The Dragon and Phoenix in Chinese Culture
Culturally for the Chinese, the dragon and phoenix depicted together symbolise balance, and are the animal embodiment and representation of the yin-yang philosophical concept. The phoenix – standing for yin – symbolises such aspects as femininity, negative energy, the moon, darkness, and passiveness; while the dragon – standing for yang – symbolises the opposing aspects of masculinity, positive energy, the sun, light, and action. When together they embody harmony and balance, and are often shown – as is the case with Chinese coins – flying around each other in a similar fashion to the yin-yang symbol.
These two legendary creatures are considered extremely powerful in Chinese mythology, and are both considered symbols of luck and prosperity.
With their association in the Chinese psyche as embodiments of the masculine and feminine, and the balance that the combination of the two can bring, as well as their connotations of prosperity and good fortune, the dragon and phoenix are frequently seen at weddings. Indeed, dragon and phoenix coins are often given as wedding gifts.
The 1990 Series Overview
In the history of modern Chinese coins, the Dragon and Phoenix series is normally considered to consist of 9 pieces: three gold and five silver coins dating from 1990, and one bi-metallic piece issued in 1994. All the coins are proof quality, with the exception of a BU version of the 1990 1 oz silver coin. Of the 1990 issues, the three gold coins weigh in at 20 oz, 2 oz, and 1 g; with respective actual mintages of 116, 2,538, and 34,038. The five 1990 silver pieces have weights of 20 oz, 2 oz, 1 oz (proof and BU), and 2 g; with respective mintages of 347 (actual), 7,328 (actual), 12,000 (proof – planned), 80,000 (BU – planned), and 55,038 (actual). The 1994 bi-metallic Dragon and Phoenix had a planned mintage of 2,500, but an actual mintage of 2,503, and contains 1/10 oz gold and 1/20 oz silver. All the coins were struck at the Shenyang Mint with a fineness of 0.999.
The obverse faces of the series feature the inscription of the PRC, an image of the Great Wall, and the date. In addition to the above, the 1994 bi-metallic coin bears an obverse inscription detailing its metallic composition.
The reverse faces feature the denomination, an inscription detailing the metallic properties of the coin, and a stunning dragon and phoenix design depicting the two creatures gracefully flying around each other.
Interestingly, the series was initially planned to run from 1989, however the events in Tiananmen Square occurring in June 1989 meant that China’s global reputation dropped dramatically at this time.
During the Tiananmen Square incident, hundreds – possibly thousands – of students and pro-democracy protesters were killed (and many more wounded) by Chinese security forces in the very heart of Beijing during an imposition of martial law. By the time of the bloody climax of this event on 4th June 1989, many 1989 Dragon and Phoenix coins had already been struck.
1989 now had significant negative connotations both in China and abroad, meaning that the demand for coins with this date among distributors was especially low. The overwhelming majority of the 1989-dated coins were melted down in response to this catastrophically low demand, and the dies were altered to feature the more favourable 1990 date.
Although the vast majority were melted, some of the coins did escape the cull. 6 Dragon and Phoenix coin types exist, or have existed, that feature the 1989 date. These strikes comprise three gold and three silver coins: a 20 oz and a 2 oz coin in both gold and silver, a 2 g silver coin, and a 1 g gold coin. Official mintage figures for these were never published as they were not intended for distribution. Given that, as stated, many were destroyed, survival mintages are but a tiny fraction any actual mintages. Needless to say, any of these 1989 Dragon and Phoenix coins that do still exist can be considered extremely rare and a true gem to find. It would be hard to overstate their historical significance for numismatists, especially within the realm of modern Chinese coins.
This incredible collector value is well-demonstrated by the auction of one such piece on the 3rd December 2011 – a 1989 2 oz gold Dragon and Phoenix coin, with a face value of 200 yuan. The sale of this particular piece, in near perfect condition and graded by the NGC as PF69 Ultra Cameo, was presided over by Champion auctioneers. The winning bid was $250,000, not including the 18% buyer’s premium. To further illustrate the point, an incredibly rare four-coin 1989 set including a 1 g gold, 2 g silver, 2 oz gold, and 2 oz silver coin, also sold at auction on the 21st June 2011 for a staggering 4,600,000 RMB (about $750,000).