The inscription at the back may be translated as follow:
'Bravery and valour beams from the elderly man's face
Decked with merits and honours he was an old official of the court
If it were not for his songs and dances at the Pear Garden theatre
No one would have recognized this old general
See Hugh Moss, Victor Graham and Ka Bo Tsang, The Art of the Chinese Snuff Bottle, The J & J Collection, Tokyo 1993, pp.693-694, pl.423 for a crystal example where the authors note "Huang Zhong (d. 220) was a military figure who assisted Liu Bei (161-223) in establishing his power in Sichuan, the State of Shu referred to in the last line of the poem, when the Eastern Han (25-220) came to an end. In novels and plays he has always been a popular character, playing the part of an aged general distinguished by his loyalty and valour. The ornamental 'banners' worn on a general's shoulders represent the number of units under his command.
Ma Shaoxuan's portrait bottles are among the most sought after of all inside-painted snuff bottles - indeed, among snuff bottles generally - and are unquestionably his finest works. The series of portraits he did of actors in particular roles fall into the same category, but were usually repeated, as in the case of Tan Xinpei as Huang Zhong, quite frequently. Doubtless there was a wider demand for the depiction of famous Beijing opera roles than for the portraits of individuals. Despite this repetition, however, the subject, which is always exactly the same and was almost certainly taken from an original photograph, is always superbly painted with careful and accurate detailing of the face. Ma was a master whose capacity for photographic accuracy inside a snuff bottle made his portraits both famous and sought after among the influential minority of his day. This particular subject appears in glass and crystal, and this example of it is one of the best."
See also the bottle from the Holden collection, sold in our New York Rooms, 21 March 2000, lot 56.