Here, the legendary "demon queller" Zhong Kui leads his sister to her new home accompanied by an escort of demons performing feats of martial prowess. The comic climax to this spectacle is Zhong Kui himself—stone drunk and propped atop a small donkey by three retainers while his sister sits helplessly astride a recalcitrant water buffalo. The painting illustrates a rebus: "marrying off one's sister" (jia mei) is a pun for "subjugating demons."
Yan Geng may have derived inspiration from actual New Year's processions, during which costumed figures impersonating Zhong Kui and his band of demons circulated through neighborhoods and banished evil in return for payment. Paintings on this subject clearly enjoyed widespread appeal, perhaps serving as auspicious gifts for the New Year.
Inscription: Artist’s signature (1 column in standard script)
Huang Hui 黃輝 (jinshi 1589), 1 horizontal line in semi-cursive script, undated; 1 seal:
A casual and entertaining excursion Hui [seal]: Huang Hui zhi yin
Once drunk, old Kui’s beards bristle like spears. With fresh makeup, his sister’s face appears black. Where are her buffalo mount and entourage going? Those with bare feet are mostly mere skeletons. As the emperor of the Kaiyuan reign era [713–741] ignored state affairs, It depended on the heroic ghost [Zhong Kui] to straighten up the court. Yan Geng must be fond of things mysterious and strange; Even the ugly and grotesque creatures left their images behind.
Yan Cungeng [Yan Geng] lived in the Southern Song dynasty [1127–1279], whose paintings are rarely seen. This one depicts the scholar Zhong’s excursion in a grotesque, unearthly manner, fully capturing the features of the demons. Demons, however, are like shadows, amorphous in their movements. I wonder how Cungeng managed to portray them so convincingly. On the 26th of the first lunar month of the gengyin year in the Chenghua reign era [February 26, 1470] Wu Kuan from Changzhou [Suzhou] [seals]: Wu Kuan, Yuanbo