The inscription reads:
The faithful Buddhist and trusted official of the Great Ming Empire, Grand Eunuch Li Xing, whose religious name is Jixiang (styled) Chengjiu, and who is a native of Taihe county, Dali prefecture in Yunnan, born at an auspicious date in the year wushen (corresponding to 1368), resolved on the 26th day of the fifth month of the dingyou year of the Yongle period (corresponding to 1417) to cast altogether five images representing the three Buddhas of the Past, the Present, and the Future, as well as (the Bodhisattvas) Manjusri and Samantabhadra.
Li Xing, Grand Eunuch at the courts of Yongle and Xuande, accompanied the famous Admiral and Grand Eunuch Zheng He (1371-1433), Li's contemporary and also a native of Yunnan province, on his several expeditions to Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Li is recorded as participating in the third expedition (1409-11) to the Malabar coast of India, Ceylon, Sian, Malacca and Sumatra, in the sixth expedition (1421-22) to Aden and the Eastern coast of Africa, and in the seventh expedition (1431-33) to the Arab peninsula and East Africa, and may also have accompanied Zheng's other voyages.
This figure of Shakyamuni Buddha, the Buddha of the Present, was probably made to celebrate Li's ordination as a lay brother, where he was given his religious name, on or around his fiftieth birthday. Zheng He, although coming from a Muslim family, was also ordinated as a Buddhist lay brother.
For a closely related example see a figure sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 29th may 2007, lot 1436; and another offered at Christie's London, 15th May 2007, lot 173; and a third, Christie's New York, 22nd April 1999, lot 86.
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