Miniature olive-nut carvings first appeared in the mid-Ming period, and appreciation for this type of carvings continued into the Qing dynasty when olive-nuts were carved as accessories such as rosaries and toggles. For an example of a miniature boat incised with a poem appraising mountains in autumn, see Bamboo, Wood, Ivory and Rhinoceros Horn Carvings, The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum, Commercial Press Hong Kong, 2002, p. 105, no. 97.
The present olive-nut carving teases the eye with its minute detail capturing a scene in vivid miniature of the Song dynasty poet, Su Dongpo (1036-1101), whose boating trip along the Yangzi River inspired one of his best works, 'The Latter Ode to the Red Cliff', which was composed in 1082. Remarkably, the entire poem is carved on the underside hull of the boat.