China 1994 20 oz Silver Unicorn
150 Yuan Proof Coin
About the China 1994 20 oz Silver Unicorn 150 Yuan Proof Coin
The twenty ounce .999 fine silver Chinese unicorn coin has a denomination of 150 yuan and is one of three such coins with these specifications; there are two others in the years 1995 and 1996. Indeed, twenty ounce silver Chinese coins are few and far between – there are only five types in total, the three unicorns and the 1990 20 oz silver dragon and phoenix coin as well as the 1993 20 oz silver peacock. This coin is one of a series of thirteen unicorn coins created in the People’s Republic of China in 1994. During that year, 500 of these twenty-ounce coins were authorized for production.
Each coin in this series, save the bimetallic coin and the one kilogram 2000 yuan gold coin, features both a Chinese unicorn and a Western unicorn. The Chinese unicorn, or Qilin (pronounced chee-lin) appears on the obverse of the coin. The Qilin is quite different from the Western unicorn in style and in symbolism. It was originally associated with the giraffe, which was imported to China by Zhenge during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Zhenge imported the giraffe, along with other exotic African animals, in the early 1400s. Images of the giraffe, then referred to by the Chinese as a Qilin, solidified the image of the Qilin as a beast with textured skin, hooves and antlers. Because of the giraffe’s rarity (and likely, its appearances being limited to royalty), the mythical Qilin was associated with the same. It began to be said that if a Qilin was sighted, it would portend the rule of a very wise or peaceful emperor. The Qilin was also said to be present at the birth of Confucius. The Qilin, as pictured on this coin, shows a dragon’s head, textured skin like a reptile, hooves like a giraffe and the tail of a majestic lion. This chimeric creature rides over a cloud of smoke, and is mounted by a regal child wearing robes and carrying flowers. Above this image are the words, “The People’s Republic of China,” and below the puff of smoke is engraved, “1994,” the year all of the coins began production.
The Western unicorn appears on the reverse of the coin. This unicorn was originally thought to be a real animal, with its origins in India. Over the centuries, the concept of the unicorn began to evolve into one of majesty, plenty, nobility and purity. In later medieval artwork, the unicorn is even associated with Christ and the Virgin Mary, due to its association with purity and virginity. During the middle ages, many firmly believed that the unicorn was a real animal, though it was believed to be very difficult to find and catch. Its horn was even believed to alleviate the effects of poison, making unicorn “artifacts” sought after commodities. The unicorn in this image is poised over a bed of flowers and jauntily raises one leg, as if prancing. Its head is turned toward its tail, displaying its spiraling horn and billy goat beard. Its tail is plumed and flowing. It also bears a garland around its neck, bearing semblance to the collar it wears in many later medieval artworks. To the left of the unicorn’s raised hoof is printed the coin’s denomination, “150 yuan.” Above the unicorn, one can see the characters, which mean “Sino-American Lucky Mascot.” Beside this phrase appears the English word, “UNICORN,” all in capital letters.