Zhao Ziyong was well versed in painting bird-and-flower. He was particularly fond of painting popular subject matter such as crabs amongst reeds, and also orchids and bamboo. This enabled his paintings to enjoy high level of popularity. This particular painting, "Crabs on Sand with Reeds", depicts one of his typical subject matters. The crabs he has painted are those found in Guangdong, which he often accompanied with reeds growing alongside the water's edge to display vivid scenes of crabs and water. Zhao was the first to introduce the subject of crabs into his paintings. He painted a set of four paintings depicting hundreds of crabs, many escaping from hedge baskets as a metaphor to depict the failure and incompetence of the Manchu officials in dealing with the Opium Wars. Its implied message is comparable to the Cantonese saying "overturning a bamboo basket of crabs", which describes a messy situation which is out of control.