In The Memoirs of Zhang Daqian, Xie Jiaqiao describes Zhang Daqian's belief that he was once an ape. Zhang Daqian said: "The Chinese have always believed in ancient myths and legends. The day before I was born, my mother dreamt of an old man, holding onto a big brass gong, shining and bright. The old man passed the gong to my mother, and its luminescence was so strong she could see nothing, except for a black patch. The old man told her that it was in fact an ape, curled up in the centre of the gong, quiet and still, with his gaze fixed firmly upon my mother. The old man reminded her that she must take great care of it, and that it was afraid of the moonlight, as well as meat and fish. Having awoken from the dream, she relayed her dream to my father, and I was born shortly after. My family believed that I was the reincarnation of the black ape, and thus, when I went to Shanghai to apprentice under my master Chen Nongran, he renamed me as wun, the ancient term for ape."
A lover of animals during his life, Zhang kept apes as pets, his fondness deepening as he grew older. Zhang's excitement and devotion towards his pets are fully expressed in his words: "I have left three [apes] at Badayuan, all without chains so they may roam around freely, and at night they nest under the roof of my study, and wait for me in the morning for walks. They grasp my hands and jump into my arms when they are too lazy to walk, and sometimes pull on my beard!"