May you have three successive promotions unexpectedly!
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The main figure in the scene is a dignitary, often gripping a hu (笏) tablet in his hands, which an official uses to take notes when he has audience with the emperor in court. He is usually sheltered by page boys erecting some fans or a parasol or guarded by a soldier holding a weapon with an iron melon on the top. Facing the dignitary is an attendant presenting a vase containing three miniature ji (戟) halberds to him. Sometimes there is a tray underneath the vase. The Chinese character for ‘vase’ is 瓶 ping, which is a pun on 平 ping for ‘unexpectedly’ or ‘surprisingly’. The character for the halberd is 戟 ji, which puns on 级 ji for ‘grade or rank’ and three halberds stand for ‘three ranks’. Put together, the design is used to express the message “May you have three successive promotions unexpectedly” (平升三级 ping sheng san ji).
Related Pun Pictures:
Fig 1-3: porcelain vases with underglaze blue decoration, Chongzhen period (1627-44), courtesy of the Rijksmuseum, Holland
Fig 4: blue-and-white porcelain bottle, Tianqi (1621-27) or Chongzhen (1628-44) period, courtesy of Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Fig 5: porcelain vase with underglaze blue decoration, Chongzhen period (1627-44), courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum, Canada
Fig 6-7: porcelain vase with underglaze decoration, Chongzhen period (1627- 44), courtesy of the British Museum
Fig 8: porcelain lidded jar with underglaze blue decoration, Chongzhen (1627-44), courtesy of The Princessehof Ceramics Museum
Fig 9: porcelain mug with underglaze blue decoration, Chongzhen (1627-44), courtesy of The Princessehof Ceramics Museum
Fig 10: porcelain brush holder with underglaze blue decoration (detail), Chongzhen period (1627-44), courtesy of the Butler Collection
Fig 11: porcelain vase with underglaze blue decoration, Shunzhi period (1644-61), courtesy of Palace Museum, Beijing
Fig 12-13: porcelain vase with underglaze blue decoration, Kangxi period (1662-1722), courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Fig 14: porcelain vase with underglaze blue and overglaze enamelled decoration, Qing dynasty (1644-1911), courtesy of The Cleveland Museum of Art
Fig 15: underglaze-blue porcelain snuff-bottle, 19th century, courtesy of the National Palace Museum, Taipei
Fig 16: illustration, Kisshō zuan kaidai : Shina fuzoku no ichi kenkyū by Nobuchika, Nozaki, Pl. 130, Tenjin: Chn̄goku Dosan Kōshi 1928