Wang Chien was from Wu-hsi in modern Kiangsu northwest of Suchou on the Grand Canal. The son of Wang Wen (1497-1576), a legendary painter, poet, and calligrapher, Wang Chien received his chin-shih
degree in 1565 and worked on and off in government service for several years during which he authored many books. He was recorded as an excellent painter in the difficult pai-miao
(fine outline) style exemplified in this rare hand scroll of the Eighteen Lohan.
The original sixteen lohan or guardian arhats were enlightened individuals of Indian origin ordered by the Buddha to stay in this world to await the advent of the coming Buddha Maitreya. These sixteen, from an initial grouping of five hundred, were later joined by two more sinicised additions to from the Chinese set of eighteen, the jolly monk P'u-t'ai and Ta-mo-to-lo (Dharmatrata). The theme of lohan crossing the sea traveling from the legendary island of P'eng-lai in the eastern sea, to visit and influence mortal men, became a popular religious theme in the late Ming. The group is depicted here among strange sea monsters and demons in withering waves with exotic animals like the tiger, elephant, lion, dragon, Fu dogs, fish, winged horse, along with old sages and long-haired attendants.