Although Zhou Chen's original composition was an album of 24 figures, today it is mounted as two handscrolls, one in the Cleveland collection and one in the Honolulu Museum of Art.
Zhou Chen from Suzhou provides rare depictions of impoverished people that once filled the city’s markets and streets. Despite Suzhou’s prosperity, its rapid growth polarized society, including the wealthy and those who had deserted their farmlands, who were without homes, unemployed, or sick. Amid these are figures who inspire fear rather than empathy. The painting may thus be informed by local practices at the end of the lunar year, in which street beggars, in exchange for food or money, would dress up like ghosts and demons to drive out evil forces.
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