Trick Cups / Gong Dao Bei :
Trick Cups or `Gong Dao Bei` (`don`t be greedy cup` or `fairness cup`) were wine cups where the wine would drain over the lap of heavy drinker. They illustrate the classical Chinese paradigm that modesty brings gain and arrogance results in loss. If you fill the cup to the top, taking more than your share, every drop will drain out onto your lap through a hole in the bottom, but if you are modest and only fill the cup half full you will be able to drink normally. The earliest cups of this type were made during the Song Dynasty (960-1279) but most are 18th or 19th century. For examples in Blanc de Chine as well as celadon with cobalt-blue and copper-red see our `Sold Items`, stock numbers 19828, 18807, 19002, 22109 and 19822. For more information on trick cups and a description of how they work see : Chinese Puzzles, Games for the Hands and Mind, Traditional Chinese Puzzles from the Yi Zhi Tang Collection (Wei Zhang and Peter Rasmussen, Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco, 2008. ISBN 978-1-58886-101-6) pages 76 and 77.
For a practically identical Ming blue and white trick cup see : Catalogo Della Porcellana Cinese Di Tipo Bianco E Blu (Lucia Caterina, Museo Nazionale Della Ceramica, “Duca Di Martina” Di Napoli, Roma, 1986) fig. 58 and 59.
For another almost identical Ming trick cup see : Fine And Important Late Ming And Transitional Porcelain, Recently Recovered from an Asian Vessel in the South China Sea. Property of Captain Michael Hatcher. Christie`s Amsterdam 14th March 1984. Lot 286 (sold as a pair).
Another Ming porcelain cup dated to the Wanli period, of this form but with a biscuit porcelain carp to the center rather than a male figure is in the Percival David Foundation in the British Museum reference PDF A.693. This can be viewed in the gallery and on-line.