A popular subject of scholar-artists, bamboo, which belonging to the category of bird-and-flower painting in Chinese art, was admired for its supple strength: like the principled man, it bends without breaking.
The stalk of the bamboo in Chinese paintings is hollow, which came to symbolize tolerance and open-mindedness. Furthermore, the flexibility and strength of the bamboo stalk also came to represent the human values of cultivation and integrity in which one yields but does not break.
Zheng Xie passed the civil-service examination in 1736 and was appointed as magistrate in north China. Sympathetic with the plight of the people then in the throes of starvation, Zheng enforced extreme measures to improve their situation that met with resistance from the wealthier citizens in the area. His disillusionment with bureaucratic ethics, his disintegrating health, and his reputation tainted by scandal forced Zheng into early retirement. He settled in Yangzhou, then a prosperous community supportive of artists, where he became known as one of the Eight Eccentrics.