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Monday, 14 October 2013

118) A silver coin on General Yuan Shih-Kai or Shikai (also called the “Fat Man” Chinese dollar or the “Big Head” Dollar) first President of the New Republic in 1911:

118) A silver coin on General Yuan Shih-Kai or Shikai (also called the “Fat Man” Chinese dollar or the “Big Head” Dollar) first President of the New Republic in 1911:

Yuan Shih-Kai:  A brief profile of his life, achievements and legacy:

Yuan Shih-Kai (16.09.1859-06.06.1916) belonged to an influential Yuan family who lived in the fortified village of Yuanzhaicun where the Yuan clan resided.

In 1880, after purchasing a minor official title (which was the common method of official promotion in the later Qing rule), he commenced military service in the Qing Army.

 At this time, Japan, Korea and China were involved in a game of one-upmanship and increasing their trading, military and political influence in one another’s territories.

Meanwhile, there was an internal power struggle in the Joseon dynasty of Korea and Chinese troops moved in to impose Chinese Suzerainty over Korea.

In 1882, after China executed a one-sided Treaty of Jemulpo with Korea, which gave the Japanese powers to increase their influence in Korea, including stationing their troops to protect Japanese business interests, Chinese troops were withdrawn from Korea. Nevertheless, Yuan Shih-Kai was tasked by the Koreans with training 500 Korean troops in the art of modern warfare.

In 1885, Yuan was appointed as the Imperial Resident of Seoul. Although Yuan Shih-Kai’s position, in principle, was that of an ambassador, owing to his political acumen and in his capacity as the Chief Representative of the Qing Emperor in Korea, he became the Supreme Adviser on all Korean Government policy matters. Matters came to a boil once again when Yuan Shih-Kai got information that the Koreans were keen on seeking Russian protection and distance themselves from the Qing imposition.

 Another conflict developed in Korea, with the Chinese troops battling it out with the Japanese who reinforced their troops with a view to protect their business interests in what is known as the First Sino-Japanese War in 1894. Yuan was recalled to China before the outbreak of this War in which the Chinese suffered a major defeat, hence his image as a capable General and a Public Administrator did not suffer any damage in the process.

In 1895, Yuan was appointed as the Commander of the First New Army of China and tasked with modernising the Army. He gained the loyalty of 5 of China’s 7 Divisional commanders and almost the entire set of senior military officers.

By 1898, a power tussle developed in the Qing Court between the Guangxu Emperor and the Empress Dowager Cixi and there was talk of the modernised Army taking over the reins of the country. In coordination with Manchu General Ronglu, on 21.09.1898, the Chinese Emperor was kept under house arrest in a lake palace.

By June 1902, Yuan who had allied himself with the Empress Dowager in the power struggle in the Qing Court was appointed the Governor of Shandong. As Governor of Shandong, he witnessed the “Boxer Rebellion” in his Province, which he suppressed brutally by aiding the foreign “Eight-Nation alliance” and participating in the massacre of thousands of people by them in Zhili, after the Alliance had captured Beijing, much against the Empress Dowager’s and people’s wishes.

Yuan was promoted to the post of Viceroy of Zhili and Minister of Beiyang comprising the modern Regions of Liaoning, Hebei and Shandong.

He utilised this phase, for raising the most powerful Army in all of China along with a 1000 man strong police force to keep order in Tianjin, the first of its kind in Chinese history.

He was instrumental in playing a leading role in late-Qing political reforms, including creation of a Ministry of Education and Ministry of Police. He also, worked for ethnic equality between the Manchus and the Han Chinese.

In November 1908, both the Empress Dowager and the Guangxu Emperor died. As contained in the will of the Emperor, Yuan was to be taken prisoner and executed.

In January 1909, Yuan was relieved from all his positions and duties by the Regent Prince Chun who was keen on restoring the Qing Power to its original glory.

Although he was in exile for about 2 years Yuan still maintained the loyalty of the Beiyang Army that he had raised.

