworks by famous artists depicting the Chinese Zodiac of the year.
It is interesting to note that in some years, the same artwork is used for different coins. For example, for 1989 the year of Snake, the 5 oz Gold and 12 oz Gold coins used the same artwork, while the 1 oz Gold coins used different artwork. In most cases, however, the artwork used by each coin during a particular year is usually different. It is also worth noting that since 1999, an additional set of colored 1/10 Oz Gold coins was issued each year along with the standard Ounce Gold sets, which features a colored picture of the Chinese Zodiacs on the reverse side.

8 gram Gold Series

First issued in 1981, the 8 gram Gold series is the first series of Chinese Lunar Gold coins that was ever issued. With a diameter of 23 mm and a weight of 8 grams, the size of these coins is considerably smaller than the standard 1 oz Gold coins released in 1988, yet these adorable coins continue to capture hearts of many coin collectors. The series was discontinued in 1992, concluding with the 8 gram gold monkey, completing the twelve coin set.
It is interesting to note that the first four coins in the series, the 1981 8 gram Gold Chicken, 1982 8 gram Gold Dog, 1983 8 gram Gold Pig and 1984 8 gram Gold Rat are the only gold coins in the entire Chinese Lunar series which do not have the words “People’s Republic of China” on either side of the coins. The rest of the 8 gram Gold series follows the standard format of “People’s Republic of China”, the year and ancient architecture drawings on the obverse, and the year in Stem-Branch and Chinese Zodiac artworks on the reverse. This design is the same as the 5 oz and 12 oz Gold series.
Looking at all the coins in the Chinese Lunar series, one can see that the coin designers tried their best to use artworks from the same artist for the same animal zodiac sign. One such example is the coins for the Year of Rat, released in 1984, 1996 and 2008. Every coin set from these three years features a different work of art by Qi Baishi, one of the most famous Chinese artists in the 19th and 20th Century. These artworks, such as the “Rat eating corn” drawing for the 1996 ½ oz Gold Scallop, the “Autumn harvest” drawing for the 1984 8 g Gold and the “Rat and Lamp” drawing for the 1996 1 oz Gold, capture vividly the behavior and characteristics of rats, making the coins extra adorable.