A great vortex of converging streets, waterways, boats, and people maximizes the drama surrounding the Kangxi Emperor's arrival in Suzhou. The painting funnels all movement toward the great Chang Gate of Suzhou. The massive gate, which provides access to the city by means of a water gate as well as a bridge, has projecting battlements and high walls that arrest all leftward movement, creating a frame in which the formation of bodyguards, members of the mounted retinue, kneeling officials, and hundreds of onlookers magnify and prolong this exciting moment.
The Kangxi Emperor can be seen in the foreground, seated placidly in his barge and facing directly out at the viewer. The emperor's boat is decorated with five-clawed dragons on the hull, a yellow canopy, and a yellow pennant hanging from the mast. His sword bearer, parasol bearer, and several imperial bodyguards are in attendance while close by two open skiffs carry other bodyguards. More than twenty other boats flying yellow pennants represent the vessels attached to the emperor's entourage. Gathered before the gate is the emperor's entire waterborne retinue, while members of his mounted escort await his arrival on shore. Members of his bodyguard, wearing yellow tunics, flank a red carpet. Several figures hold lanterns, indicating that the emperor is arriving after dark. Another figure holds the emperor's white horse, and civic officials kneel along the roadside while a portion of the emperor's retinue stand to one side.
The Kangxi Emperor's disembarkation is the dramatic climax of the scroll, but it is only the beginning of the final section of the painting, which continues another twenty feet through the streets of Suzhou to the Silk Commissioner's residence, where the emperor spent the night.
Apparently to avoid the congested streets and waterways surrounding the Chang Gate, the Qianlong Emperor entered Suzhou on horseback through the Xu Gate. The parasol held above the emperor's head is a symbol of his royal status. Kneeling officials and members of the populace have turned out to welcome him and line the streets all the way to his lodging at the Silk Commissioner's residence. The jewels on the officials' hats and the type of bird or animal on the square badges on their robes are indicators of rank. The long braid of hair hanging down the men's backs, known as the "queue," was a Manchu custom that all Chinese men were required to adopt when the Manchus conquered China, the only exception being monks, who shaved their heads completely.
Across the bridge is an ornamental arch and temporary stage erected in honor of the imperial visit, and the gathering of high officials lining the streets to welcome the emperor continues over a second bridge. Here a number of elderly men carrying staffs are all wearing yellow robes. This reflects the custom of the emperor honoring elderly citizens by presenting them with fabric for a robe.