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Chinese Coins – From Empire to Republic

In our March Auction 104, we were pleased to present some fantastic, rare coins of China, from the eventful and turbulent period of the transition from the Qing Empire to the Republic. A great variety of coins was produced during the period, with the changing iconography as the country was seeing a political shift and economic development, as well as challenges from other countries.

The end of Qing Dynasty

‘In the time when China was called a republic and humanity had advanced to the 20th century, I was still living as an emperor, breathing the dust of the 19th century.’ – From Emperor to Citizen, Aisin-Gioro Puyi.

China, Qing Dynasty, Hsuan Tung (1909-1911), silver 10 Cents, 1911, 3rd year, Tientsin mint, (LM 41; K. 230). In PCGS holder graded AU 55. Price realised £7,000.

Puyi was the last emperor of China, the final Qing Dynasty Emperor. He ascended to the throne at the age of only 2 years, taken from his parents and siblings to be raised in the palace, with only his wet-nurse as the companion for many years of his childhood. The life in the palace was restrictive and one of the greatest influences in his life was his English tutor Johnson who taught him about the world and the life outside the Forbidden City. Puyi’s life was extraordinary as he lived to see the change of his status of an Emperor to a private citizen, which he vividly described in his memoir ‘From Emperor to Citizen’. His era name as Qing Emperor, Hsuan-Tung or Xuantong, means ‘proclamation of unity’. Unfortunately, his short-lived era was anything but.

In October 1911, the army garrison in Wuhan mutinied. Soon the revolt spread widely in Yangtze valley demanding the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty. General Yuan Shih Kai was sent by the court to extinguish the revolution, yet was unable to. The public opinion turned strongly against the ruling Qing Dynasty.

The silver 10 Cents of Puyi from our auction feature, on the obverse, the Imperial dragon chasing the cosmic pearl, from the last year of his reign. The familiar depiction that comes from a well-known Chinese folklore story, where the dragon is venerated as the protector of the land. Puyi was briefly re-instated as the Emperor during the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, which became the puppet state of Manchukuo.

The President and the Warlord ErA

China, Republic, Yuan Shih Kai (1912-1915), silver Dollar, 1914, year 3, variety: on reverse a hooked ribbon on the right to 6 o’clock, 26.84g (LM 63; KM Y-329). In NGC holder graded AU 55 – Hooked ribbon on right. A previously unrecorded variety, this is the only recorded example of this subtype in NGC population. The 1914 date for silver Dollars of Yuan Shih Kai brings a lot of varieties that were thoroughly recorded throughout the years, such as the ‘circlet in ribbon bow’ and ‘curved ribbon end’ to name a few. However, the ‘hooked ribbon on the right’ is a previously unrecorded variety and is currently the only known example of this subtype in NGC coin census. Price realised £1,000.

Puyi’s reign came to an end in February 1912, although it seemed that he was not aware of it for some time. In 1913, when the Empress Dowager Longyu died, the President Yuan Shih Kai came to the Forbidden City to pay his respects. This signified changes of great magnitude for Puyi, as Yuan had planned to restore the monarchy with himself as the new Emperor. In 1915, Yuan did proclaim himself as the Emperor and even planned on marrying his daughter with Puyi. During the short-lived attempt at restoration of the hereditary monarchy, he was the Hongxian Emperor. However, he soon had to abdicate due to the popular opposition.

Yuan died in 1916 which led to the dispersion of Chinese central authority into regional fractions. The previous main authority, the Beiyang Army which was a powerful army established by the Qing Dynasty, lost its complete grip on power. Thus began the Warlord Era. The Warlord Era was a period when the Republic of China was controlled by the military cliques( formed of the Beiyang Army) and other fractions in different provinces. It lasted from 1916 until 1928, during which time these interesting Dragon & Phoenix coins were produced. These very popular and rare Chinese Republican coins feature the state emblem of China from 1913 to 1928 with Fenghuang (Chinese phoenix) and dragon. The emblem is based on the ancient symbols of the Twelve Ornaments which were considered highly auspicious.

China, Republic, Dragon and Phoenix silver 10 Cents, 1926, year 15, Tientsin mint, dragon and phoenix over symbol of longevity. Rev. Denomination in wreath, 2.74g (LM 83; KM Y-344). In NGC holder graded MS 62. Price realised £2,900.

Written by Ema Sikic (

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