Due to repeated setbacks, Huang Daozhou held office for fewer than five years during his official twenty-two-year-long civil-service career. However, the enormous energy he expended on scholarship and teaching made him a very influential figure in Chinese intellectual history. He painted this scroll for his friend and disciple Zhang Ruizhong (active mid-17th century) during a long interval between engagements when giving a series of lectures in and around his hometown of Zhangpu, in southern Fujian.
Although Huang painted both landscapes and figures, he is most admired for his depictions of pines and rocks—traditional symbols of perseverance and constancy, and motifs that have long invited expressionist interpretations by calligraphers like Huang. This unusually long and narrow painting presents a pair of towering pines mysteriously encircled by the twisting branches of a third tree at the bottom. A vertical craggy rock, though barely visible to the left, is the subject of Huang’s inscription: “Even if turned into a rock, I wouldn’t be obstinate.” Among Huang’s scholastic strengths is his profound understanding of the Book of Changes, which is wittily epitomized in this line.