The twelve-year period between 1993 and 2004 saw the production of a series of twelve gold scallop lunar coins, one from each year. The shared specifications of the coins are as follows. Each gold coin is a distinctive scallop or plum blossom shape, weighs 1/2 oz, has a mintage of 2,300, is of proof quality, and has a diameter of 27mm.
The coins dating from 1993 to 2000 have denominations of 100 yuan and contain 91.6% pure gold. From 2001 to 2004, the coins have a face value of 200 yuan and contain 99.9% pure gold.
Each coin commemorates a different animal of the Chinese zodiac, individual coins featuring the animal associated with the year of issue of that coin, beginning with the 1993 Year of the Rooster and ending with the 2004 Year of the Monkey. The animals are represented by renderings of paintings, mostly by famous Chinese artists, on the reverse faces of the coins.
Appearing across the top of the obverse face of each coin is the inscription: “The People’s Republic of China”. The year of production appears at the bottom of the coin face.
With the exception of the 2003 and 2004 coins, the design on the obverse face of the coins is of different Chinese architecture with a significant cultural or historical importance, such as the Great Wall of China. On the obverse face of the 2003 and 2004 coins are further images of cultural or historical interest of the animal commemorated by that coin. For example, appearing on the obverse of the 2003 Year of the Sheep coin is a rendering of a pictogram of a sheep from an ancient Chinese bronze vessel; while the 2004 Year of the Monkey coin features a rendering of a traditional Chinese paper cutting showing a monkey.
Artists whose works are featured on the reverse faces mainly date from the 20th Century and are known for the integration of traditional Chinese style with western artistic techniques. Examples include Xu Beihong (1895-1953) and Liu Jiyou (1918-1983). Many of the artists featured were renowned for their skill in painting certain animals, and the paintings that appear on the coins are often representative of some of their best works.
In the order that they appear in the twelve-year cycle, the animals of the Chinese zodiac are as follows: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and the pig. Chinese astrology traditionally assigns a set of values, traits, and attributes to each animal. An individual being born in the year of a certain animal, and therefore having that animal as their zodiac sign, is believed to determine the impression they give of themselves to others and how others perceive them. While based on a tradition of superstition and fortune-telling, the beliefs associated with the Chinese zodiac are still immensely popular among Chinese people today.
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