I enjoy this piece because of the wild contrast between the dark branches and grey stones, with the brilliant swirling colours of the Peach Blossoms. The brush is wild and unconstrained, showing Wu Changshuo’s use of Tsao, or “Grass Style” calligraphy, but within the form of the object being depicted. This is not a deconstruction, or an abstraction of the model, I think, but a complex replication with a heavy douse of context attached. The literatti (scholarly class) of China had used painting as a way to describe the world around them. Crouched in metaphor and allegory, these paintings would discuss philosophical, religious, and political ideas which would only be apparent to other literatti.
I would interpret this painting as an expression of hope in a time of chaos. The peach is a symbol of longevity, and at the time of the painting, 1918, the nation’s future was uncertain. After 70 years of abuse by the western colonial powers, the Qing dynasty had been overthrown by the Xinhai Revolution and a western style democracy had been declared; but a fledgling democracy is always delicate, and the millienia-old customs of confuscianistic fealty and clan centrism was difficult to fuse with the focus on individualism and political equality that were at the core of western democracy ideals. Not that individualism and political equality for the people was a concern of Sun Yat-Sen, the Nationalist leader, who was undoubtedly more concerned with further incursion from the West, or the building colonial might of the Empire of Japan. In 1918, the year of this work, the Nationalist leaders controlled Beijing, but little else; the rest of China was ruled by conflicting petty warlords. I would interpret Wu Changshou’s message to be that even in the dark and wild times that was China at that date, the three thousand old Chinese identity and culture would endure.
Please note that the image above is a selection of the original work, not a complete reproduction. A complete view of the image may be found at the Google Cultural Institute : here , the original work is housed at the National Art Museum of China.