The quest for immortality pervaded all strata of society from the Warring States period through to the Six Dynasties period (475 BCE-618 CE). In the popular imagination various mountains and mountain ranges, some fanciful and others real but on the distant peripheries of the empire, became paradises: to reach them was to become immortal. The cylindrical jade vessel (zun) is decorated with a magical mountain landscape, inhabited with lively animals, including bears, and Xiwangmu ("Queen Mother of the West"), a goddess of immortality, whose courtiers were immortal creatures both real and imaginary. The fact that this vessel, which was probably used as a wine warmer, is made out of jade intensifies the implication of immortality.
The gold inlaid incense burner also reflects the immortality theme, portraying a three-dimensional rendition of what is thought to be a magical island of immortals. This incense burner, although a common form in the Western Han period, is a masterpiece of rare workmanship, with an openwork base and a lid that forms tumultuous waves transforming into clouds and fingerlike mountain peaks. The ancient Chinese considered mountains to be living organisms that emanated vital forces, called qi, in the form of cloud vapor. When incense smoke curled from the tiny holes in the mountain peaks that form the burner's lid, the illusion of a magic mountain, breathing forth qi and proffering immortality, must have been complete.