The origin of Zhong Kui
As a deity who can ward off evil things in Chinese folk tales, Zhong Kui is most familiar to people in Chinese secular god beliefs. But where does this unique figure come from? This question has evoked ceaseless controversy amongst many scholars for generations. Here below are six most commonly accepted interpretations.
1、It is a homophonic of Zhong Kui that is originally a household tool (i.e. wooden club)
It is said that in ancient times, people believed the illness was brought by devil then they exorcise the devil with Zhong Kui (wooden club). The story was proved by the unearthed portrait bricks of Western Han and Eastern Han Dynasties from which we can see many warrior figures wielding big sticks, for instance the painting of exorcising the devil with big sticks in mural of Luo Yang Western Han Dynasty Tomb. Zhong Kui evolves from a devil exorcising instrument to a figure, as noted in Rites of Zhou·Book of diverse Crafts·Jade Worker “ The Da Gui is three chi in length with its top like Zhong Kui” with which Zheng Xuan of Eastern Han Dynasty remarked “Zhong Kui is Zhui” and Jia Gongyan of Tang Dynasty interpreted “People from state of Qi call Zhui as Zhong Kui” The Da Gui is a caduceus held by the emperor in ancient times with its top shaped in Zhui, hence comes the “the top of Da Gui is like Zhong Kui”. People of state of Qi speak slowly, they drawl off Zhui into Zhong Kui. So the name of Zhong Kui is derived from the devil exorcising instrument and then further evolved into a devil exorcising deity. The textual research of Yang Shen, Hu Yinglin, Gu Yanwu and Zhao Yi etc. in view of etymology might be accepted as a reasonable deduction. In recent years the excavation of many archaic documents of Qin and Han Dynasties has manifested the prevalent practice of exorcising devil with Zhui.
Zhong Kui is also an ancient family name which is very rare nowadays. The origin of this family name is closely associated with the big wooden stick. As quoted in The Commentary of Zuo ·Ding Gong Fourth Year, the descendent of Shang Dynasty was classified into seven big family, i.e. Tao, Shi, Shu, Fan, Ji and Zhong Kui family, and each family derived their family name from the craftsmanship they were skilled in. Tao family is good at making pottery, Fan family at making fence while Zhong Kui family is specialized in making wooden stick or mallet. The Zhong Kui family of seven families of Yin is mostly probably a clan that is adept in making sharp tools shaped in Zhui.
2、 Zhong Kui is the wizard Zhong Gui of Shang Dynasty
From time immemorial, the mask used in practicing Zhong Kui ritual resembles that of devil exorcising ritual in Shang and Zhou Dynasties. There is an assumption in investigating the origin of Zhong Kui: Zhong Kui has occurred as early as in Shang and Zhou Dynasties, and the name of Zhong Kui is mostly likely originated from a famous wizard in Shang and Zhou Dynasties. As researched and verified by some scholars, about three or four thousand years ago in Shang Dynasty there was a remarkable wizard called Zhong Gui who is good at praying for rain. He performed the most efficacious rain-seeking ritual, so people named wizard as Zhong Kui. Because Zhong Gui and Zhong Kui had similar pronunciation, the name of Zhong Gui was handed down and misdescribed as Zhong Kui. The prototype of Zhong Kui is the wizard chancellor in the reign of King Tang of Shang Dynasty, who is also named Zhong Hui, Zhong Gui and Zhong Lei etc. in the Book of History, Syncius, Mo-tse, The Historical Records and The Commentary of Zuo. The merchants were quite interested in devil exorcising rituals and usually political officers were also engaged in sorcery and divination. Zhong Kui was wizard chancellor and Fangxiang who were engaged in exorcising devils.
3、 The relationship between Zhong Kui and Fangxiang in Nuo Ceremony
The author of the Study of Zhong Kui Myth and Fiction Hu Wanchuan believes the odious and atrocious appearance of Zhong Kui is most likely derived from the Fangxiang in Nuo Ceremony. Nuo Ceremony is a ritual practiced to exorcise devils and illness. In primitive belief all illnesses and disasters are brought by some demons or ghosts, and they can be expelled like snakes or beasts by performing Nuo Ceremony. Zhong Kui is a anthropomorphic god in Nuo Ceremony who expels devils and might be originated from Fangxiang in Nuo Ceremony, i,e, the host of ancient Nuo Ceremony. The Fangxiang usually wears a mask and has similar appearance as Zhong Kui to deter the devils in evil for evil.
