The scene on this brush pot depicts the 'six scholars of Zhuxi (Zhuxi liuyi), a group of six literati who lived in seclusion in Zhuxi at the foothill of Culai mountain (in present-day Shandong province) during the late Kaiyuan era (?-784). Zhuxi literally means the 'stream of bamboo.' The group of literati consisted of Kong Chaofu, Han Zhun, Pei Zheng, Zhang Shuming and Li Bai (701-762), who was perhaps the most celebrated of the six. Together they lived in seclusion in Zhuxi, where they engaged in scholarly activities enhanced by their constant companion, wine. On the brush pot three of the scholars hold wine cups, while two servants stand by with wine ewers waiting to refill the cups, and another scholar, standing beside the table, is declaiming in a flamboyant fashion, indicating that he too may have imbibed too much wine.
Li Bai fondly recalled this sojourn in one of his poems Song Han Zhun, Pei Zheng, Kong Chaofu huanshan (Sending Han Zhun, Pei Zheng and Kong Chaofu off to the mountains): 'last night I dreamt [about the time in Zhuxi], where the cloud trifles with the moon in the stream.'
Li Bai was so famous for his wine consumption that his great friend, the poet Du Fu (712-770), included him in his poem Yinzhong baxian (Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup) - perhaps the most famous literary work linking alcohol consumption to poetic brilliance. Like many Tang dynasty men of letters, Du Fu also derived considerable enjoyment, and apparent inspiration, from drinking wine. In his poem he chose to celebrate the drinking habits of other literary men of his time, while also noting their failings. The eight include Li Bai; He Zhizhang (659-744); Li Jin, nephew of Emperor Xuanzong (r. 712-756) and prince of Ruyang; Li Shizhi (d. 747), who was also Duke of Qinghe; Cui Songzhi; Su Jin; Zhang Xu (active 710-750); and Jiao Sui. In Du Fu's poem, the stanza on Li Bai may be translated as:
'The taverns in Chang'an are closed and the people asleep,
Li Bai drinks a dou of wine and writes one hundred poems,
The Emperor summons him to come,
He refuses to board the boat and calls himself the Drunken Immortal.'
A green jade brush pot raised on similar bracket supports and similarly carved with the same scene as that of the present brush pot is illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum - 42 - Jadeware (III), Hong Kong, 1995, pp. 207-8, pl. 169, where the scene is identified as 'six old men in Zhu Xi for a gathering', and where it is dated to the Qianlong period. (Fig. 1)