Cups of this type are based on earlier Chenghua doucai prototypes such as the pair of cups of similar shape, but decorated with chickens only, included in the Illustrated Catalogue of Chinese Government Exhibits for International Exhibition of Chinese Art in London, vol. II, Porcelain, 1948, p. 130, no. 171.
The mark on the base of all of these cups reads Da Qing Qianlong fanggu, which translates as 'made in imitation of antiquity in the Qianlong reign of the Great Qing dynasty'. The imitation of antiquity, or archaism, was a theme close to the Qianlong emperor's heart and a considerable number of imperial art objects in a range of different media bear this mark. The correct rendering of the mark was given by D. Howard and J. Ayers when they included the current cup in their catalogue of the Mottahedeh Collection, Chinese for the West, London/New York, 1978, vol. 1, pp. 171-2, no. 165, in which they date the cup to the Qianlong reign. A cup of this type was also published as dating to the Qianlong period by S. Bushell, who translated the poem in Oriental Ceramic Art, New York, 1899, pp. 49-51.
The poem inscribed on the cups mentions a man by the name of Zang Ping, who lived during the Muzong reign (r. AD 926-33) of the Tang dynasty. Zang was famous for the large cockerels he reared to take part in the cock fights that took place during the Qing Ming festival. However, the youth depicted on the cups may instead represent Jia Chang (b. AD 713), who was a child prodigy. At the age of thirteen he was such a talented trainer of fighting cocks that the Tang dynasty emperor Xuanzong (r. AD 713-56) employed him to train the imperial fighting cocks. The design on these cups is therefore often known as 'the precocious boy'.