The iconography found on these screens makes reference to the influence of foreign subject-matter in Chinese imagery. Both the elephant and the lion with cub are symbols of Buddhism. The elephant is one of the Seven Buddhist Treasures, and is sometimes depicted with a vase or an alms bowl supported on its back, while the lion traditionally represents guardianship and protection, often seen guarding the entrances of Buddhist temples. Neither beast is native to China, but were both introduced to China early in its history. As such, they are sometimes depicted with foreigners or Central Asians to remind the viewer of their non-Chinese origins.
It is interesting to note that both these images appear together on a large twelve-panelled hardwood screen decorated with sixty-four soapstone plaques, on one side of the screen with Chinese mythical and religious subject-matter, and on the reverse with Europeans and other foreigners, from the late Kangxi period, sold in these Rooms, The Imperial Sale, 7 July 2003 (Catalogue date, 28 April 2002), lot 592. The composition of the bathing of the elephant on the present jade screen, in particular, compares very closely with that seen on the soapstone plaque, illustrated on the frontispiece of the Catalogue.