During the Wuchang uprising on 10.10.1911, Yuan was reinstated as Viceroy of Huguang and later became Prime Minister in the Qing Court, primarily on account of his influence with the Beiyang Army which the Qing Court felt would help quell the uprising. One of the grounds set by him for his return was that the Prince Regent should abstain from politics and he himself set up a Cabinet of his trusted confidants.

He was also given the title of “Marquis of the First Rank” by the present Empress Dowager Longyu, an honour only awarded once before to a General who had suppressed the Taiping Rebellion in the 19th century.

To maintain his usefulness in the Qing court, Yuan adopted a path of reconciliation and negotiated with the Revolutionaries, instead of suppressing them outright. Meanwhile, the Revolutionaries had elected Sun Yat-Sen as their Provisional President of the Republic of China.

After some deft political manoeuvring Yuan got himself nominated for the  position of President of the Republic of China by the Nanjing Provincial Senate and was sworn in as President on 10.03.1912,  replacing Sun Yat-Sen, who was the people’s/Revolutionaries’ popular choice. Not only did Yuan negotiate for himself to be elevated to the position of President, he also, contrived to secure the abdication of the Child Emperor Puyi or “Xuantong Emperor”.

Left with no alternative, the Emperor abdicated on 12.02.1912 and on 14.02.1912.

In February 1913, democratic elections were held and the Chinese National Party or “Kuomintang” (KMT) representing the Revolutionaries, won a majority. Song Jiaoren of the KMT who was expected to take over as Prime Minister was assassinated by a gunman at Shanghai Railway station on 20.03.1913. Yuan was suspected to be behind the attack but his complicity was never established as most of the investigators in the case were also assassinated or disappeared without a trace.

As matters between the KMT and Yuan came to a head, each tried to curtail the administrative powers of the other. Ultimately, Yuan resorted to a crackdown on the KMT and broke their backbone by bribing some KMT members and later dissolving the National and Provincial Assemblies. He replaced the House of Representatives and Senate with a “Council of State” manned by his trusted men. He even had himself elected President for a five-year term.

 Meanwhile, Sun Yat-sen fled to Japan and called for a Second Revolution, this time against Yuan Shih-Kai. The KMT was outlawed and the Second Revolution ended in failure. With the army firmly backing him, Yuan’s position was firmly entrenched.

In January 1914, the Parliament was dissolved and Yuan set up and was advised by a Cabinet of 66 members. He assumed unbridled powers while putting in place several reforms, some of them extremely unpopular.

Immediately after assuming the President’s position, Yuan had silver dollars minted with his portrait on the obverse. These coins were the first standard dollar issues and became immensely popular, so much so that restrikes continued till the 1950s. These dollars were also extensively forged.

In January 1915, Japan negotiated a 21-point demand to protect their business and territorial interests, almost all of which were conceded by Yuan leading to a major decline in his popularity. There was talk about reviving the monarchy as Yuan had become increasingly dictatorial.

Not to be outdone, on 20.11.1915, Yuan called for a specially convened “Representative Assembly” and had himself voted unanimously as the “Emperor of the Chinese Empire” a position which he assumed on 12.12.1915.

On 01.01.1916, the new Empire of China was to begin, when Yuan intended to go through a coronation/ascension ceremony.

Yuan’s popularity declined further with this move and his supporters began to desert him. His sons fought over who would be the “Crown Prince”. Several factions were created and Sun Yat-sen gained favour with several Revolutionaries who planned to overthrow Yuan.

Faced with insurmountable opposition to his claiming the monarchy Yuan tried a last minute attempt by delaying the ascension ceremony to appease his detractors, but several provinces were now not supporting him.

By 25.12.1915, Yunnan’s military Governor declared the “National Protection War” against Yuan. The Governors of Guizhou and Guangxi were the next to declare their independence in January and March 1916 and join the National Protection War. Thereafter, several more Provinces joined the rebellion against him.

Yuan was left with no alternative but to formally give up the Emperor’s position on 22.03.1916.

