This coin is 99.9% pure silver. It is a five ounce Chinese unicorn with the face value of 50 yuan. In 1995, twelve unique unicorn coins were created and struck by the People’s Bank of China. In all, 1500 silver, 50 yuan five ounce coins were authorized for production in 1995. As with the majority of the Chinese unicorn coins, the coins have been struck multiple times and are of proof quality. This makes the unicorn decorations stand out from the mirror-like silver background.
The bimetallic coin in this series is the only coin that does not feature the same images and writings; all of the other coins bear both the Western and Eastern unicorns and the same wording. The 50 yuan silver coin, like the others in this series, shows the Qilin (Eastern unicorn) on the obverse, and two Western unicorns, a mare and her foal, on the reverse. These coins show the dramatically different appearances of the two types of unicorns. Because they are pictured on the same coin, the coins also play to the idea that some of the symbolism of these two beasts has become at least somewhat entangled. Both beasts represent nobility, prosperity and positive luck. The beasts also have similar horse-like body and cloven hooves, but this is where the similarities end.
The Qilin is purported to be one of the sons of the dragon, and is sometimes placed alongside the four great beasts of China (along with the dragon, the phoenix and the tortoise). The Qilin has the head of a dragon, the hooves of an ox, the tail of a lion and the scales of a lizard. The Qilin is said to be a harbinger of great social change, peace, prosperity or a sage and just emperor. It was said that a Qilin was present at the birth of Confucius. If placed in a home, the Qilin is said to bring longevity, prosperity and fertility to its keepers. On the coin, one can see the Qilin lifting its dragon’s maw and kicking through smoke with its front hooves. Its mane flies back, as if wind is flowing through it, or as if it had been set aflame. Below the Qilin is the year of release, 1995. At the top edge of the obverse, the inscription reads, “The People’s Republic of China,” and to the right of its back hooves appear the characters for the animal, “Qilin.”
The Western unicorn also represents prosperity and longevity, but medieval Europeans created different meanings for the equally elusive and majestic beast. The unicorn also represented purity of heart and body, and was therefore said to be attracted to virgin maidens. The horn of the unicorn, said to be made of alicorn, was thought to alleviate the effects of poison and even cure some severe sicknesses. This made the unicorn highly sought after, and charlatans often peddled “unicorn horn” to moneyed hypochondriacs and royalty who feared being poisoned. The unicorns pictured on the coin show their peaceful and calming demeanor; the foal rests at its mother’s front hooves, and the mare bends her head toward the foal. Their distinctive horns and goat-like beards are clearly displayed, and both rest on a small bed of flowers. This contrasts with the bright and fierce Qilin on the obverse. At the top edge of the reverse is printed the phrase, “Sino-American Unicorn Lucky Mascot,” and the English translation, “UNICORN.” Above the foal, you can see the face value of the coin, 50 yuan.