Chinese Demons: A series of paintings and handscrolls from the Ming and Qing Dynasty depicting demons and other mythological creatures of the Chinese Folklore.
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Chung Kuei Taming the Five Pestilences
Raising the Alms-bowl: The Conversion of Hariti the Mother of Demons
A Luohan and a demon
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
Expelling Demons from the House
Sakyamuni Seated Upon Three Demon-like Creatures
Luohan and Demon
Raising the Alms-bowl: The Conversion of Hariti, the Mother of Demons
Clearing Out a Mountain Forest
Retinue of the Minister of Water
Zhongshan Going on Excursion
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
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
Guan Yu, Wenchang, and Kuixing
Source & Images: Smithsonian Institution