Saturday, April 26, 2014

Evidence of Official Sanctioning of the Sino-British Friendship Medal

The Sino-British Friendship Medal (popularly known in China as the "Horse Treading on Flying Swallow" medal) was issued to commemorate the Exhibition of Archaeological Finds of the People's Republic of China from 1973-1974 in London. For details, please follow this link:

Despite its beautiful rendering of the famous horse bronze statue, the value of the medal has been questioned because the company that issued the medal, Toye Kenning & Spencer Ltd., is not an "official" mint, like the Royal Mint. Although there are anecdotes that the Chinese took part in designing the medal, hard evidence is difficult to come by. To some collectors, it is just a privately minted medal with nothing in particular. This view is held by one of the top medal collectors in China, RAREMEDAL.

In a recent discussion of the medal on the Chinese coin collection site, I had the chance to take a close look at the catalog from the Exhibition, and made an important discovery: the Chinese characters on the Sino-British Friendship Medal are the handwriting of Guo Moruo. This is evidence of official sanctioning of the medal.

Here is the medal with the Chinese characters 中华人民共和国出土文物展(Exhibition of Archaeological Finds of the People's Republic of Chinaand 中英友好(Sino-British Friendship), the former arranged around the rim in a clockwise fashion starting at 8 o'clock position, the latter placed horizontally at the bottom of the medal.

The characters 中华人民共和国出土文物展(Exhibition of Archaeological Finds of the People's Republic of Chinaalso appears on the first page of the Exhibition catalog:

The page clearly shows that the handwriting is by Guo Moruo, spelt as Kuo Mo-jo in the old fashioned spelling system.

 If we compare the handwriting on the catalog and the characters on the horse medal, people who know Chinese will have no difficulty concluding that the characters meaning "Exhibition of Archaeological Finds of the People's Republic of China" are from the same person, although they are not exactly identical. That means that the characters on the medal are also handwriting of Guo Moruo.

The characters 中英友好 (Sino-British Friendship) on the medal did not appear in the catalog. But judging from the character , which also appears in the inscription in the catalog, and the character , which also appears in a poem hand copied by Guo, it is clear that this phrase 中英友好 was also written by Guo Moro.

Character on the medal :

Character in the copied poem:
There are importance differences between the two inscriptions, though. On the catalog, the character is taken from Traditional Chinese, while the Simplified Chinese character is used on the medal. Also, some of the characters on the medal were written more carefully than their counterparts on the catalog. Here are two comparisons. Those taken from the medal are on the right side.

One would wonder why the designer of the medal did not take the inscription directly from the catalog and use it on the medal. One possible reason is that for a British designer, the more detailed (in the case of the Traditional Chinese character ) and more irregular characters posed some difficulty for engraving. Another possible reason would be that Guo provided two inscriptions in the first place. In any case, it is beyond dispute that Guo wrote at least two inscriptions for the Exhibition in London, one for the catalog, the other for the medal.

Now that we know Guo Moruo blessed the medal with his inscription, we can elaborate on who he was. Guo Moruo was one of the top scholars in China and held the position of President of Chinese Academy of Sciences from 1949 to 1978. Here is the wiki article about him, which is pretty sketchy: What's missing in the wiki article is an important fact that Guo was also the Vice Chairman of the National People's Congress from 1954 to 1978, which was a top government position.

There are two interesting facts that connect Guo to the horse statue and the Exhibition. He was the first person to appreciate this treasure, singling it out from a pile of provincial collections on exhibit in the northwest city of Lanzhou. He was the benefactor of the horse statue, so to speak. It was him that named the statue "Horse treading on a flying swallow", although later people argued that the flying bird was not a swallow, but a hawk.

Guo Moruo was also the initiator of the Exhibition of Archaeological Finds of the People's Republic of China around the world. To build on the achievements of the Ping Pong diplomacy, he brought to the Chinese State Council his proposal of Archaeological Finds diplomacy, which was approved by Premier Zhou Enlai and put into action. That led to the grand tour of the Exhibition of Archaeological Finds of the People's Republic of China through 14 countries/regions in a period over 5 years.

With such a close relationship to the horse statue and to the Exhibition, it is not surprising that Guo would inscribe for this medal, lending it the semi-official status.

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