A child prodigy, he began painting and writing poetry in his early childhood. About the year 1658, when the Ming emperor committed suicide and a rebel army attacked Beijing, the young man sought refuge in a Buddhist temple and became a monk. As a loyal subject of the Ming, he was heart broken and refused to speak to anyone: he only laughs and cries (as inscriptions in his paintings show). He was a leading painter of the Qing period.
His paintings feature sharp brush strokes which are attributed to the sideways manner by which he held his brush. In the 1930s, Chinese painter Zhang Daqian produced several forgeries of Bada Shanren's works. But, they are easily spotted by the trained eye, because the modern copies were softer and rounder. Yale University scholar, Wang Fangyu, was a major collector of Bada Shanren paintings from the 1960s until his death in 1997.