Lapis lazuli is a gemstone of deep blue with golden inclusions of pyrites and is known in Chinese as 'qing jinshi'. It has been collected from the mines of Afghanistan for over six thousand years and was fashioned into ornaments or used as embellishments in China since the Western Han period.
Before the conquest of Xinjiang in 1759, which opened up local supply, the stone was extremely rare.
Stephan Welz & Company Pty Limited have an example of one of these intriguing carvings on their August auction, a lapis lazuli lion thought to date back to the time of Emperor Quian Long (1735 – 1795). He ruled China for most of the 18th century and interestingly this was the last period that China was strong enough to resist Western influence. The symbol of the lion was thought to guard against and/or exorcise evil spirits and to herald good fortune.