It was customary during the Qing dynasty for ministers to present ruyi sceptres to the emperor on the occasion of his birthday, at New Year and to mark other special events. The appropriate decoration for sceptres to be presented for the imperial birthday were shou characters and symbols of longevity. A gold example preserved in the Palace Museum, Beijing is illustrated in Daily Life in the Forbidden City, Viking/Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1988, p. 246, pl. 382. The idea of covering the surface of an object made for a birthday celebration with symbols of long life or with shou characters was particularly popular in the Qing dynasty. The Palace Museum, Beijing has in its collection a blue and white Kangxi jar on which have been inscribed ten thousand shou characters (see The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 36 - Blue and White Porcelain with Underglaze Red (III), Commercial Press, Hong Kong, 2000, pp 8-9, no. 5). Interestingly the National Palace Museum, Taipei has a Qianlong porcelain vase, enamelled in vermilion in imitation of carved red lacquer, which is covered with shou characters in relief (illustrated in Emperor Ch'ien-lung's Grand Cultural Enterprise, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2002, p. 185, no. V-21).
The current lacquer ruyi sceptre is finely carved with numerous shou characters set against a delicate lattice ground. The theme of long life is continued in the decoration of the skilfully carved jade plaques set into the lacquer sceptre. These depict four of the Eight Daoist Immortals with their attributes. The four are Li Tieguai with his iron crutch, Han Xiangzi with his flute, Lu Dongbin with his sword, and Zhongli Quan with his fan. The fact that only four of the Eight Immortals appear on the sceptre, suggests that it was originally one of a pair and that the other four Immortals would have been depicted on the other sceptre. In view of the quality of both the lacquer and the jade carving on the current sceptre it would have represented a very valuable birthday gift.