The Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) was fond of inscribing large auspicious characters, such as shou, fu and lu, so that they could be hung as centre pieces in palace halls. The Chief Eunuch Li Lianying, for example, was painted seated in front of a hanging scroll on which is a large shou character written by Cixi and bearing her seal in similar format to that of the lacquer panel (see M. Warner, The Dragon Empress, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London, 1972, p. 183). Significantly the lattice that appears as background to the character in the scroll is the same lattice that appears as background to the character on the lacquer panel. She had a keen interest in Buddhism and even had herself photographed dressed as the Bodhisattva Guanyin (see ibid.., p. 174). This interest in Buddhism is also reflected in the minor motifs on the lacquered panel, which include lotus flowers, scrolls and conch shells, as well as the red bats symbolising happiness.
1894 was the year in which Cixi intended to indulge in massive celebrations for her 60th birthday. She collected some 30,000,000 taels of silver from her officials to pay for these festivities, and a scroll painting dated AD1893, preserved in the Palace Museum Beijing, depicts the decorations and new structures planned between Beijing's Xihua and Xizhi Gates for the event. This scroll was displayed in Hong Kong in the exhibition Empress Dowager Cixi: Her Art of Living, Regional Council, Catalogue, Hong Kong, 1996, p. 104. In the event, war with Japan prevented the majority of the festivities, but many of the items survived, including the present panel.