The Demon Queller Zhong Kui Giving His Sister Away in Marriage, Yan Geng (active late 13th century), Handscroll; ink on silk, China

南宋/元 顏庚 鍾馗嫁妹圖 卷
The Demon Queller Zhong Kui Giving His Sister Away in Marriage

Yan Geng (active late 13th century)
Yuan dynasty (1271–1368)
Handscroll; ink on silk
Image: 9 5/8 x 99 3/4 in. (24.4 x 253.4 cm)
Credit Line:
Purchase, The Dillon Fund Gift and Rogers Fund, 1990
Accession Number:
Not on view
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)

Yan Geng


Artist's seal

Cungeng 存畊


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

輝 [印]: 黃輝之印


Wu Kuan 吳寬 (1435–1504), 11 columns in semi-cursive script, dated 1470; 2 seals:

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][1] [seals]: Wu Kuan, Yuanbo

顔存畊南宋人,其筆墨世不多見。此寫《鍾進士出遊圖》,古怪幽眇,曲盡鬼物情狀,抑鬼如影去來無形,不知存畊何從而得圖其形似也。成化庚寅正月廿六日長洲吳寬 [印]: 吳寬、原博

Collectors' seals

An Guo 安國 (1481–1534)
Guipo An Guo shangjian 桂坡安國賞鑑

Cheng Xun 成勲 (18th c.)
Cheng Xun 成勲
Yiting 儀庭

Jiwo Xuan 寄我軒
Jiwo Xuan zhencang shuhua yin 寄我軒珍藏書畫印
Lianqiao jianshang 蓮樵鋻賞
Sha Ji shijia 沙濟世家

[1] Translations from department records.
[sale, Christie's, New York , Important Classical Chinese Paintings; May 31, 1990, lot 10, to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Traditional Scholarly Values at the End of the Qing Dynasty: The Collection of Weng Tonghe (1830–1904)," June 30, 1998–January 3, 1999.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "A Millennium of Chinese Painting: Masterpieces from the Permanent Collection," September 8, 2001–January 13, 2002.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Douglas Dillon Legacy: Chinese Painting for the Metropolitan Museum," March 12, 2004–August 8, 2004.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Secular and Sacred: Scholars, Deities, and Immortals in Chinese Art," September 10, 2005–January 8, 2006.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The World of Khubilai Khan: Chinese Art in the Yuan Dynasty," September 28, 2010–January 2, 2011.

Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago. "Performing Images: Opera in Chinese Visual Culture," February 13, 2014–June 15, 2014.