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March 8, 2007
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My work Traditional Chinesse painting 《Zhong Kui arrested five ghosts》


Summary of the legend of Zhong Kui:
The legend of Zhong Kui goes back to a Tang dynasty story of Emperor Xuanzong encountering first a small demon who stole his favorite concubine's embroidered perfume bag and his own jade flute and then a large demon who came to the emperor's aid by not only catching the small demon but gouging out his eyes and eating him. When Xuanzong questioned this helpful demon, the demon introduced himself as Zhong Kui, a man who had committed suicide by dashing his head against the palace steps decades earlier on learning that he had failed the palace examination. In gratitude for the posthumous honors the Tang emperor had then bestowed on him, Zhong Kui had vowed to rid the world of mischievous demons.
Zhong Kui was often depicted in the company of the demons he had subjugated.


Zhong Kui is the exorcist par excellence. His picture, a fierce-looking male brandishing a magic sword, used to be hung up in Chinese houses at the end of the Chinese lunar year in order to scare away evil spirits and demons. Zhong Kui was perhaps connected with the ancient Wuchang festivities which were held just before the New Year. At this feast, men wearing masks to represent the various gods drove all evil influences out of the city into the river or the sea. Zhong Kui is frequent hero on the traditional Chinese stage. In one 16th-century drama he is a scholar who lives with his sister in the mountains of Western China. He is keen to attend the Imperial examination, but lacks the money for the journey. So he goes to a rich benefactor who provides him with enough money and a sword. On his way to the capital, he visits a temple whose monks lay on a feast for his benefactor. Zhong Kui gets drunk, swears at the monks and spoils the feast. If the demons can harm men, he says, they should not be honored with feasts but stamped out. The spirits of starvation in Hell then complain to Guan Yin, the goddess of mercy. She pardons him; but at Buddha's behest he is nevertheless punished, and he falls ill. While an invalid, he is attacked by demons who alter his physical appearance, turn his face black, and give him a comic beard. He takes part in an examination and passes; at the ensuing examination, however, he is turned down because of his exceptionally hideous appearance. Deeply humiliated, he commits suicide. In Hell, however, he is admired and is given an army of 3,000 soldiers to help him slay demons.


Of course it is virtually impossible to have a discussion on the depiction of ghosts in Chinese culture without mentioning Zhong Kui, the famous "Demon Queller". Although the biographies of Zhong Kui vary,11 we can at least discern a basic, common plot. Legend has it that Emperor Ming Huang (r. 713-756) of the Tang Dynasty dreamed that a small demon stole his belongings and taunted him. Before he could summon his guards, a much larger demon appeared, grabbed the smaller demon, gouged out its eyes, tore him to pieces, and then ate him. The large demon identified himself as Zhong Kui, the Demon Queller.
Originally, Zhong Kui, if he really existed, lived during the Wude era (r. 618-627), but having failed to pass12 the next higher level of civil service examinations committed suicide by "dashing his head against the palace steps."13 Nevertheless, Emperor Gaozu recognized Zhong Kui's effort and "awarded him an honorable burial of a court official of the green-robe rank"14 In return for this just recognition by the emperor, Zhong Kui, out of gratitude, promised to rid the world of demons.15
After learning of the Demon Queller's identity, Emperor Ming Huang awakened and summoned his court painter, Wu Daozi, to paint Zhong Kui's portrait from the dream; Wu's painting was so vivid and realistic that the emperor thought that he must have seen the same dream.
This story, though more legendary than factual, nevertheless had long lasting repercussions. After the Tang dynasty, Zhong Kui became a popular figure in folk religion16 whose image alone was believed to scare away ghosts and other malicious influences; woodblock prints of his likeness were most often posted outside homes during the Dragon Boat Festival,17 on the summer solstice. Although some people saw Zhong Kui as simply a demon queller, others respected him as a scholar-hero who eventually received justice. Many would-be scholar-officials who also believed themselves to be ignored or treated unfairly, saw themselves in Zhong Kui and hoped that they, too, would one day receive their just rewards.
Since ghosts, as multifaceted generic figures of unsettled spirits, offered a wide range of religious, artistic, literary, and political symbolism or expression, so too did Zhong Kui. Perhaps one could even say that Zhong Kui helped ghosts-as-characters become more popular than they already were. Suddenly there was a great potential for new stories or new modes of expression to develop, with Zhong Kui as the scholar-hero helping humanity by vanquishing dangerous ghosts. "Good" against "evil" is always a popular and recognizable theme; and when combined with the mysteries of death, frightening specters, and exciting battles, the story must have also seemed highly entertaining as well.18
While we may never know for certain the true origins of Zhong Kui, the legend of his sudden rise to importance leaves us wondering whether the legend really did come first; or whether, after a long period of time and growing popularity, the legend was invented later just to fill in some lost piece of cultural knowledge. What we do know for certain is that Zhong Kui would forever remain linked with the great Tang figure painter, Wu Daozi.
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:iconjennyhinata:
jennyhinata Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2009
中国画哦,看着很亲切呀。
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:iconzemotion:
zemotion Featured By Owner Mar 9, 2007  Professional Photographer
真的是你画得?:O_o: 这个时代难得一见也~
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:iconpnuo:
pnuo Featured By Owner Mar 9, 2007
是我画的,这个时代也不是很难见吧,只不过是我这个年纪的人能画中国画的人不多了。
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:iconzemotion:
zemotion Featured By Owner Mar 9, 2007  Professional Photographer
嗯?应该是说完络上的人比较少。能画得人应该还有很多呢:) 意外哈
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:iconpnuo:
pnuo Featured By Owner Mar 11, 2007
不对,能画的人不多,而且越来越少,以后会更少,至少在我接触的人中,很多人曾经也画过,为之疯狂,但是现在他们全都放弃了.只剩我在画了,因为时间和这个世界的诱惑,能坚持下去的人是会少之又少的!相信你能明白我的意思.
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