This well-painted spittoon is of unusually high quality among porcelains made for the Tongzhi court, and it seems probable that it was made for the celebration of the Tongzhi Emperor's wedding. The Tongzhi reign period (1862-75) had been dogged by military conflict and the Jingdezhen kilns, having already suffered under the previous Xianfeng reign (1851-61), were much reduced in scale and had retained few highly skilled craftsmen. However in the 11th year of Tongzhi's reign (1872), when he was 16, he married Alute, from a powerful Manchu family. It was also decided that he should, at least nominally, take over the reigns of government from the regents who had ruled during his minority. One of those regents was his mother, the Dowager Empress Cixi (1835-1908), and it is likely that her love of extravagant ceremony determined that Tongzhi's wedding should be a dahun or Grand Wedding. Indeed it is said that his wedding was the most lavish of any Qing emperor.
According to palace records, large quantities of porcelain were ordered for the wedding, many of them dining sets made up of as many as 148 individual items. Drawings prepared for some of these pieces are preserved in the Palace. One drawing shows a bowl decorated with butterflies in famille rose enamels on a yellow ground. The note accompanying this drawing lists the items to be produced with this design, and includes ten small spittoons (see Liu Wei, Wan Qing gongting ciqi, Zijincheng chubanshe, Beijing, 2001). The current spittoon matches this description and may thus be one of only ten spittoons decorated with this design, which were made for the Grand Wedding of the Tongzhi Emperor.