Figures of elephants made from various media were found in halls and throne rooms throughout the Imperial palaces. They are associated with strength, wisdom and long-life and are also significant animals within the Buddhist religion. A prominent member of the Buddhist pantheon, Samantabhadra (Puxian), is frequently shown seated on an elephant. They are considered guardians of honour and were symbols of peace and good harvests. Ornately embellished the imagery of an elephant supporting a vase on its back forms the auspicious rebus, Taiping Jingxian or Taiping Youxian, conveying the message of peace and harmony.
In the 40th year of the Qianlong reign (1776), a massive single cloisonne enamel elephant was given as a tribute to Qianlong Emperor by Li Shiyao, Governor-general of Guangdong and Guangxi Provinces (see Metal-Bodied Enamel Ware, The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, vol. 43, Hong Kong, 2002, p. 142-3, pl. 137). Emperor Qianlong was very pleased and named it 'Taiping Youxiang', and was placed in the Daoist temple in the Imperial garden Qin'andian, the Hall of Imperial Peace.
A pair of similar elephants is illustrated in Daily Life in the Forbidden City, 1988, pl. 86, shown flanking a throne in the Eastern Chamber in the Yangxindian, the Hall of Mental Cultivation, where the Emperor received his officials, and Empress Cixi summoned ministers to audiences during the reigns of Tongzhi and Guangxu. Two examples, one modelled with the elephant supporting a foreigner on its back and the other supporting a vase, are in Bishushanzhuan, the imperial summer resort at Chengde, and both are illustrated in Buddhist Art from Rehol, Tibetan Buddhist images and ritual objects from the Qing Dynasty Summer Palace at Chengde, Taipei, 1999, pp. 164-165, no. 71 (fig. 1); these are catalogued as for display on Buddhist altars.