Like Europeans, the Chinese were first introduced to tobacco after the discovery of the Americas. The habit of smoking was taken up by a large proportion of the population from the end of the sixteenth century, but was initially condemned by the imperial family. Snuff, however, seems to have been more acceptable, mainly because of the medicinal qualities it was attributed. It was produced by pulverizing dried tobacco leaves into a fine powder and, usually, adding herbs or spices to enhance flavour and fragrance.
After the establishment of the Qing dynasty in 1644, the use of snuff became a ritual of the upper classes. The snuff bottle developed into an art form appreciated in its own right, rather than merely for its function. Snuff bottles became indicators of social status and were effective gifts to ensure favours and advancement of political aims. Well into the eighteenth century, snuff bottles were predominantly made of glass, jade and enamelled wares. By the end of the century, when snuff was gaining popularity among the lower classes, various other materials came into use. At this time, porcelain snuff bottles were first made.