“Wuri Zhong Kui” 午日鍾馗 (Zhong Kui on [Double] Fifth Day) by Hua Yan 華嵒 (1682-1756), inscribed with his own poem
Picture credit: National Palace Museum, Taipei
Zhong Kui 鍾馗 is a guardian figure traditionally associated with Double Fifth Day, or the Dragon Boat Festival (which falls on 3 June this year). It is the custom to hang up his images or symbols to ward off evil spirits. In visual traditions, the paintings for this occasion typically represent Zhong Kui as a stern or even fearsome figure accompanied by one or several demons he has subdued. One may also find other auspicious symbols like the bat (fu 蝠, a pun for fu 福, “blessing”). It is very uncommon to see a relaxed Zhong Kui, made mortal and enjoying himself in the garden, served by his demon slaves. Here, he is just like every other man on this day, drinking xionghuangjiu 雄黃酒 (realgar liquor) and eating zongzi 粽子 (a type of sticky rice wrap), both typical of this festival. Such a humorous play on the traditional theme provides a telling example of the artist’s creativity.
黃油紙繖日邊遮。 Shaded by a tawny oiled-paper canopy in the sunlight,
中酒鍾馗紗帽斜。 Zhong Kui is inebriated, his gauze cap slanting,
醉眼也隨蜂蝶去。 His drunken gaze trailing behind bees and butterflies
小西園裡鬧群花。 That bustle around in the flowers of the small western garden.
By Hua Yan, Mountain Man of Xinluo, in the gazebo in verdant bamboo
Detail of "Suichao jiazhao tu" 歲朝佳兆圖 by Zhu Jianshen 朱見深, the Chenghua Emperor of the Ming (1447-1487, ruling 1464-1487); collection of the Palace Museum, Beijing (https://www.dpm.org.cn/collection/paint/231146.html)
Detail of "Wuri Zhong Kui" 午日鍾馗 by Qian Gu 錢穀 (fl. early 16th century); collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei
An image of Zhong Kui by an anonymous artist; © The Trustees of the British Museum
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