The motifs used to decorate this beautiful marriage bowl have been carefully chosen for their auspicious message. The butterflies on the handles and the melons or gourds on the interior provide a rebus for endless generations of descendants. Even on their own, the butterflies provide a variety of good wishes. In the 4th century BC the Daoist philosopher Zhuangzi dreamed that he was a butterfly enjoying flying from flower to flower drinking nectar, and thereafter butterflies have been regarded as a symbol of joy. As Terese Tse Bartholomew has noted in Hidden Meanings in Chinese Art, Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, 2006, p. 41, no. 2.5, the characters used for butterfly are hudie. The hu is pronounced fu in some Chinese dialects, which provides a rebus for both 'blessings' and 'riches'. The die provides a rebus for 'age seventy to eighty', thus suggesting a wish for longevity, and is also a rebus for the verb 'to accumulate' or 'to pile one on top of another', so that any auspicious wish is multiplied. When two butterflies face each other, as do the butterflies on the handles of the current marriage bowl, they symbolize a happy marriage, see ibid., no. 2.5.1.
Melons or gourds have long been a popular subject with Chinese painters and craftsmen working in the Chinese decorative arts. The National Palace Museum in Taipei has several Song dynasty (960-1279) paintings on which melons or gourds are the main theme, and they appear on a number of blue and white porcelains of the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368). As Bartholomew has pointed out, op. cit., p. 62, no. 3.3.4, the fact that the plant has a long stem, along which grow differently sized fruits, all containing many seeds, makes it an ideal symbol for ceaseless generations of descendants. Gua (gourd) and die (butterfly) suggest guadie mianmian - 'may you have ceaseless generations of sons and grandsons'. This phrase appears in an ancient text, The Book of Odes, and was part of the New Year celebrations when the senior member of the family would be brought butterflies and a melon plant with long tendrils. The long thin vine (mandai) provided a rebus for wandai, 'ten thousand generations'.