This album was dedicated to Zhou Jing, also known as Zhou Xiangshan, a contemporary of Shitao. Shitao cultivated a close friendship with Zhou Jing, a lay Buddhist, while living in Nanjing during the 1680s. In total, Shitao created three known works for Zhou:Plants and Calligraphy(offered here);Teaching the Book of Changes, c. 1680, a hanging scroll in an unknown collection; and Streams and Mountains Without End, ca. 1686, a handscroll most recently in the C. C. Wang family collection.
Zhou Jing added two poems to the album, and thereby participated in the dialogue between poetry and picture:
Caltrops burrow, wedged in the depths,
Their jade-green leaves hidden in fields of floating stems.
Tomorrow we will watch a game of chess through a thin screen,
And gather fresh lotus blossoms from the sides of a boat.
So many broken banana leaves scattered on the ground,
The violent winds and rain tonight remind me of the past.
Straightening my robes, I look towards the empty garden,
Its grasses fill with the hum of insects in their nests.
As discussed by Jonathan Hay, bamboo shoots and caltrops, both part of a Buddhist monk's vegetarian diet, connote the philosophy shared by Shitao and his friend. Similarly, the lotus reflects Buddhist notions of transcendence as well as the Neo-Confucian ideals described by Zhou Dunyi in his famous essay, Ailian Shuo (My Love of the Lotus). The artist looking off into the distance from under the shade of a banana tree conveys a sense of nostalgia, and acts as a culmination of the previous leaves. While lotuses remain pure despite growing in muddy surroundings, and bamboo shoots flourish during the harshest periods of winter, Shitao also endured, maintaining loyalty to the Ming imperial Zhu family, into which he was born, despite the political oppression he faced with the rise of the Qing dynasty.