Culture of coins has been an important part of the Chinese civilization. Modern gold and silver coins as legal tender represent the image and credit of a nation, also shouldering the function of disseminating and promoting the Chinese national culture as a competent carrier of cultural diffusion to communicate with the whole world. From the square and round lines, coins have precisely a reflection of the beauty of coins and the charm of culture, displaying the resplendent and time-honored civilization of the oriental nation.
History of Gold and Silver Coins
Early in the dynasties of Shang (1600 B.C. – 1046 B.C.) and Zhou (1046 B.C. – 771 B.C.), gold was already used in China, and was officially used as currency in Warring States Period (475 B.C. – 221 B.C.). According to The Historical Records (or Shih Chi) by Sima Qian, “In ancient times, fur was valued as gifts and tributes by the feudal princes. Coins were made of different metals, gold as the superior level, silver as the medial level and copper as the inferior level.” The superior coins were certainly cast with gold. Archaeologically, the earliest coin plate – the gold coin plate of Ying, capital city of Chu Kingdom, was created during that period. The plate patterned with stamps of round or square seal carved characters was obvious for metallic currency.
Later in Qin Dynasty (221 B.C.-206 B.C.), Qin Shi Huang the first emperor who ended the warring states and united China unified the currency system, defining gold and copper as the material for coins, gold for superior coins and copper for inferior coins. At that time, gold was mainly used between aristocracy for awards, gifts, tributes or large amount payment, etc. Such system was carried on to the Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C – A.D. 24) which boasted the largest use of gold in history. At that time, in addition to gold plates and gold pies, coin casting in the shape of horseshoe and unicorn-foot appeared. From the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220), silver were circulated for awarding and bribery purposes.
In the dynasties of Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279), the use of gold and silver coins as currency in circulation was further developed, evidence of which could be found from the artistic poems, such as “We are naturally born talents for something. A thousand gold coins spent, more will turn up again.” by the bold and unstrained poet Li Bai and “I’d like to give up thousand gold coins for the last while of our meeting each other” by the affectionate poet He Zhizhang. In the poems, gold was already popularized in use, while silver was only more widely used both in official and folk circumstances, playing an increasingly important role in the circulation domain. For portable and usable requirements, gold and silver currencies are becoming more standardized, miniaturization and graded in patterns, gradually transited into gold and silver ingots exclusively for currency circulation.
After the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368), in the middle period of Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), silver coins were made the official currency, and the silver-based system was established, with both silver and copper coins sustaining the monetary regime in parallel while silver was adopted to settle taxation, expenses of national treasury and officials’ salary payment, etc. This kind of currency system was continued in early Qing Dynasty (1636-1912), a period of great prosperity for Chinese silver ingot casting and its development.
In late Qing Dynasty, the western currency and financial system was introduced into China, which changed the circulation mode of traditional Chinese currency, with silver coins replaced gradually by silver dollars. In 1933, the government announced the policy of “abolishing silver ingots, adopting silver dollars”, marking the official exit of silver-based metallic currency from the circulation domain.
Reviewing the history of gold and silver as circulated currency in the ancient times, they were generally regarded and used as metallic currency, for which there were no casting standards for unified pattern and shape, quality or percentage of such materials in the different periods. Take the great prosperity period of silver coins, Ming and Qing dynasties for example, the government had not regulated the standards for the pattern and shape, percentage of material or even weight measurement utensils, so silver ingots, divided into official stoves (for casting official silver coins) and private stoves, were made everywhere. Therefore, silver coins from different places varied in their shape, name, weight and percentage of silver or gold, very complex. Under such historical conditions, ancient Chinese gold and silver coins have developed its own and unique style with the multiple categories and the complicated shapes.
Modern Gold and Silver Coins
Entering the 20th century, credit money made of common materials gradually took the principal part, waving farewell to gold and silver coins which with its special charm and resplendence have then been highly valued in the collection and investment circles. From the year of 1949, Renminbi has been made the legal currency of China, and in 1979 the first set of modern commemorative coins -“30th Anniversary of the Founding of the People’s Republic of China” was developed and released, highlighting the remarkable achievements of the rejuvenated nation. From then on, gold and silver coins open another window for the whole world to showcase the Chinese culture.
