Previously sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 19 May 1981, lot 435 and sold again, 30 April 1996, lot 363.
The depiction of Zhang Daoling, the Five Poisons and Five Auspicious Subjects are popular motifs for the Duanwu festival, the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. Considered the most poisonous day of the year, many of the themes associated with the Duanwu festival relate to the desire to combat evil forces and poisonous creatures. The legendary hero Zhang Daoling who cuts through evil with his sword; wudu, Five Poisons, with their toxins combined to counteract any pernicious influences, the wurui, Five Auspicious Subjects, are believed to protect against evil or poisons. Like the present pair of dishes, the fingerlike leaves of mugwort are portrayed together with the sword-like leaves of sweet flag to represent a hand holding a sword, to ward against evil vapours and poisonous insects during the Duanwu festival. The pomegranate blossoms symbolise the fifth lunar month, as the fiery red colour was believed to ward against evil as well as being the colour of joy. The pine and cypress present on the dish are emblematic of longevity, reliability and hardness.