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The story of Zhong Kui began in the eighth century during the Tang dynasty (618-907). Once, Emperor Xuanzong (reigned 712-56) fell ill with fever and dreamt that a small demon broke into the palace and began to wreak havoc. Suddenly a dark, ugly man calling himself Zhong Kui appeared, attacked the demon, and devoured it, explaining that he was the spirit of a wronged scholar from an earlier age whose sense of loyalty compelled him to protect the throne. When the emperor awoke, his illness had miraculously vanished, so he summoned a court painter to make a portrait of the figure in his dream and had the image distributed throughout the empire as a talisman against evil spirits.
Over the centuries, it became a common practice to hang portraits of Zhong Kui in homes at the lunar new year and on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, when pernicious influences were said to abound. This painting shows Zhong Kui riding a donkey and patrolling the palace grounds under blossoming peach trees, which have a particular association with the cult of immortality, and therefore a long and healthy life. The legendary hero is accompanied by a retinue of subjugated demons, who carry a wine jar, brocade cushion, food boxes, and an umbrella.
- Collection Area(s)
- Chinese Art
- Web Resources
- Google Cultural Institute
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