In the follow several years, the starting-up Chinese gold coins grew and thrived just like a vital seedling. The Panda series - the representative of Chinese modern gold and silver coins, were unveiled for the first time in 1982. As known to all, panda is a kind of globally valued rare animal exclusively inhabiting in China, being liked by the people not only because of its rarity but also its charmingly naive, docile and adorable image. The “Panda Series Gold and Silver Coins” as the legal coins themed on this national treasure received immediate and wide applause for its original design, exquisite casting technique and profound cultural connotation, regarded as an outstanding bellwether of the coins filed. In the year of 1985, the globally recognized award “Coin of the Year” granted “Best Gold Coin” and “Best Silver Coin” respectively to the Chinese 1-Ounce Panda Gold Coin and 27-Gram Ingenious Panda Silver Coin of 1983.
On the back of the 1983 Panda Gold Coin, for the pattern of the panda walking freely in the bamboo forest, the designer has combined the techniques of precision mirror polishing and sandblasting, vividly presenting the gentle texture of the coat as well as the white-black comparison effect. The front pattern of the award-wining coin is the visual of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest at the Temple of Heaven, which is not only an imperial sacrificial altar to pray for national prosperity and bumper harvest, but also where the common people also rest their hopes for the future. The venerable and sacred architectural style with its beautiful meaning has favorably echoed the vivid panda image on the back, embodying very high aesthetic value and cultural connotation. The American Newsweek once complimented the panda gold coins as “really glamorous, people have become its fanatical suitors.”
Back: Panda Front: Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest at the Temple of Heaven
Image: Panda Gold Coin, 1 Ounce, 1983.
Industrial Standards for Gold and Silver Coins
With richer experience in designing, producing and publishing gold and silver coins, standardization work is playing an increasingly crucial role for modern gold and silver coins. Standardization of relevant technical specifications provides the rule and basis for the making of such coins, and for gold and silver commemorative coins, the standardization of material percentage, weight and specifications also sustains the credit of the coins. Therefore, on June 28, 2000, the People’s Bank of China has announced a couple of financial industry standards for gold and silver coins, namely, JR/T 0004-2000 Gold Coin and JR/T 0005-2000 Silver Coin. The two standards have clearly regulated the requirements, sampling, testing method, packaging, label and storage of common gold and silver coins. As the uniform criteria for the domestic financial industry, the standards have been playing an important part in various links of gold and silver coins from design to production, publishing, circulation and use etc.
Under the guidance of the financial industry standards, the Chinese modern gold and silver commemorative coins in selecting subjects has made full use of the unique advantage of the rich Chinese cultural resources, highlighting the artistic effect and aesthetic pursuit from the designing stage, building up its own style with permeating Chinese cultural elements and realizing standardized production by inheriting the idea of “production is the artistic recreation of gold and silver coins.” With over three decades’ accumulation, some competitive products of the Chinese modern gold and silver commemorative coins have won multiple international awards with its globally leading competitiveness. For example, the 5-ounce commemorative gold coin of 2004 themed on Maiji Mountain Grottoes was honored “Coin of the Year” in 2006 for its rich and connotative visual effect, simple and special pattern design and the fine and meticulous casting technique, which fully reflects the profound ethnic traditional and distinct secular cultural and artistic characteristics. Gradually recognized by the people worldwide, the contemporary Chinese gold and silver coins have successfully established an international reputation.
Back: Buddha Statue of Maiji Mountain Grottoes Front: Overall view of the Maiji Mountain
Image: Gold and silver commemorative coins patterned with Chinese Maiji Mountain Grottoes.
With the continuously updated development and application of techniques, technology and equipment for Chinese gold and silver coins, recently the gold and silver coins have been constantly changed and innovated, and the actual needs for contemporary gold and silver coin management have been gradually challenged by the restrictiveness of the previously released Gold Coin and Silver Coin standards. From February of 2012, to standardize the gold and silver coins and to guarantee the order of the design, production, publishing, circulation and use, China Banknote Printing and Minting and China Gold Coin Incorporation, organized by the People''''s Bank of China, have worked on the revision to the two financial industry standards, detailing and defining the range of application, technical requirements, inspection methods, surface quality criteria and so on, so as to allow the best play of the guiding role of such standards for contemporary gold and silver coins.
As long as the Chinese professionals of gold and silver coins keep innovating and endeavoring, the Chinese precious coins will definitely ranks the leading class of the world someday, then to better carry forward the long history and splendid culture of China and to make greater achievements of the coin culture.
(From China Standardization May/June 2013)