Xia Shoutian (1870-1935), native of Hunan, took the civil examinations in the twenty-fourth year of Emperor Guangxu's rule (1898), and was a skilled calligrapher and seal-carver. In the third year of Emperor Xuantong's rule (1911) he was invited to court.
In the first year of the Republic of China (1912), he became minister of Hubei and became Internal minister to the President. After Yuan Shikai proclaimed himself as emperor and their subsequent overthrow, Xia fled to Tianjin and became secretary to Cao Kun. Xia, whose mentor was Wang Kaiyun, was well-read, well-educated and skilled in seal carving, and was friends with Qi Baishi. During Qi's time in Beijing, it was Xia who enabled the artist to meet Cao Kun, who elevated Qi Baishi's role as an artist at the time.
Pine was a common theme to which Qi often returned, sometimes accompanied bysquirrels in his later compositions. Each stroke bears the mark of Qi's initial profession of a seal carver - with the same ink and brush, Qi managed to depict the lightness of the pine needles against the strong bark of the branches and trunk. In varying tones of black, the stumps and turns of the branches are subtly expressed yet never overbearing.
The monk from Sichuan carries his famous lute, Coming down Mount Emei via the west route. With just one stroke he begins playing for me -Like whispering from thousands of pine trees. It soothes, like a river running through my heart. The residual tones blend in with temple bells afar. Unknowingly the day on green hills has gone by. I gaze at autumn clouds piling up in the dark sky. - Li Bai, Monk Jun Playing the Lute
Qi's choice to magnify a section of a pine tree is well matched with the inscription, where he takes a line from Li Bai's poem. The choice of the poem gives clues to Qi's homesickness, while the line he chose from the poem gives credence to the majesty of the pine tree.