The two decorative techniques involved are known as qiangjin, where the incised outlines are etched in gold denoting the outlines of the design; and tianqi (filled-in) where different lacquers colours had been applied to enhance details and contrast against the coloured ground.
The combination of auspicious motifs: peaches, the character fu, and cranes, suggests that this tray was probably made as a birthday gift. The nine peaches, jiu tao, symbolise longevity: jiu being the rebus for eternity, while peaches are associated with the fruit grown by the mythical Xiwangmu, Queen Mother of the West, and when eaten supposedly will permit immortality. The rocky mountains also enforce the theme as they probably represent the Kunlun mountains where Xiwangmu was thought to dwell.
Compare the twisted peach tree to that on a similarly decorated eight-lobed Jiajing marked dish included in the exhibition, 2000 Years of Chinese Lacquer, Oriental Ceramic Society of Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong, illustrated by P. Lam (ed.) in the Catalogue, p. 154, no. 80. The exhibited dish depicts a fruiting peach tree forming the character, fu (happiness), the pine tree forming shou (longevity), and bamboo shaped as a fu character (wealth). A round lacquer zonsei box in the Okayama Art Museum, has a similar design on the upper surface of the lid depicting a gourd vine (symbolising both progeny and longevity) rising from rocks and waves, with its stem twisted into a shou character, illustrated in Ch'iang-chin, Chikin and Zonsei Lacquerware, Tokyo National Museum, 1974, no. 43. Similar motifs were also adopted for porcelains, cf. a fruiting peach tree in the form of a shou character on a wucai Jiajing-marked dish in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Porcelains in Polychrome and Contrasting Colours, Commerical Press, Hong Kong, 1999, p. 19, no. 18; and a wucai garlic-neck vase with cranes in a lotus pond scene from the same collection, illustrated ibid., p. 27, no. 24.
A slightly larger dish, also bearing a six-character Jiajing mark and decorated in the same style formerly in the collection of Sir Harry Garner, is illustrated in Chinese and Associated Lacquer from the Garner Collection, the British Museum, London, 1973, no. 166, pl. 72. The background colours on the Garner dish are reversed from those used on the current example, the former having a brown central ground and a red-ground cavetto. The winged dragon in the centre has a shou character emerging from its mouth, the inner cavetto has the eight precious objects, and the underside has a lingzhi fungus scroll, symbolising immortality. The style of decoration on the two dishes is very similar.
The cavetto of the present dish is filled with a lively design of dragon and phoenix boats, representing the Dragon Boat Festival which takes place on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. The festival is highlighted by the dragon boat race, with the dragon symbolic of the controller and bringer of the rains and thus the success of the crops. A Wanli wucai porcelain dish in the Percival David Foundation is decorated with a very similar theme showing dragon, phoenix and peacock boats racing against each other, illustrated by R. Scott, Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, A Guide to the Collection, 1989, fig. 82.