This painting depicts the offspring of Dou Yanshan, who was famous for having five sons who all passed China’s competitive civil-service examinations. For more than twelve centuries, the Chinese had considered the passing of these examinations paramount, because it opened doors to high-ranking positions. A man whose sons became officials, as did Dou Yanshan’s, became a model for parents of later generations.
This scene is filled with auspicious Chinese symbols. The apricot tree and magpie at upper left signify the achievement of the “three firsts”: first place in the provincial, metropolitan, and imperial civil-service examinations. The son at the right rear holds a package containing a seal, a symbol of government position; the one at the left rear carries on his back a gourd, a symbol of long life. Bamboo, depicted on the scroll painting that two of the sons carry, is also a symbol of long life; in the foreground are peonies, a symbol of wealth. The inclusion of Chinese auspicious symbols in this Japanese painting is an indication that the Japanese shared the Chinese aspiration for success in education, a value still cherished in Japan.