The unassuming appearance of this porcelain late Ming dynasty dish sweetmeat dish in the form of a hare, (1621-27) belies its significance both in terms of function and symbolism. Such Chinese blue and white dishes were made in sets of five or ten specifically for the Japanese market. The fluid blue lines and sprinkling of blue spots, designed to appeal to the Japanese market, is reminiscent of the fluidity and sweep of Japanese calligraphy. It also points to the Chinese creative spirit of innovation favoured during the late Ming period. Intended for use in the Japanese Tea Ceremony, the dish was designed to hold the sweet cake served as an accompaniment to tea – a green powered variety called ‘matcha’ tea.
The performance of the tea ceremony, requiring as it does space for a garden and a teahouse, indicates the wealth and status of the host. The purpose of the tea garden, and the ‘dewy path’ of stepping stones, is to convey them from the noisy activity of the outer world to the inner spiritual world of the teahouse, the entrance to which is through a small ‘crawling in’ door. The highly ritualised tea ceremony, with its special utensils and other essentials specific to the ceremony, is designed to offers a quiet interlude based on the Japanese principles of harmony (with people and nature), purity (of heart and mind) and tranquillity.