About Chinese Lunar Coins
Several thousand years previously in China's ancient past, astrologers came up with a method for keeping track of the date and time. It was called the twelve dizhi, which translates as twelve earthly branches. Modern scientists think that this ancient method was founded on observations made by the ancient Chinese about the orbit of Jupiter. The planet takes around twelve years to make a complete orbit of the Sun. Having observed this, the Chinese split the transit of Jupiter across the night sky into twelve parts, designating an earthly branch to each part of the transit, and then depending on which part of the sky Jupiter was in in a particular year, assigned that earthly branch to that year thereby creating a twelve year cycle. The earthly branches are as follows: Zi, chou, yin, mao, chen, si, wu, wei, shen, you, xu, and hai. The system of earthly branches was further combined with the tiangan system (translating as heavenly stems), which comprises the five basic elements in traditional Chinese culture.
To create the Chinese zodiac and to satisfy the ceremonial requirements, astrologers assigned twelve animals to the twelve earthly branches. They were: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and the pig. These creatures and the values that they represent have greatly influenced Chinese culture in the past and continue to do so today, particularly in the fields of divination, folk tales, and festivals.
Starting in 1981, the People's Bank of China has produced commemorative Zodiac coins, often referred to as Lunar coins because of the connection between the animals of the Chinese Zodiac and the Chinese lunar (or agricultural) calendar. Collectable series of these Lunar coins are made up of twelve coins, one for each animal in the Zodiac over a twelve year period. A particular series is characterized by a set of common specifications, such as coins having the same weight, shape, and metal. Since 1981, twenty-four such sets have been identified.
The popularity of these Lunar coins is comparable with that of the Panda coins also issued by the People's Bank. The coins perform well, being very collectable and making good investments. Because, like the Panda coins, they are a series of coins produced regularly each year, they are well-known and complete sets are highly valued among collectors. The great variety of Lunar coins produced each year with regard to their diameter, weight, and metal used, makes the Lunar coins very accessible to many collectors, who have many different ways in which they can collect a Lunar series. These coins are also produced in a variety of shapes aside from the standard coin shape, namely the fan-shaped coin and the scallop-shaped coin. These different shapes are just one of many aspects of Chinese Lunar coins that make them unique, distinctive, and particularly attractive.