‘The Mountains are Quiet and the Days Grow Long’: The Steady Hand of Ch’en Shu

Welcome to my second column! This week we are moving across to China to look at the life and works of the artist Ch’en Shu (1660-1736).

Ch’en Shu, The White Cockatoo, Detail, 1721, Hanging scroll, ink and colours on paper, 94.0 x 43.7 cm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, John Steward Kennedy Fund. 1913 (13.220.31) (Image: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/36015)

Born in 1660, she came from an upper-class family which had, for many generations, lived in the Hsiu-shui district of Chiahsing prefecture, Chekiang province and produced a number of high-ranking officials in the local administration. She was born on the birthday of the god of literature (the third day of the second month) and it is perhaps because of this, that her parents named their daughter ‘Shu’ signifying “book”, “writing” or “to write” (Marsha Weidner).

In the Ch’ing dynasty, particularly in the lower Yangtze region, the cultural centre of the late imperial period, it was actually not unusual for the more liberal members of the upper classes to allow their daughters to paint, write poetry and practice calligraphy (Marsh