This impressively large buffalo is minimally carved to express the natural undulating contours of the jade boulder, ensuring minimum wastage of the precious material. Even though the buffalo bears an imperial inscription, it is possible that the carving itself dates as early as the Ming period. Compare the stylised carving with Ming examples illustrated by Yang Boda, 'The Glorious Age of Chinese Jades', Jade, R. Keverne (ed.), London, 1991, fig.27, a recumbent ram; and a pair of horses, fig.32. It is most probable that the present buffalo was in the Imperial collection prior to being inscribed by Emperor Qianlong.
Compare a larger recumbent buffalo (37.3 cm. long) carved of opaque green jade with black striations from the Sir Joseph Hotung Collection, illustrated by J. Rawson, Chinese Jade: From the Neolithic to the Qing, no.26:19. It has been noted that in the absence of textual reference, there is no indication as to the dating and purpose of these large jade carvings which cannot be categorised into either Ming or Qing periods; and as such for the moment a transitional date is adopted, ibid., p.376
The two seals at the end of the inscription, Qianlong chenhan, 'The writing abode of Qianlong', and Xintian Zhuren, 'The host of Xintian', are both recorded to have appeared on paintings by the Qianlong emperor.
The inscription may be translated as:
The quality of chou*,
Is the source of our food.
The myriad joyous people,
depend on it for a bumper harvest.
*Chou, the second of the Twelve Earthly Branches, corresponds to the ox or buffalo, the second of the Twelve Zodiac Animals