This form of sceptres has a long historical association with Buddhism and Daoism. One of the first references of a sceptral object was recorded in the Dharmagupta-vinaya in The Tripitaka, translated in A.D. 410, and listed as a religious instrument, see Auspicious Ju-I Scepters of China, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1995, p. 64. One of the earliest forms of implement with its lobed-form head attached to a long handle is a gilt-silver example dated to the Tang dynasty and excavated from the crypt of the Famen Temple in Shaanxi province, illustrated ibid., p. 19 (fig. 1).
Sceptres of this type also made their appearance in Daoism, and they are associated with the deity Lingbao Tianzun, the 'Celestial Worthy of Numinous Treasures', who is depicted holding a ruyi. Lingbao Tianzun is part of a trinity of high gods known as the Three Purities, Sangqing; together they were known as the pure emanations of the Dao, and constitute the highest deities of the Daoist pantheon. The other two deities forming this trinity are known as Yuanshi Tianzun, the 'Celestial Worthy of Primordial Beginning'; and Daode Tianzun, the 'Celestial Worthy of the Way and Its Power'. Cf. a gilt-bronze figure of Lingbao Tianzun holding a ruyi, sold in these Rooms, 28 November 2005, lot 1608 (fig. 2). This figure cast carrying a ruyi is also found in Daoist paintings, such as the hanging scroll from the White Cloud Monastery, Baiyun Guan, Beijing, illustrated by S. Little, Daoism and the Arts of China, The Art Institute of Chicago, 2000, p. 229, no. 66.
By the Qing dynasty, this form of sceptres continued to find favour in Buddhism. It is mentioned that these were an essential ritual item in Tibetan Lamaism as evidenced by examples inscribed with Buddhist scriptures, such as the two included in the exhibition, Auspicious Ju- Scepters of China, National Palace Museum, and illustrated in the Catalogue, nos. 49-50. During the Qing period, ruyi was largely seen as an auspicious emblem. The characters ruyi means 'as one desires', and it is associated with expressions such as Jixiang Ruyi, 'May all your good fortunes be fulfilled', as inscribed on the handle of the present sceptre. These sceptres were known to have been commissioned by Qing emperors either to commemorate birthdays or bestowed as birthday gifts. Both the Yongzheng and Qianlong Emperors were depicted in court paintings, each holding a ruyi. The first painting is entitled, 'A Life Portrait of Emperor Yongzheng Watching Flowers', illustrated in Painting by the Court Artists of the Qing Court, The Complete Collection of the Treasures of the Palace Museum, Hong Kong, 1996, p. 124, no. 19; and the other, 'Plucking Lingzhi', portrays the young Prince Hongli, who later became Emperor Qianlong, ibid., p. 146, no. 25 (fig. 3). The lingzhi fungus (glossy gandoerama) resemble the tri-lobed form of a ruyi head. The fungus itself was traditionally reputed to possess ingredients that facilitate longevity, and as such images of the lingzhi and ruyi were inter-changeable in many works of art.