Between 2002 and 2013 a series of twelve 1kg silver lunar coins were issued by the People’s Bank of China. These coins, round in shape, were produced to recognise and commemorate the role of the Chinese zodiac in Chinese culture. They are proof quality coins containing 99.9% pure silver; have diameters of 100mm with denominations of 300 yuan; and mintages of 3,800 pieces each. The series begins with the 2002 Year of the Horse coin.
Featured on the reverse faces of the coins are pictures, some by famous Chinese artists, of each of the twelve animals which come together to form the complete Chinese zodiac. One such example is the Year of the Dog coin which features a painting by Lui Kuiling (1885-1968) – a famous Chinese painter who grew up in the suburbs of Tianjin. The particular animal featured on a particular coin corresponds to the year of issue of the coin in the twelve year zodiac cycle. The twelve animals in the order in which they appear in the cycle are as follows: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig. Also inscribed on the reverse faces of the coins are their denominations.
The designs on the obverse faces of the coins vary. Many feature culturally significant representations of the animal featured by the coin, such as the Year of the Goat coin which features a Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) pictogram showing an image of a ram. Other coins feature images of Chinese architecture on their obverse faces, while others feature the National Emblem of China. However, every coin on its obverse face bears the inscription in Chinese characters: “The People’s Republic of China”, which appears at the top of the coin face. In addition to this, the year of issue is also inscribed at the bottom of the coin faces.
The system of the Chinese zodiac, based on the traditional Chinese calendar which is itself based on both solar and lunar elements, assigns a creature to each year in a twelve year cycle. Each animal is said, according to Chinese astrology, to embody and signify certain character traits and attributes. These characteristics are thought to be present in people born in that animal’s particular year. Historically, traditional astrology has played a significant role in Chinese culture, and continues to do so in modern China today.
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