The Bank of China officially started to issue lunar coins in January 1981. For twelve years between 1981 and 1992, a series 8g gold lunar coins was struck at the Shenyang mint, one 8g gold coin for each year. Together these twelve coins make a complete set of 8g gold coins commemorating the animals of the Chinese zodiac. All coins in the series are proof coins with a purity of 91.6% and have a diameter of 23mm. With the exception of the first two coins of the series (the 250 yuan Year of the Rooster coin and the 200 yuan Year of the Dog coin), the other ten coins have a denomination of 150 yuan.
From 1985 onwards, the obverse of the coins in the series bear the inscription in Chinese characters: “The People’s Republic of China”. The obverse of all coins in the series feature different images of historically or culturally significant pieces of architecture from China’s history, below which is inscribed the year of issue.
The reverse face of the coins features renderings of paintings of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac. The animal depicted on the reverse face corresponds to the year that the particular animal is associated with. This series starts with the 1981 Year of the Rooster coin and finishes with the 1992 Year of the Monkey coin.
Twelve animals make up the Chinese zodiac. Although in Chinese culture they are respected and revered to different degrees (the most respected and worshipped being the dragon), they have a fixed order in the twelve year cycle. The first animal is the rat, followed by the ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and finally the pig. Chinese astrology believes that each animal represents certain symbols and embodies certain characteristics. The theory is that people born in the year of a particular animal are thought to possess the personality traits and characteristics associated with the animal corresponding to the year of their birth. Fortune-telling has deep roots in Chinese history, and despite its ancient origins, the theories and superstitions surrounding the Chinese zodiac still play a significant role in Chinese culture today.
The paintings rendered on the reverse faces of the coins are by renowned Chinese artists from throughout Chinese history. The six artists whose work is featured are: Xu Beihong (1895-1953), Qi Baishi (1864-1957), Liu Jiyou (1918-1983), Han Huang (723-787), He Xiangning (1879-1972), Zhao Shaoang (1905-1998). Of these six, He Xiangning is noteworthy being the only female of the group, since the art world was largely dominated by men. Also worthy of note is Qi Baishi who despite being a 20th Century artist and being surrounded by contemporaries who were incorporating western techniques in their work, kept his work free of western artistic influences.
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