Mozambique Shen Zhou Miniature Souvenir Sheet MNH
Shen Zhou was born into a wealthy family in Xiangcheng, near the thriving city of Suzhou, in the Jiangsu province, China. His genealogy traces his family's wealth to the late Yuan period, but only as far as Shen's paternal great-grandfather, Shen Liang-ch’en, who became a wealthy landowner following the dissolution of Mongol rule. After the collapse of the Yuan and the emergence of the new Ming dynasty, the position of tax collector was assigned to the head of the Shen family, under the Hongwu emperor's new lijia system. This steadily and amply increased the family's wealth, while freeing Shen Liang-ch’en's male descendants from obligatory careers as Ming officials, and allowing them to live the majority of their lives as retired scholar-artists. Upon the death of his father, Shen Heng-chi, Shen Zhou decided to forgo official examinations and devote his life to the care of his widowed mother, Chang Su-wan. It is probable that he never intended to become an official, but refrained from making this obvious until his father had died. He thus renounced the life of official service while still preserving his reputation in an enduring act of filial piety. In this way, he was able to live a reclusive life, free of responsibility (except that of caring for his mother), and devote his time to artwork, socializing, and monastic contemplation of the natural world around him.
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