|Jan, 09, 1999
Question from Mr.Robert
For ten or twenty years at least the Sun Ko Wang issue, Hsing chao, (1644-50, one candareen, S 1333) has been one of the most common large multiples issued in China that has been coming onto the collector market (at least for the period between the fall of the Northern Sung, and the Hsien Feng issues of the 19th century).
This is the little bit of background I have managed to put together on it:
the Ming administration collapsed in the first half of the 17th century, and a couple of decades of warfare and rebellion preceded the conquest of China by the Manchus. Two Peasant leaders attempted to build empires in the ruins of the Ming State. One of these, Chang Hsien-Chung declared himself Prince of the West. Sun Ko Wang was one of his leading generals. Perhaps Chang was best remembered for his role in the slaughter policy. A systematic murder of students that recalls the modern rebel Pol Pot. A bit like the bizarre fictional character from the film 'Apocalypse now', Chang claimed to have received a mission to carry out divine slaughter from an idol in a Taoist temple. Sun Ko Wang is alternately credited with either assisting this policy of slaughter (exaggerated claims blame him for more than 150 million deaths), or with pleading with Chang against the barbarity of it. These coins were cast after the death of Chang, and indicate a more constructive set of policies.
The question why a minor rebel, who is hardly mentioned in the histories stuck quite so many coins does not seem to have been addressed. Even Peng avoids comment on the subject, just mentioning the one sentence in the histories that associates the Hsing Chao's with Sun Ko Wang.
Can anybody throw any light on this?
Gilbert Tan (11-Jan-99):
Chang Hsien Chung ruled from Szechuan province and had under his control, Sun Ko Wang. In the early days of their combined rhetoric, they had hardly much time to cast coins. Nearing Changís time of demise, Sun Ko Wang used the surname of Chang and only on his loss to the Manchus did he revert his surname back to Sun.
Hereís the juicy part: Chang issued the Da Shun Tung Bao in 4 varieties; the blank reverse, the reverse with gong at the bottom, the reverese with hu at the bottom and the reverse with chuan on the top and hu at the bottom (the last of which only two are known to exist, one of which can be viewed at the Shanghai Currency Museum Gallery which is a permanent display gallery). It seems that Chang had two mints (or furnaces) making the Da Shun coins hence explaining why there were two different mintmarks. The rare variety with both chuan and hu characters at the back can be matched with Szechuan being the capital of his operations at the time.
Chang also issued the Xi Wang Shang Gong (means the Western King rewards work) large cash (10-cash size) coin to present as tokens to successful generals and supporters of his regime. These were made in 3 different metals: gold, silver and copper, but all in the same calligraphic style. However, being a non-currency issue and probably as such, very few were made, these coins are very rare today.
Sun Ko Wang was a favourite general of Chang and even used the latterís surname. Sun issued many coins bearing the title Xing Chao and they all bore a denomination at the back apart from the obvious 1-cash piece with gong at the back. These actually appear very similar to the Da Shun coins and one wonders if the same technique or even mint was used?
I hypothesize that both Chang and Sun issued coins but mainly towards the end of their reigns when they had achieved reasonable success and stability in their conquests. As such, Chang would have issued less coins as he died earlier than Sun, even though Sun was merely a subordinate. Alternatively, we can also draw a parallel with the Fou Chang Pretender in the gazetted (by the Jin Tartars) State of Chi who issued many varieties of the same reign-title Fou Chang (6 varieties to be exact) which is even more than the Jin Dynasty emperors at any one point in time! He was also a minor rebel compared with the Jins who constantly plagued China and even captured the last two Northern Sung emperors.
Further, I am actually fortunate to own a Xi Wang Shang Gong (Changís) copper piece whose texture and manufacturing style is almost identical to the Xing Chao (Sunís) coin but just that little bit inferior (more crude). The Xing Chao large coin could be a slightly later improvement over the Xi Wang Shang Gong presentation piece but both made in a similar manner, again bringing to light the possibility of similar manufacture. There are thousands of Xing Chaos in existence but only three copper Xi Wang Shang Gong coins are known today, the other two being housed in separate museums (including the Shanghai Museum) in China.
In conclusion, many insignificant people in the annals of Chinaís history have struck more coins than their more celebrated counterparts, perhaps to gain more fame unlike the celebrities who needed no such tool. Sun Ko Wang may have been such a person. Or he simply had more opportunities than his adopted father Chang Hsien Chung.