Prior to the modern era, China mandated countries beyond her borders ("barbarians") to pay tribute in exchange for diplomatic recognition and the privilege to trade. The tribute was paid each year during three days of ceremonies arranged by the Board of Rites at the Forbidden City in Beijing.
On this screen foreign envoys and tribute bearers present their gifts to the emperor in the early morning. The narrative begins on the left with grooms leading tribute animals across a bridge toward one of the gates in the imperial palace and ends with the presentaion of the gifts to the emperor, up the flight of carved stone steps in the far right panels.
Following the Manchu invasions of Korea in 1627 and 1636, Korea was obliged to renounce her loyalty to the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) of China. The Manchus conquered China in 1644 and during the second half of the 17th century, exacted heavy tribute from Korea. The intensely conservative Korean court prided itself on maintaining its tributary relations with China to the letter. In return China looked upon Korea as the only civilized country among her tributary states.
Another screen of this subject sold Christie's, New York, 23 March, 2000, lot 370.