The forerunner of the Chinese space program, the Chinese aerospace industry traces its roots back to 1956 when it first started developing simple ballistic missiles as a reaction to the anticipated threat from the United States of America, and later the Soviet Union.
Since then the industry has rapidly expanded for both military and non-military purposes. It was Mao’s initial intent to create his own nuclear deterrent for the People’s Republic of China, following threats by the USA to use its nuclear arsenal during the Korean War (1950-1953). He also wanted to establish the PRC as a global power, and saw the development of nuclear warheads and the associated missiles to deliver them as a way of commanding international respect.
Later, in the 1960s with the Space Race between the major global powers intensifying, Mao and Zhou Enlai decided that China should not be left out of the running. In 1967 they started the first Chinese manned space program. These early attempts by China to get a man into space were stalled by the political and economic turmoil caused by the Cultural Revolution. Several decades later, a huge injection of funding and technology came to a climax on 15th October 2003 when Yang Liwei, a major general, military pilot, and astronaut, became the first Chinese man in space. The mission, Shenzhou 5 – the first manned Shenzhou mission – made China the third global nation to send a man independently into space.
A set of two coins commemorate this first Chinese manned mission into space. Issued in 2003 – the same year in which the successful space flight took place – one of the two is a 1/3 oz, 150 yuan gold coin with a mintage of 30,000; the other is a 1 oz, 10 yuan silver coin with a mintage of 60,000. Both feature a colourised image of a smiling Yang Liwei in his spacesuit on their reverse faces, and both are proof coins of 99.9% purity.