The only other known gilt-bronze censer cast with a complementary inscription, and possibly forming the companion to the present example, was sold at Christie's London, 2 October 2003, lot 103. Both vessels are cast with similar text commemorating Emperor Qianlong's 80th birthday (1790) and the remarkable achievement of an extended Imperial family bloodline, from the Emperor down, that perpetuated over five generations. Qianlong's first great-great-grandson was born in 1784, and thus Qianlong became the first emperor in Chinese history to have had five generations living under his roof. The pride of which is clearly reflected in the text of the present censer under the title reading: Yuzhi Bazheng Maonian Zhibaoji, 'Recorded by Imperial Command, A Treasure to Commemorate An Evaluated Octogenarian'. The censer that was sold at Christie's London is cast with text of a similar sentiment, Yuzhi Wufu Wudai Tangji, 'Recorded by Imperial Command, A Treasure to Commemorate the Hall of the Five Blessings in Five Generations'.
During the later years of Emperor Qianlong's reign, and before the Emperor became the self-styled Taishang Huangdi, 'Emperor Emeritus', he took great self-satisfaction in his ability to live a long life and the successes he had achieved as an emperor. This sense of achievement is strongly resonated in the number of titles and phrases that were used on Qianlong's personal seals from this period such as Xinyuan Fuchu, '(My) Desires Fulfilled'; Xiquan Laoren Zhibao, 'Treasure of the Perfect Elderly Gentleman'; Wufu Wudai Tongbao, 'Treasure of the Hall of the Five Blessings in Five Generations'; and Bazheng Maonian Zhibao, 'Treasure to Commemorate An Evaluated Octogenarian'. The last of the titles, Bazheng Maonian, also appears on the present censer.
The characters Bazheng is an archaic reference, and thought to have originally derived from the remarkable political thinker and military strategist Jiang Ziya. Bazheng, referred to a set of principles in which a successful military leader was to be assessed, and these standards were later applied to the qualities of an emperor. In Qianlong's eightieth year the Emperor adopted this archaic reference to remind himself of these ancient ethics. In a number of Qianlong's writtings dated to the latter part of his reign, he professed that even at his advanced age despite having a weak constitution and of an unclear mind, he wished to continue his work as a ruler based on the given precepts of an ideal ruler. From the inscribed text, the Emperor stated his love for his people, his diligence in governance and administration, and vigilance in improving himself.
The two character signature, 'Zheng Rui', at the end of the inscription suggests that Zheng commissioned this group of censers as presentation to Emperor Qianlong on the occasion of his eightieth birthday. Zheng Rui was an influential Manchu official from the Plain White Banner clan who died in 1815. He held a number of prominent official positions including court calligrapher at the Yuanmingyuan, Summer Palace (1762), Yuan Fu, Imperial Park Attendant (1767), Zuo Ling, Assistant Commander in the Ducal Establishment (1774), and by the end of his life he attained the position of Neiwufu Dachen, Grand Minister of the Imperial Household Department in the Forbidden City.