The bixi is a mythical beast with the head of a dragon, the tail of a qilin, the paws of a buddhistic lion and the body of a tortoise. The domed carapace of the creature was believed to represent the vault of the heavens while its flat lower shell represented the earth; the living flesh within represented humankind. Not only was this mythical creature one of the earliest spiritual symbols in China, it was also associated with the concept of longevity - it appeared to live indefinitely and seemingly went without food, air or water.
This bottle belongs to a group of animal-form nephrite bottles, the bixi being among the most popular of them, perhaps as a result of its powerful symbolism. Other examples include one illustrated by H. Moss, V. Graham and K.B. Tsang, The Art of the Chinese Snuff Bottle: The J & J Collection, New York, 1993, no. 5; one in the Bloch Collection, H. Moss, V. Graham and K.B. Tsang, A Treasury of Chinese Snuff Bottles, vol. 1, Jade, Hong Kong, 1998, no. 51; another by B. Stevens, The Collector's Book of Snuff Bottles, New York, 1976, no. 359; and one by R. Kleiner, Chinese Snuff Bottles: The White Wings Collection, 1997, p. 47, no. 24. The present example differs slightly from the more common form, with unusual use of the russet skin for the carapace. The style of carving also sets it slightly apart, suggesting it may perhaps be an earlier prototype.