It is very rare to find a complete set of eight Daoist immortals, and all with the carver's mark. The artist, Shimin, is identified as Cai Shimin, one of the leading craftsmen in the bamboo carving centre of Jiading (Shanghai), during the late 18th century. Cai's name is recorded in Zhongguo Meishu Jiarenming Cidian, Shanghai meishu renmin chubanshe, 2003, p. 1371; his informal name is listed as 'Xun Chu' and style name as 'Xiao Guan'. He specialised in carving figures, establishing his own independent style rather than emulating that of the established Feng family of figure carvers. Compare with a bamboo luohan bearing the signature of the artist Feng Shiqi, a contemporary of Cai Shimin, see Chinese Bamboo Carving, Ip Yee and Laurence C.S. Tam, Hong Kong, 1978, col. pl. 37.
When Jin Yuanyu, the gazetteer of Zhuren Lu, 'A Record of Bamboo Carvers', listed the artist Cai Shimin in 1807, it is known then that Cai had already passed away. Jin Yuanyu also recorded that Cai carved a set of eighteen luohan after the painting style of the great master, Li Gonglin (1049-1106). These figures were carved with shaggy eyebrows, deep-set eyes, rounded foreheads and square jaw. Some were fierce-fighting tigers with their bare hands, or lifting up dragons, whilst others were calm; plucking flowers or clutching a broom. Each figure had its own individual characteristics. Cf., Mingqing Zhuke Yishu, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1999, pp. 113-4.
Cai died at an early age of forty-nine but left a pupil, He Qiji, who successfully grasped his master's style. Records date both men to the late Qianlong and Jiaqing periods, from which it seems more likely that Cai was active in the late eighteenth century, while He Qiji worked on into the early nineteenth. Sources further indicate that Cai became most famous after he adopted the art name of 'Xiao Guan' so that carvings bearing his informal name of 'Xun Chu', should as the present carvings be considered his early works.