W130xH170mm, China

 This is a new year print of  Zhong Kui, the saint who can defeat all ghosts and evils, keeping the household safe.  Zhong Kui has a fierceful  stern face covered with a thick beard, despite having such a strange appearance he was a bold character who is a well learnt scholar.  Legend has it that in Tang dynasty 730AD, the emperor was gravely ill, one night he dreamt that a ghost came to steal his jade pipe and his favorite concubine’s fragrance sachet.  The emperor was upset and was about to send in his warriors to chase off the ghost and saw a larger ghost appear.  The larger ghost has messy hair, horns on his head and worn a green robe, he reached out and caught the thief, dug out his eyes and swallowed them.  The emperor was horrified by the act and asked who he was, the larger ghost paid his respect and said he is Zhong Kui and that he tried hard in the scholar exam but failed.  Ashamed for his failure, he met his death by the steps after reading the results at the courts, feeling sorry for him the earlier Tang emperor award him a green robe for his funeral.  Moved by the emperor he oath to remove all the ghost and evils for the Tang dynasty.  When the emperor woke up from his dream, his sickness was gone, he ordered the making of Zhong Kui’s print to spread the news.  Later on it became a new year tradition for the Tang emperor to award his officials prints of Zhong Kui.

In certain part of China, Zhong Kui is worshiped at every occasion from Chinese new year to opening of  a temple to a shop, the start of a work for the year to the start of construction, relocation to birthday and weddings.  The ceremony will include the offering to the print of Zhong Kui and for a grander gesture the performance of masked dance or a puppet show of the Zhong Kui theme.

Here is a masked dance performance for a temple ceremony in Taiwan.