Several other detractors called for Yuan’s resignation from all posts held by him.

By May 1916, the whole of China was up in Arms against him and he died a broken man on 05.06.1916 at the age of 56.

The Empire and the Chinese Military which he had so painstakingly raised broke into factions under several warlords. 

He was criticised for weakening China’s position in the International arena and not doing anything culturally or for the welfare of the people.

Nevertheless, the silver coins issued during his time and afterwards are, perhaps, his most lasting legacy today.

The Yuan-Shih Kai silver dollar or the “Fatman” or “Big-Head” silver dollar: popularity, minting and circulation of the coin:

1)   Popularity: The Yuan Shih-Kai dollar or the “Fatman dollar” or “Big Head” is one of the most common Chinese silver dollars. It is one of the longest lived series with its production beginning in 1914 and was issued continuously till at least 1921.
  One estimate put the total minting of the Central and Provincial Mints of the Yuan Shih-Kai dollars at about 185 million by 1917. A survey by the Shanghai Bank estimated that of the 960 million silver dollars in circulation in China in 1924 about 750 million were those of Yuan Shih-Kai. Such was the popularity and universal acceptance of this coin in China.

Still later, Zhang Zuo Lin, the ruler of Manchuria from 1916 – 1928, who was waging war to capture Beijing, had the Yuan Shih-Kai silver dollars restruck in 1921 and then again, in 1926, with a view to stabilising the currency during a period of strife for his territories, based on the coin’s popularity with the people.

The Yuan Shih-Kai dollars were restruck again in the 1930s based on the coin’s popularity and universal acceptability in China.

Then again, when Shenyang was captured by the People’s Liberation Army in 1948, the North – Eastern Communist Bank of China took control of the Shenyang mint and set up the North-Eastern Provincial Bank. The mint again started minting silver dollars again in 1949 (to start rebuilding the Chinese economy) using the dies of the original 1914 Yuan Shih-Kai silver dollars. These coins have a slight correction in one character and the epaulette on the shoulder of Yuan Shih-Kai was more sharply struck revealing all the four stars very clearly. These coins were circulated in great numbers well into the 1950s.

2)   Minting: Several Yuan Shih-Kai dollars were minted in the Central Mint at Tianjin and Provincial Mints.  To have an assessment of the popularity and frequency of Yuan Shih-Kai dollars coming into the Chinese economy, in 1914, in the first year of production itself, the Central Mint alone was producing about 300000 coins every day.

The Provincial mints were issued official dies from the Central Government and every effort was made to have new coins minted as per specifications.

 Several Provincial mints took up minting as per Government specified standards producing several thousands more coins. This helped the new coinage to successfully replace the “dragon dollars” and foreign “Trade dollars” which were in circulation around this time. With passage of time, several different die varieties of the original 1914 dollar were minted and circulated.

Different mints exhibited different characteristics on the coins issued by them.  Two of the variations – the “O” mint mark and the “triangular yuan” are the most popular ones.

The “O” mint mark coins were minted in Shenyang in 1951 under the supervision of the People’s Bank of China for circulation in the Southern Provinces and the ethnic minorities as well as in those Regions/Provinces, where people were not confident about the new Renminbi currency.

The Triangular Yuan coins were minted in 1949 to pay the wages of workers employed in making the roads in Tibet.

The Yuan Shih-Kai dollar was minted with such frequency during the period of its issue that several dies both at the Central and Provincial mints were worn out and had to be re-engraved. This resulted in around 200 types of die varieties at the time when the Yuan Shih Kai coin was being minted, leading to a lot of confusion in the coins minted as well as making it difficult for collectors to identify and collect all the varieties of Yuan Shih-Kai silver coins issued.
 Presently, about 50 die varieties are positively identified, with several varieties still emerging from obscurity.

