After spending his early life in scholarly pursuits, the rise of Li Hung-chang (Lǐ Hóngzhāng) began during the unrest created by the Taiping Rebellion—a civil war which lasted from 1850-1864. Given Li’s familiarity with Anhwei (Ānhuī) Province, he was tapped to advise and oversee local militias tasked with quelling the rebellion. While his superiors encountered defeat and committed suicide, Li—now elevated to more prominent positions—succeeded and recaptured lost territory. Later in the conflict, he was promoted further, from regional naval commander in Anhwei and Kiangsu (Jiāngsū), to local military commander for the Huái Army. By 1864, the rebellion was successfully suppressed, with Li garnering a noble peerage for his efforts: Count Suyi of the First Class.
For the remainder of his career, Li would be a central figure in the political affairs of the Qīng Dynasty, serving in important positions such as viceroy of Liǎngguǎng [Kwangtung (Guǎngdōng) and Kwanghsi (Guǎngxī)], viceroy of Chihli (Zhílì), and Peking (Běijīng) trade minister. It was between his stints in these two later roles that his diplomatic skills were most needed, initially with navigating the First Sino-Japanese War, then with what can only be described as a global tour in 1896. This worldwide tour saw him attend the Russian coronation of Czar Nicholas II, meet with German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck at his home in Friedrichsruh, tour the English countryside by train (a mode of transportation which he hoped to develop in China), and advocate reform in the United States, speaking out against the Chinese Exclusion Act. Following this tour, one of his final acts of diplomacy was negotiating settlement after the Boxer Rebellion in 1901, with Li dying just two months later from liver inflammation.
Numismatically, Li is represented on a few rather interesting medals commemorating his historic visit with Bismarck, with one in particular being offered in our magnificent 10th Anniversary Hong Kong Auction in May. This medal, lot 41675, features the busts of these two dignitaries—one on each side—elegantly engraved. Quite a rare and seldom seen type, this example exhibits a deep cabinet tone accentuated by hues of amber, cobalt, burgundy, and sea foam green, along with some luster peeking through. We presented a similar specimen, raw and graded as ‘Ch. Unc’ in our August 2015 Hong Kong Auction, where it sold for $17,925. Consequently, given the exemplary nature of this piece, graded PCGS SP-64, we anticipate a great deal of excitement and enthusiasm and an impressive price.
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We are always seeking coins, medals, and pieces of paper money for our future sales, and are currently accepting submissions (until May 4th) for our upcoming CCO (Collectors Choice Online) auction in June 2020. Following that, our next larger format sales will be our Official Auction of the ANA World’s Fair of Money and our Official Auction of the Hong Kong Show, both in August 2020. If you would like to learn more about consigning, whether a singular item or an entire collection, please contact one of our consignment directors today and we will assist you in achieving the best possible return on your material.