A LARGE WHITE JADE RUYI SCEPTRE QING DYNASTY, QIANLONG PERIOD
- 38.7 cm, 15 1/8 in.
Ruyi sceptres, by definition, are highly auspicious objects favoured for their shape and ornamentation which represent the propitious expression ‘as you wish’. Their origin remains a matter of speculation, with the popular belief being that their shape evolved from back-scratchers commonly made in bamboo or bone. However, their function is likely to have derived from hu tablets that were items of authority and social rank held in the hands of officials in ancient China. For more information on the origins of sceptres see Yuan Te-hsing’s article in Masterpieces of Chinese Ju-I Scepters in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1974, pp. 86-90.
During the Tang and Song dynasties, sceptres took on a new role as ritual implements in Buddhist and Daoist ceremonies. However, from the Song period, sceptres became closely associated with Daoism with the head increasingly rendered in the form of the longevity lingzhi fungus. They also became highly ornamented and were designed in any shape and material that was considered suitable for use as a secular good-luck charm. By the Ming period sceptres were often presented as gifts among the official-gentry class, while under the Qing, especially from Yongzheng’s reign, they became imperial objects that were bestowed by the emperor to his worthy officers and loyal subjects as rewards. Even foreign kings and ambassadors were presented with ruyi, such as the famous jade example given to King George III and senior members of the first British embassy to China by the Qianlong Emperor in 1793. Both the Yongzheng and Qianlong Emperors had themselves painted holding sceptres, but the latter was particularly fond of them and owned an extensive collection, a number of which was included in the exhibition China. The Three Emperors, 1662-1795, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2006, cat. nos 273-282.
The decoration of the bat and the shou character on the head of the present sceptre, combined with the wan symbol and the beribboned qing on the handle together form the rebus wan fu qing shou, meaning ‘may a myriad birthday blessings be bestowed’. The peaches at the end of the sceptre represent immortality, said to have grown in the orchard of the Queen Mother of the West (Xiwangmu).
While all sceptres are unique and no two identical pieces are recorded, this sceptre is comparable to a white jade example of slightly larger size, the head carved with a stylised shou character roundel encircled by four beribboned bajixiang emblems, from the collection of Edward T. Chow, sold in these rooms, 11th April 2008, lot 2835; another of related decoration but slightly smaller in size, included in the National Palace Museum exhibition Masterpieces of Chinese Ju-I Scepters in the National Palace Museum op.cit., cat. no. 4; and one decorated with five bats around a stylised shou character, from the collection of His Highness Maharaja Sir Padma Shumshere Jung Bahadur Rana, sold in our London rooms, 15th May 2013, lot 57. Another comparable example, from the De An Tang collection and exhibited at the Yongshougong (Palace of Eternal Longevity) located in the Forbidden City in 2004, was sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 29th May 2007, lot 1598; and a further piece from the collection of the Nabeshima Family, presented by the House of an Imperial Prince in 1921, was sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 27th October 2003, lot 829.