In the late seventeenth century, the city of Yangzhou rose to prominence on China's cultural scene. Yangzhou was well-situated: it lay at the intersection of the Grand Canal and the Yangzi River, the major north-south and west-east shipping routes, respectively, and it was also home to the government's administrative offices for the salt trade. Many wealthy merchants made their homes in Yangzhou, and artists soon followed in search of patronage.
Yangzhou in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had a spirit of openness, and artists found that innovation was not only tolerated but encouraged by their patrons. In this environment, Shitao mixed elements of clerical script into his standard script writing, creating a charmingly quirky hand; Jin Nong forged a bold way of writing based on old stone inscriptions; and Zheng Xie combined multiple script types into a new way of writing that he called "six-and-a-half script." By adopting elements of ancient calligraphy into their work, these Yangzhou artists foreshadow the nineteenth-century Epigraphic School, to which the final section of this exhibition is devoted.