It was made in Jingdezhen sometime between 1690 and 1700 (Quing Dynasty) and depicts the tale of Xi Xang Ji (The Western Chamber) in a remarkably bande dessinée-like four tiers of panels. There are similar vases of the same period but many of them have panels designed as nested petal shapes and don't tell any story, just showing scenes of ladies on terraces and flowers. This one in particular, complete with panel gutters, looks as though it could have been transferred directly from the pages of a Tintin album (see it in more detail here).
Far Eastern objet d'art have long been adorned with traditional folk tales. I remember studying my grandparents' Willow pattern tea set through the glass of their 'best china' cabinet, with my mum explaining to me the tale it told of two lovers transformed into birds. Of course now, thanks to Wikipedia, I discover that particular story and design was an eighteenth century English invention, an imitation made to cash-in on the popularity of the real thing.
The Western Chamber - the real thing - also tells the story of two lovers, with the young man having to overcome the adversity of tradition, bandits, a civil service exam, and - worst of all - the girl's disapproving mother. The Jingdezhen vase is housed at the Victoria and Albert Museum, though is currently in storage.
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