3)   Circulation:  At the point of its introduction into the Chinese economy, the most widely circulated silver coin was the Mexican dollars (pesos). It is estimated that more than 50 million Mexican silver dollars were taken out of circulation and about 30 million of these pieces were shipped/exported out of China and over 20 million pieces were melted for recoining as the Yuan Shih Kai silver pieces.
   By 1924, of all the silver dollar coins in circulation in China, almost 80% were Yuan Shih-Kai dollars.
Specifications and identification of the Yuan Shih-Kai silver dollar:
The undernoted is a sequence of the first eleven Chinese numerals:

The year is also included in the list of Chinese numerals above. (I could'nt help but notice that the numerals 7, 8, 9, 0 and 10 if viewed as English alphabets spell "tarot").

The above symbol/character is interpreted as “made between___”.

Understanding the date of issue on a Yuan Shih-Kai coin would be something as follows, keeping in mind the above-mentioned ten numerals/year symbols/characters:

A very interesting point to remember is that, although Yuan Shih-Kai coins were struck continuously from 1914 to 1921 and on several random dates during later years, only four dates appear on the coins: the 3rd year, 8th year, 9th year and 10th year of the Republic of China.

Also, all the coins made in the third year (1914) are easily recognised as there are only six characters above the portrait of Yuan Shih-Kai. In all the remaining years, there are seven characters, due to inclusion of a seventh character at the beginning which stands for “Made during____”.

The second character/symbol (in the coins having six characters on the upper periphery) and the third character (in the coins having seven characters) indicates the year of the Republic of China when this coin was minted.

 For example, three stacked lines or horizontal bars (standing for the number 3) indicate that these coins were issued in 1914, which is the third year of the Republic of China. It is also the first year when the Yuan Shih-Kai silver coins were issued for the first time.

The first letter in the above coin in my collection on the obverse face is the character that is interpreted as "Made between____", the second character stands for "year" and the third letter in the specimen shown above  (which looks like “+”, stands for the Chinese numeral 10) indicates that this coin was issued in 1921, or the tenth (10th) year of the Republic of China, with 1914 being the First Year of the Republic of China.

The diameter of this coin is 38 mm. These are crown sized coins, they weigh 26.4 gms, have a fineness of 0.8900 silver or 0.75555 of an ounce of silver. The edge on both faces is engrailed with Circles.

The version of the 1921 coin shown above, issued with seven characters is also called “Lien-K’ou-Tsao” which in Chinese means “the mouth part”.

Counterfeit or Genuine?

Thus, going by the above discussion:

1)   One has to guard against counterfeits and fantasy pieces mass produced in countries in Asia, Middle East and Eastern Europe.

2)   Any combination of years of issue characters mentioned on the coins, not corresponding to the 3rd, 8th, 9th and 10th years of the Republic of China suggest counterfeit coins. Some forgers have included floral patterns, relying on the premise that the potential buyer does not understand Chinese lettering/numerals.

3)   One test for a counterfeit coin is to put pass a magnet over the coin. If the coin is magnetic, then the coin is a fake. Most counterfeit coins weigh less than the weight of a genuine coin, are greyish in colour and have a poor strikes (to make them appear genuine and somewhat worn out) with age/use or may even present a cleaned or polished appearance, or may have a dull or grainy surface or have engraving errors.

4)   Newer coins with more accurate details have been perfected by counterfeiters, nevertheless, the weight of the coin is still one of the best methods for determining the genuineness of a Yuan Shih Kai coin.

    (The above coin has  been contrubuted for my collection by Ajit George, brought from his trip to Laos. Coin scanned and Article researched and written by Rajeev Prasad).
  1) Currency of the People's Republic of China
 2)  Shanghai Museum: A treasure trove of Ancient Indian, Chinese and Islamic coins
  3) Currency & Coinage of the Spl. Administrative Region of Hong Kong  
  4) Currency and Coinage of the Spl. Administrative Region of Macau


  1. Still lost...I figured all the date...and is 1914..But - my coin in front -- both side of the head at mouth level .. there are Chinese characters

    1. Maybe it is a version made by some mint.