2017-04-19 11:09:42

A village in eastern China’s Jiangxi province has become the site of a gold rush following the discovery of long-buried rare coins.

An estimated 500 to 600 amateur treasure hunters have converged on Changluo Township, east of the city of Ganzhou in the southern part of the province, after two children unearthed a cache of more than 20 Republican-era silver coins around 10 days ago, according to a report by provincial news outlet JXNews.com.

The two children, aged 10 and 7, were seen near the site around April 9, the date the coins were discovered. “[They] were playing down by the river and found some ‘big-head Yuan’ coins,” Huang Guoxiang, deputy branch secretary of nearby Changyuan Village, told local media on Tuesday, using a common nickname for the coins. “They thought they were very pretty, so they picked up a few and took them home.”

News of the discovery spread quickly on social messaging app WeChat. Over the next few days, hordes of locals descended on the site. Teams of treasure hunters reportedly rose at 5 a.m. to dig by flashlight, with some of the more buccaneering residents refusing to put down their tools until 2 a.m. An estimated 236 coins have been found so far. “They’ve dug down pretty deep,” said Huang, who added that the recent expansion of a local highway may have disturbed the subterranean treasure trove.

The sudden flood of fortune-seekers has raised safety concerns among officials. “We urgently contacted local police to have them maintain order at the site,” said Liu Jiang, Changluo’s deputy township head. “Fortunately, nothing nasty has happened during this process — no fights or dustups.”

“Big-head Yuan” coins were minted during the early years of the Republic of China, the state that succeeded the fall of the country’s last imperial dynasty, the Qing, in 1911. The currency’s nickname comes from the large portrait of Yuan Shikai — who served as the Republic’s first formal president until his death in 1916 — printed on one side of each coin. Most of the money found in Changluo carries inscriptions indicating that it was produced between 1914 and 1920 and was taken out of circulation following the communist takeover of China in 1949.

Village residents may have had a small fortune lying beneath their feet for decades. Early estimates indicated that each individual coin could be worth anywhere between 600 and 5,000 yuan ($87 and $726), putting the total value of the hoard at over 100,000 yuan.

There is a catch, however: China’s Law on the Protection of Cultural Relics states that all artifacts found within the country’s territorial borders — including those buried underground — are property of the state.

But just try telling that to Changluo’s newly minted coin collectors. “Lots of villagers have hidden away the silver coins they dug up,” Liu was quoted as saying. “We wanted to invite experts on cultural relics and protect all of these artifacts, but the site is just too messy and complicated. The Cultural Artifacts Department hasn’t even got involved yet.”

Editor: Sarah O’Meara.

(Header image: A villager holds several old coins that were found buried in Xinyang, Henan province, March 20, 2016. Jin Honghui/VCG)