After graduating from college with a degree in history, Fan Zeng studied art history and painting at Beijing's Central Academy of Fine Arts. He went on to work at the National Museum of Chinese History before becoming chairman of the Oriental Culture Department of Nankai University in Tianjin. As a painter Fan specializes in figural subjects, particularly historical personages, rendered in a dashing style that combines sketchy brushwork with acutely observed naturalistic detail.Zhong Kui, the legendary demon queller, was often portrayed in humorous situations, but Fan Zeng chose to depict him as a heroic figure wearing a sword. Painted about the time that posters advocating greater personal freedom began to appear on "Democracy Wall" in Beijing, Fan's bold image may refer to the fall of the Gang of Four and the expunging of other "demons" responsible for the chaos of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76).The political sensitivity of Fan's painting is underscored by Huang Miaozi's powerfully brushed but circumspect inscription, which reads, in part:"Earlier artists loved to paint Zhong Kui because the old boy was good for a laugh. . . . After Fan [Zeng] did this painting [of Zhong Kui] holding a sword he asked me what I would inscribe [on it]. I said, 'Only [Zhong Kui] in his gut knows.'"