Ducks held a special place in Qing-dynasty (1644–1911) China as emblems of felicity and as symbols of conjugal fidelity. It is said that ducks, once paired, will pine away and die when separated from their mates.
This duck, shown in a favorite pose—the canonical seated position—has been crafted from a single piece of light beige nephrite with russet inclusions. The creature’s head is turned over its back, and in its beak it is holding a spray of lotus above lightly incised wings. The lotus, long a favored motif in the arts of Asia, is emblematic of a beauty that is able to flourish even in the darkest of places. Originating from the visual culture of the nomadic peoples populating the northern areas of China in the tenth century, the image of the duck holding a spray of lotus was completely assimilated into the oeuvre of the Chinese craftsman by the time of the Yuan dynasty (1279–1368).