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Lot 78. A fine cinnabar lacquer 'Red cliff' box and cover, Mark and period of Qianlong (1736-1795); 18cm., 7 1/8 in. Sold 18,000 GBP (Estimate 6,000 - 8,000 GBP). © Sotheby's. 

the circular cover finely and deeply carved with a key-fret medallion enclosing figures in a mountainous landscape scene, the straight sides of the box and cover carved with nine alternating floral medallions and pairs of bats reserved on a key-fret diaper ground, the interior and base lacquered black, the interior of the cover incised and gilt with a four-character mark chibi baohe, the base incised and gilt with a six-character mark of Qianlong.

Note: The four-character inscription in the inside of the cover reads Chibi baohe which can be translated as 'The Precious box of the Red Cliff'. The 'Red Cliff' is a reference to one of the most famous battles in Chinese history, the battle of Chibi (Chibi zhi zhan) which took place in the winter of 208 B.C. between the allied forces of the southern warlords Liu Bei and Sun Quan and the northern warlords Cao Cao. This battle formally established the division between southern China from the northern Yellow River heartland with the founding of the Three Kingdoms. It also foreshadowed the north-south hostility that was to follow in the later centuries. Song poet and calligrapher Su Shih's (1036-1101) 'Ode to the Red Cliff (Qian and Hou Chibi fu)' commemorates the battle and later paintings, such as The Red Cliff by Wu Yuan-chih of the Jin Dynasty, in the collection of the National Palace Museum, depicts Su standing by the Red Cliff described in the ode. 

The present lacquer box is unusual for its detailed carving and is comparable with a box in the Palace Museum, Beijing, also with a six-character Qianlong reign mark as well as the name of the box Bu yue bao he carved inside the cover, illustrated in Carved Lacquer in the Palace Museum, Beijing, 1985, pl. 344. Compare also a box of very similar form and band decoration on the side, carved with a scene of two scholars in a garden setting, sold at Christie's Hong Kong, 29/30th October 2001, lot 666.

Sotheby's. Fine Chinese Ceramics & Works Of Art, London, 15 May 2007