Chinese Demons: A series of paintings and handscrolls from the Ming and Qing Dynasty depicting demons and other mythological creatures of the Chinese Folklore.

Related: Chinese Black Magic, Demons, Monsters, and Ghosts of the Chinese folklore, Hungry Ghost Festival images, Traditional Paintings of Chinese Dragons and other legendary creatures

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Chung Kuei Taming the Five Pestilences

Chung Kuei Taming the Five Pestilences
Chung Kuei Taming the Five Pestilences. Hanging scroll (mounted on panel). Ming dynasty, 16th-17th century

Raising the Alms-bowl: The Conversion of Hariti the Mother of Demons

Raising the Alms-bowl: The Conversion of Hariti the Mother of Demons
Handscroll, Formerly attributed to Qiu Ying 仇英 (ca. 1494-1552). Qing dynasty, 1644-1911. Ink and color on silk.
Raising-the-Alms-bowl-The-Conversion-of-Hariti-the-Mother-of-Demons-II
Handscroll, Formerly attributed to Qiu Ying 仇英 (ca. 1494-1552). Qing dynasty, 1644-1911. Ink and color on silk.
Raising-the-Alms-bowl-The-Conversion-of-Hariti-the-Mother-of-Demons-III
Handscroll, Formerly attributed to Qiu Ying 仇英 (ca. 1494-1552). Qing dynasty, 1644-1911. Ink and color on silk.
Raising-the-Alms-bowl-The-Conversion-of-Hariti-the-Mother-of-Demons-IV
Handscroll, Formerly attributed to Qiu Ying 仇英 (ca. 1494-1552). Qing dynasty, 1644-1911. Ink and color on silk.
Raising-the-Alms-bowl-The-Conversion-of-Hariti-the-Mother-of-Demons-V
Handscroll, Formerly attributed to Qiu Ying 仇英 (ca. 1494-1552). Qing dynasty, 1644-1911. Ink and color on silk.
Raising-the-Alms-bowl-The-Conversion-of-Hariti-the-Mother-of-Demons-VI
Handscroll, Formerly attributed to Qiu Ying 仇英 (ca. 1494-1552). Qing dynasty, 1644-1911. Ink and color on silk.
Raising-the-Alms-bowl-The-Conversion-of-Hariti-the-Mother-of-Demons-VIII
Handscroll, Formerly attributed to Qiu Ying 仇英 (ca. 1494-1552). Qing dynasty, 1644-1911. Ink and color on silk.

A Luohan and a demon

A Luohan and a demon
Hanging scroll (mounted on panel). Ming dynasty, 1368-1644. Ink and color on silk.

When the historical Buddha was nearing the end of his life on earth and was approaching nirvana, he entrusted the protection of the Buddhist faith to sixteen great luohan, who were to remain as guardians of the Buddhist law until the future Buddha arrives. Luohan became popular figures in China in the seventh century, and their numbers varied over time, increasing from the original sixteen to eighteen and eventually growing to five hundred. Accompanied by a standing demon, this seated luohan likely derived from the largest group of five hundred. While the elderly luohan appears assertive yet benign, the fierce-looking demon reminds believers to behave themselves in the present life.

Zhong Kui and Demons Crossing a Bridge

Zhong Kui and Demons Crossing a Bridge
Hanging scroll (mounted on panel). Attributed to Dai Jin (1388-1462).
Ming dynasty, 16th century. Zhe School.

Expelling Demons from the House

Expelling Demons from the House
Hanging scroll (mounted on panel). Formerly attributed to Li Tang 李唐 (ca. 1050s-after 1130). Ming dynasty, 16th century. Zhe School. Ink on silk.

Sakyamuni Seated Upon Three Demon-like Creatures

Sakyamuni Seated Upon Three Demon-like Creatures
Hanging scroll (mounted on panel). Formerly attributed to Guanxiu (傳)貫休 (822-912). Possibly Yuan to early Ming dynasty, 14th-15th century. Ink and color on silk.

Luohan and Demon

Luohan and Demon
Hanging scroll (mounted on panel). Formerly attributed to Guanxiu (傳)貫休 (822-912). Ming dynasty, 16th century. Hanging scroll mounted on panel; ink and color on silk.

Raising the Alms-bowl: The Conversion of Hariti, the Mother of Demons

Raising the Alms-bowl
Handscroll. Colophon attributed to Wen Zhengming 文徵明 (1470-1559). Qing dynasty, 17th-18th century. Ink and color on silk.

Clearing Out a Mountain Forest

Clearing Out a Mountain Forest
Handscroll. Formerly attributed to Li Song (傳)李嵩 (late 12th-early 13th century). Ming dynasty, 15th century. Ink on paper. Baimiao style.

Retinue of the Minister of Water 

Retinue of the Minister of Water
下元水官圖. Handscroll. Attributed to He Cheng 何澄 (1224-after 1315). Yuan dynasty, early 14th century. Ink on paper.

Zhongshan Going on Excursion

Zhongshan Going on Excursion

Handscroll. Gong Kai 龔開 (1222-1307). Yuan dynasty, late 13th-early 14th century. Ink on paper. H x W: 32.8 x 169.5 cm
Zhongshan Going on Excursion
Handscroll. Gong Kai 龔開 (1222-1307). Yuan dynasty, late 13th-early 14th century. Ink on paper. H x W: 32.8 x 169.5 cm
Zhongshan Going on Excursion
Handscroll. Gong Kai 龔開 (1222-1307). Yuan dynasty, late 13th-early 14th century. Ink on paper. H x W: 32.8 x 169.5 cm
Zhongshan Going on Excursion
Handscroll. Gong Kai 龔開 (1222-1307). Yuan dynasty, late 13th-early 14th century. Ink on paper. H x W: 32.8 x 169.5 cm

The artist's inscription explains that this handscroll depicts the legendary hero Zhong Kui, known as the Demon Queller, setting out on a hunting exhibition with his sister. According to legend, when Emperor Xuanzong (reigned 712–56) fell ill with fever, he dreamt that a small demon broke into the palace. Suddenly, a large man calling himself Zhong Kui appeared, attacked the demon, and devoured it; when the emperor awoke, his illness had miraculously vanished. The emperor summoned a court painter to make a portrait of the figure in his dream, and the painting was distributed throughout the empire as a talisman to expel harmful spirits. By the tenth century, other popular legends and practices began to accrue around the figure of Zhong Kui; for example, he acquired both a wife and younger sister.

In Gong Kai's humorous and imaginative painting, Zhong Kui and his sister are shown riding in sedan chairs. A retinue of slave-demons accompany them and carry Zhong Kui's sword, bundles of household goods, pots of wine, and smaller demons they have captured.

Zhong Kui, the Demon Queller, Patrolling the Palace

Zhong Kui, the Demon Queller, Patrolling the Palace
Hanging scroll. Hongwu (active 1751-1792). Qing dynasty, late 18th century.
Hanging scroll; ink and color on silk.

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.

Lü Dongbin Subduing a Demon

Lü Dongbin Subduing a Demon
Hanging scroll. Formerly attributed to Li Gonglin (ca. 1049-1106). Ming dynasty, 14th-15th century. Ink and color on silk. Zhe School

Guan Yu, Wenchang, and Kuixing

Guan Yu, Wenchang, and Kuixing
Hanging scroll (mounted on panel). Formerly attributed to Li Gonglin (傳)李公麟 (ca. 1049-1106). Qing dynasty, 1644-1911. Ink on silk.

Source & Images: Smithsonian Institution

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