The shape of this rare vase is very unusual, and it appears that only one other comparable example, from the collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing (illustrated in Blue and White Porcelains with Underglaze Red, III, Hong Kong, 2000, p. 134, no. 120), is recorded. The present vase differs from the Beijing example in a few aspects: firstly, the lobing in the neck is less prominent than the Beijing example; secondly, the decoration on the present vase is in mirror image to that of the Beijing example; thirdly, the execution of the painting on the two vases is slightly different. However, the fine potting, lustrous glaze and the very typical brilliant blue on the present vase all indicate that it is undoubtedly the work of the Imperial kiln in the Qianlong period.
It is very probable that the current vase was made to celebrate the Qianlong emperor's birthday. The subject matter of the combined peaches and bats forms the auspicious birthday wish for longevity and happiness. The motifs of the five bats symbolise the 'Five Blessings': longevity, wealth, health, virtue and to finish the alloted life span. Peaches have long been associated with longevity, and the presence of the breaking waves and rocks (mountain) further provide rebuses for fu ru dong hai, 'Blessings as vast as the Eastern Sea', and shou bi nan shan, 'Longevity as lasting as the Southern Mountain'. The numbers of the peaches and the bats are also significant. In the Jiu Tang Shu (Old History of the Tang Dynasty), Emperor Jing's minister Wang Shoucheng is recorded to have said to him, 'Your majesty attained the position of nine-five, all due to Li Fengji's help...' Here 'attaining the position of nine-five' is synonymous with 'becoming the Emperor'. The combination of the number nine and five is a sacred number solely reserved for the use of the emperor.
Compare other vessels also painted with the motifs of nine peaches and five bats, such as the blue and white vase from the Yongzheng period, formerly in the J. M. Hu and Robert Chang Collections, sold in our Hong Kong Rooms, 31 October 2000, no. 815; and a large Yongzheng-marked famille rose peach dish in the Percival David Foundation, illustrated by R. Scott in Imperial Taste, Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 1989, no. 52.