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H.: 46 cm
The narrative scene on the present lot is likely 'The Feast At Swan Goose Gate', a famous episode of the interregnum following the Qin Dynasty where Xiang Yu (232–202BC), a duke of the insurgent Chu forces attempts to assassinate Liu Bang (256–195BC), a rival rebel general.
After defeating the last of the Qin forces in 207BC, the two generals agree to meet at a banquet to discuss future military plans. Fan Zeng, Xiang Yu's advisor and pictured at the top table in a red robe, sees Liu Bang as a future threat and recommends assassinating him at the feast. Throughout the banquet Fan Zeng makes signals to Xiang Yu to kill Liu Bang but Xiang ignores him and enjoys the company of the gathered guests instead. Reputedly over eight chi tall, Xiang Yu was famous for his incredible strength - he is pictured at the front of the scene lifting an ancient bronze vessel with one arm. Undeterred, Fan Zeng summons Xiang Yu's cousin Xiang Zhuang instructing him to pretend to perform a sword dance to entertain the guests but kill Liu Bang. Xiang Zhuang, pictured with his sword sheathed at the top of the scene, starts dancing but Xiang Bo, a Chu general secretly under the influence of the rival rebel army, offers to join the performance and thwarts the plan.
Whilst this is happening Zhang Liang, Liu Bang's chief strategist, organises another general, Fan Kuai, to burst into the party, ingratiate himself and make a speech that implies Liu Bang will not challenge Xiang Yu's forces. Excusing themselves to the lavatory he then guides Liu Bang out of the perilous situation and away on a horse. Later, Zhang Liang presents Xiang Yu with some jade cups, apologizing on behalf of Liu Bang for his early departure. Enraged that the plan has failed Fan Zeng smashes them on the floor and warns the gathered company that Liu Bang will one day defeat Xiang Yu. True to the prediction Liu Bang crushes Xiang Yu's forces in 202BC at the Battle of Gaxia and becomes the first emperor of the Han Dynasty.
In Chinese culture, the term 'Feast at Swan Goose Gate' (鴻門宴) hong men yan is used figuratively to refer to a trap or a situation ostensibly joyous but in fact treacherous.