This is one of twelve Chinese unicorn coins struck by the China mint in 1995. The coin is twenty ounces and 99.9% pure silver, bearing the denomination of 150 yuan. This is one of three such unicorn coins of the same metal and face value; the others were produced in 1994 and 1996. Twenty ounce Chinese silver coins are rare indeed. There were only five types produced by the People’s Bank of China in the 1990s: the coin pictured above, the other unicorn coins produced in 1994 and 1996, the 1990 dragon and phoenix coin, and the 1993 silver peacock. In 1995, 500 of these twenty ounce silver unicorn coins were struck.
This rare and lovely coin is the heaviest in the series. Like the other coins, save the bimetallic coin, it depicts a Qilin on the obverse and two Western unicorns on the reverse. These two different mythical beasts have often been associated with one another, though they vary in appearance and in meaning. Both creatures bear horns ñ the Qilin more than one, and the unicorn its single spiraled horn. Both creatures are somewhat horse-like, and both have cloven hooves, similar to those of an ox or a deer.
This is where the similarities in appearance end. The Qilin, told to be one of the sons of the dragon, has many of the dragon’s features. On the coin, one can see that the mane of the Qilin is made of flame itself, and the body of the Qilin is covered in reptilian scales. The mighty animal is reared back on its hind legs, and kicks two puffs of smoke with its front hooves. Below the animal appears the year of minting, 1995. Above it appear the characters, “The People’s Republic of China,” and to its right appear the characters for “Qilin.” A sighting of the Qilin was said to herald the birth of a sage ruler, or to signify the beginning of a shift in history. It was said that a Qilin was present at the birth of Confucius. The Qilin is further associated with birth and fertility in certain images; babies may appear on the back of the Qilin. It is said that a Qilin may bring a long-awaited child to infertile or older parents.
The Western unicorn was also associated with a seminal event in Western culture: the resurrection of Christ. The unicorn, due to its reputation for nobility and purity, became associated with the Virgin Mary. Images of the beast resting its head in her lap are said to symbolize the resurrection of Christ or his relationship with the Virgin mother. The unicorn was widely known to possess magical powers. In particular, its horn was known to counteract the effects of poison and cure deadly illnesses. It’s substance, alicorn, was hawked by charlatans, though their wares were almost certainly created from narwhal horn. On this side of the coin, one can see two unicorns: a larger unicorn leaning its head towards a smaller unicorn curled at its feet. These unicorns are likely a mare and foal, shown together to demonstrate the peaceful, noble and gentle nature of the beast. The unicorns are in their traditional horse-like form, displaying flowing mains and prominent spiraled horns. At the top edge of the reverse, one can see the characters that signify, “Sino-American Unicorn Lucky Mascot.” Next to this lettering is the English word, “UNICORN.” Directly to the right of the mare’s hind legs are the characters that symbolize, “Qilin.” Above the foal is the denomination, 150 yuan.