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An eighteenth century diplomatic mission yielded exquisite gifts

China [Asia]

Ruyi sceptre eighteenth century

RCIN 23692

Grand Vestibule, Windsor Castle

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This ruyi may have been one of the gifts presented to a member of Macartney’s Embassy. The literal translation of ruyi is ‘as you wish’ and it is a Chinese symbol of power and authenticity. This type of object was often exchanged between the Chinese as a token of good fortune. When Macartney and his Embassy first met the Qianlong Emperor in his summer retreat in Chengde, the emperor personally gave three ruyi, one in white agate for George III and two in jade for Macartney and Staunton. Hierarchy in gift giving was very important to the Chinese and the quality of material corresponded to a person’s stature.

It is known that George Staunton left his ruyi to his son, also a member of the Embassy and founder of the Royal Asiatic Society. He later presented his ruyi to the India Office whose collections were merged into the Victoria and Albert Museum. Macartney’s ruyi remains officially ‘unaccounted for’. He wrote of the white jade ruyi presented to the king as, ‘highly prized by the Chinese, but to me it does not appear in itself to be of any great value’.