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China honors classic author

China is currently celebrating the 300th anniversary of the birth of Cao Xueqin one of the nation’s greatest literary figures. The People’s Bank of China is marking the occasion with both gold and silver commemorative proofs: a 22 mm, 7.776 g .999 fine gold ¥100 and a 40 mm, 31.104 g (1 oz silver) ¥10. Mintages are 10,000 and 20,000 respectively.

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The ¥100 gold coin honoring Cao Xueqin.

The reverse of the ¥100 shows an effigy of the author; that of the ¥10, the Cao Xueqin Memorial Hall and Chinese thread-bound books.

Few Western readers will have come across Cao Xueqin. He was, however, responsible for one of the four major classics of Chinese literature: “Hóng Lóu Mèng”. The title has been translated as both “Dream of the Red Chamber” and “A Dream of Red Mansions”. It has also been called “The Story of the Stone’.

Reverse of the ¥10 silver coin honoring Cao

Reverse of the ¥10 silver coin honoring Cao Xueqin.

The novel was written in the 18th century during the Qing Dynasty. Unusually for the time, it is written in the vernacular rather than classical Chinese and uses the Beijing Mandarin dialect of the time. It is believed to be autobiographical in part telling of the rise and decline of Cao Xueqin’s own family and, by extension, that of the Qing Dynasty. To that end a couplet is introduced in the first chapter: Truth becomes fiction when the fiction’s true / Real becomes unreal where the unreal’s real.

The work originally circulated in manuscript form until first printed in 1791. The first 80 chapters were undoubtedly written by Cao Xueqin but, subsequently, Gao E and Cheng Weiyuan are believed to have added the 40 chapters that complete the novel.

The story is remarkable for its huge cast of characters, psychological scope, and detailed observations of the life and social structures of 18th century Chinese aristocracy. Many aspects of Chinese culture are vividly portrayed: medicine, cuisine, tea culture, proverbs, mythology, Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, filial piety, opera, music, painting and classical literature.

Both coins have been minted by Shanghai Mint and are distributed solely though by China Gold Coin Incorporation.

This article was originally printed in World Coin News.
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