Red Zhong Kui, the Demon Queller

Katsushika Hokusai Japanese

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 229

Zhong Kui, known in Japan as Shōki, was a scholar of early seventh-century China. Cheated out of the first rank in civil service examinations, he died by suicide but was buried with honors after the emperor heard of his tragic death. In gratitude, Shōki appeared to a subsequent Chinese emperor in a dream as an exorcist who vowed to quell demons and banish disease.

In Japan, auspicious images of Shōki were displayed for Boys’ Day, a spring festival celebrating children’s health. In this work made by Katsushika Hokusai at the age of eighty-seven, the artist painted Zhong Kui in red, a color thought to have magical efficacy in warding off smallpox.

Red Zhong Kui, the Demon Queller, Katsushika Hokusai (Japanese, Tokyo (Edo) 1760–1849 Tokyo (Edo)), Hanging scroll; ink and color on silk, Japan

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