Octagonal Box (Ba jiao bang he)

Historical period(s)
Qing dynasty, 17th-18th centuries
Lacquer on wood with mother-of-pearl, silver, and gold
H x W x D: 25.2 x 25.1 x 24.7 cm (9 15/16 x 9 7/8 x 9 3/4 in)
Credit Line
Gift of Arthur M. Sackler
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view
Container, Lacquer


child, China, garden, landscape, Qing dynasty (1644 - 1911), scholar
Provenance research underway.

This large, delicately crafted box could have held picnic delights or other objects associated with a wealthy household. Since many of the designs refer to children, it is also possible that it once held wedding gifts exchanged between the families of a betrothed couple, who would have hoped for the newlyweds to produce a family heir. The ideal world of the Chinese scholar is also evoked. Small figures are set in scholars' gardens while others enjoy panoramic landscapes. The antiquities and writing instruments that embellish the raised foot of the box also reflect scholarly values.

The scene on the top of the lid probably relates to a specific story, but today we can only guess at the narrative. A scholar accompanied by his wife sits on a roundbacked chair inside a pavilion. His tall, "winged" cap identifies him as a high government official. The couple welcomes five scholars. Perhaps this alludes to the tale of a scholar who became famous for raising five sons, all of whom became prominent scholar-officials.

If so, they likely are seen here paying homage to their parents on an annual New Year's visit. On the side panels of the lower half of the box a woman holds up her son so his father can inspect him, and children light firecrackers to celebrate the Chinese New Year. These references to children make the box appropriate for the exchange of engagement tokens.

Published References
  • Celia Heil. Lacquer Across the Oceans: Independent Invention or Diffusion?. .
  • Lee Yu-kuan. Oriental Lacquer Art., 1st ed. New York. p. 209.
  • et al. Asian Art in the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery: The Inaugural Gift. Washington, 1987. cat. 185, p. 276.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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