Between the years 1981 and 1992 the People’s Bank of China issued a series of 15g silver lunar coins commemorating the role that the Chinese zodiac plays in Chinese culture. The series comprises twelve coins, one for each of the twelve animals appearing in the zodiac. All the coins are of proof quality and measure 33mm in diameter.
The reverse faces feature renderings of paintings by famous Chinese artists depicting the twelve animals of the zodiac, each coin featuring its corresponding animal depending on the year. The series begins with the 1981 Year of the Rooster coin and ends with the 1992 Year of the Monkey coin.
Ten of the coins, those from the years 1983 to 1992, have face values of 10 yuan, while the first two coins from the series, the 1981 and 1982 coins, have face values of 30 yuan and 20 yuan respectively. The denominations are inscribed on the reverse faces of the coins.
The obverse faces feature images of Chinese architecture which hold a special place in Chinese culture or history. These architectural wonders range in dates from as early as the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), such as the Great Wall featured on the 1988 Year of the Dragon coin, to as late as the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), such as the Summer Palace Boat built in 1755. Above these images appears the inscription in Chinese characters: “The People’s Republic of China”. At the bottom of the obverse face beneath the image is inscribed the year of issue.
The artists whose work is featured on the reverse faces of the coins are mainly famous 20th Century Chinese painters, although some date from earlier such as Han Huang of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) whose work is featured on the 1985 Year of the Ox coin. Among the artists, the works of Xu Beihong (1895-1953) and Qi Baishi (1864-1957) appear most often in the series. Both were highly celebrated 20th Century painters, although while Xu Beihong painted using a combination of western and traditional Chinese techniques like many of his contemporaries, Qi Baishi was noteworthy in that western influence seems to have had no effect on his work.
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