Jade carving reached its zenith during the Qianlong reign as a direct result of the Emperor’s personal passion for jade objects and access to unprecedented quantities of the raw material. Prior to the mid-Qianlong period, jade boulders only reached Beijing in small quantities, as the jade-rich territories of Khotan and Yarkand in present-day Xinjiang were occupied by the Dzungars, who blocked the supply of jade to mainland China. The Qianlong Emperor gained access to these areas in the 24th year of his reign (1760), following the Qing army’s defeat of the Dzungar Khanate. Beginning in the following year, tribute jades were sent to Beijing in spring and autumn and a formal system of biannual tribute soon developed. The stable supply of large quantities of raw jade led to the production of increasingly larger display objects, including vases such as the present.
The Qianlong Emperor advocated that jade carvers should take inspiration from the past, and many of the most impressive jade vessels made in this period combined elements readily associable with China’s revered Bronze Age with portents of good fortune. This vase is no exception: its shape represents an adaptation of the archaic bronze fanghu shape, and its motif features geometric C-scroll and kui dragons reminiscent of bronze wares from the Eastern Zhou dynasty (770-256 BC). The motif was cleverly combined with a shou (longevity) character suspended from a musical chime, and three lingzhi on the cover that add an auspicious message.
White jade vases of octagonal shape and of such large size are rare. A smaller octagonal vase, similarly carved with a shou character on the body, was sold in these rooms, 22nd May 1979, lot 274; and one lacking the cover and carved with two fish suspended from a bat and a stone chime, in the De An Tang collection, was included in the exhibition A Romance with Jade, Palace Museum, Beijing, 2004, cat. no. 57.
The motif on this piece suggests it was designed as a birthday gift; stone chimes (qing) are homophonous with the word to celebrate (qing), while the shou character and the lingzhi on the cover conveys the wish for a long and happy life.
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