Boxwood sculpture of a lohan scratching his back, 18th century, h. 4.4 cm, l. 4.6 cm © National Palace Museum.

A small chunk of boxwood is carved in the round into a sitting lohan (the Arhat, Arahat or Arahant in Theravada Buddhism), his legs crossed, clothing rolled down to the waist, and the upper body naked. With his left hand pressed against the ground for balance, a scratching stick in the right hand goes over his right shoulder giving his back a good up and down scratch. Between his knees, a pug jumps and frolics, the tail hoisted up high, happily wagging and yapping to his master. The lohan's forehead all wrinkled, his crow's feet deep-set, his features gaunt and angular, yet a contented grin is tilting up the right corner of his mouth and a relaxed look beaming in his eyes.

Boxwood is fine-textured and of an elegant tint. It's a slow-growing tree and doesn't get big easily, so not suitable for buildings or furniture but ideal for carving. The tiny lohan sculpture couldn't have been done in such fine manner if it was any other wood other than boxwood.

One branch in the early-Qing Jiading bamboo carving was headed up by the Feng family and Shi Tianzhang. One of their specialties was to sculpt the underground stems (commonly mistakenly called "roots") into vivid sculptures of figures in the round. Father and son two generations as well as the student Shi all served in the Imperial Workshops. The latter was highly regard by the emperor and thus became well-known for quite some time. All three had been recruited because of their mastery in bamboo carving, but once there they did more than just bamboo and extended their carving knives to other media such as ivory and wood. The maker of this exquisite work didn't leave his signature but obviously was an experienced fine carver. Perhaps, it was one of them?