The scene on this vase bears a design known as 'The Lady Generals of the Yang Family'. The Yang family was celebrated in the Northern Song dynasty (AD 960-1127) for their military prowess and loyalty to the Emperor, and for many years they were successful in protecting China from northern invaders. Eventually, however, the majority of the male members of the Yang family were killed by the invading Khitan Tartars. In order to avenge their husbands' deaths and in defense of their country, the women of the family took up arms and are shown here practicing their skills prior to riding out to meet the enemy.
This scene is most often found depicted on dishes, although a pair of jars and covers with this design was sold recently at Christie's New York, 25 January 2011, lot 98.