Close relations between China and the United States are celebrated by this platter bearing two flags crossed in unity. The American flag is not correctly rendered, being meant only to suggest the United States; the Chinese flag is more accurate. The flag of the Republic of China used between 1912 and 1928 when the Ch’ing (Qing) Dynasty was overthrown and China began to modernize itself industrially, agriculturally, and intellectually.
In the West, the name of Sun I-xian (Sun Yat-sen, 1866–1925) is most closely associated with this period in Chinese history because Sun had a wide network of supporters outside China. Educated in Western-style missionary schools in Hawaii and Hong Kong, Sun trained for a medical career, but he chose instead a life of politics after his suggestions for local reform were rejected by the provisional governor of China in 1894. While he spent most of his life in self-imposed exile in Hong Kong, Japan, Europe, and the United States, and led groups of foreign supporters and Chinese followers under the Revive China Society and Alliance Society, he took credit for various Chinese uprisings between 1895 and 1911. The Revolution that resulted in the founding of the Republic happened almost by accident in 1911 when a provincial rebellion could not be suppressed. Sun was Provisional President in China from December 1911 until February 1912 when the Emperor abdicated and Yüan Shih-K’ai became President. The Republic proved to be unstable, however, with rule based on military power after 1916, and Sun was in charge two more times before his death in 1925, strengthening the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) significantly during his last period of leadership.
If there is a specific occasion for the decoration of this platter, it is unidentified today. Perhaps it commemorates the Washington Conference of 1921–22 when eight nations recognized China’s sovereignty, independence, and integrity and vowed to maintain the equal commercial opportunity of all nations in China.
Ellen Paul Denker and Bert R. Denker
Excerpted from Clement E. Conger, et al. Treasures of State: Fine and Decorative Arts in the Diplomatic Reception Rooms of the U.S. Department of State. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1991.