4、The connection of Zhong Kui, Shen Shu and Yu Lei
In addition to Zhong Kui and Fang Xiang mentioned above, Zhong Kui also has an alike nature with Shen Shu and Yu Lei who chase and seize demons. The oldest door-gods in human shape in China are Shen Shu and Yu Lei whose responsibilities are to seize demons. They truss up those harmful demons with reed rope then feed to tigers. Shen Shu and Yu Lei are envoys in the world who are capable of defeating demons and eliminating those mischievous. As recorded in the Fasti of State of Chu by Zong Lin of Southern Dynasty, people made peach wooden charm and hang on the door, naming it as a celestial wood. They pasted painting of Shen Shu on left and that of Yu Lei on right of the door, which were commonly known as door-god of reigning the evils. Zhong Kui has the same function too. People hang painting of Zhong Kui in their houses to drive away evils. So Shen Shu, Yu Lei and Zhong Kui all have the same function of defeating demons. Chinese people have their unique way in creating deity, which are shown in the fact that Zhogn Kui, Shen Shu and Yu Lei all use big sticks as their devil exorcising tools. It should be mentioned that there is only homophonic connection between Zhong kui and Zhong kui (wooden club), while the magic Zhui of exorcising devils is where the legend of Zhong Kui truly rooted from. As one of deity creating modes of the ancient, people turned their respect to magic items into worship in deities. And the evolution of wooden club into Zhong Kui is also the result of magic item evolving to deity.
5、 Zhong Kui is the name of a medical fungi
In traditional Chinese Medicine Zhong Kui is the name of a medical fungi instead of a personal name. As recorded in volume 38 of Costumes & Tools Part in Compendium of Materia Medica: I quoted The Refined Speech: Zhong Kui is the name of a fungi. And as noted in the Book of Diverse Crafts, Zhong Kui is the name of Zhui, Zhui and fungi have similar shape, hence comes the same name. In the Compendium of Materia Medica, Li Shizhen has specifically mentioned that the ashes from incinerating Zhong Kui painting could be used as medication for malaria and dystocia. The Compendium of Materia Medica records two folk prescriptions: One is to burn the left foot part of Zhong Kui painting into ashes then take the ashes together with water to treat dystocia; another is to burn Zhong Kui painting into ashes, weigh in two qian, and prepare ferula asafetida, arsenic and cinnabar, each in the size of gleditsia sinensis lam, ground into powder, mixed with flour in Cold Food Festival and made into pills of red bean size. One pill for each dosage taken with cold water. The medicinal materials should be selected and processed on the lunar 15th of January and 5th of May. This folk prescription is excerpted from The Royal Prescription compiled by Zhong Fengshe in the reign of Zhenghe of Song Dynasty. The original book has been lost at the invasion of Jin clan to Bianliang. Therefore the folk prescription of treatment of malaria with ashes from burned Zhong Kui painting is a produce of Song Dynasty, then used as an efficacious treatment to dystocia by improvement. This further demonstrates Wunuo culture’s effort to explore the nature with religion and science, and the witch doctor gradually got to know “Zhan” is a malaria.
6、 Zhong Kui seizes and swallows demons in the dream of Emperor Xuanzong of Tang Dynasty
Before Tang Dynasty the figure of Zhong Kui was not widely publicized. However since the Emperor Xuanzong of Tang Dynasty was said to dream Zhong Kui seizing demons, the story was then spread vigorously.
The story of Zhong Kui seizing demons is commonly considered as originated from volume 3 of Supplementary to Dream Pool Essays by Shen Kuo of the Northern Song Dynasty, which has recorded the story for the first time:
In the imperial palace there used to hang a painting of Zhong Kui drawn by Wu Daozi with inscription of Tang Dynasty on it, which says: Once in the beginning of Tang Dynasty, the emperor Tang Ming-huang spoke about and practiced martial art at Lishan Mountain. After he returned to palace at end of the year he contracted serious malaria and did not recovered for as long as one month though the wizard doctors had tried their utmost.
One day the emperor dreamed of two ghosts, one is big and another small size. The small one wore red trousers and had a calf nose, one foot in shoe and one bare, with another shoe in hand. He carried a big paper fan produced in Jun Zhou in his hand and stole away the purple sachet of imperial consort Lady Yang and the jade flute of the emperor, then run away. The big ghost wore hat and blue clothes, with one arm bare and in leather boots. He seized the small ghost, cut out his eyes, tore and swallow him.
The emperor asked: “Who are you?” The big ghost replied: “I’m Zhong Kui. I have attended the imperial military examinations and failed for many times when I was alive. I swore to eliminate all demons in the world for your majesty.” The emperor awoke from dream, feeling like having been recovered from illness or even stronger. He then summoned Wu Daozi and told the story in his dream to him and said: “You should try to draw the figure in my dream as what I have described.” Wu Dozi followed the emperor’s order and started painting right away as if he had seen the figure by himself. He then submitted the painting after completion. The emperor stared at the painting for a while and said: “How the figure in the painting resemble the one I have seen in the dream！Did you ever have the same dream as me?” Wu Daozi bended and said: “You majesty has so many state affairs to worry, your diet habit is affected because of excessive intake of medication, that’s why you’re infected with malaria. Now I got to believe there is indeed a deity who is capable of driving away devils and defending the safety of your majesty.” He then kowtowed to the emperor and wished him longevity. The emperor was so delighted and awarded golds of one hundred liang to him, with an imperial reply read as: The deity appeared in my dream and I then thoroughly recovered from illness. The devil exorcising hero should be rewarded. I then ordered to draw the unique figure of hero to be distributed among each department. The end of year is the season to exorcise devils, the hero should be familiarized by all in order to expel evils and pacify the world. Please issue notices throughout the country and have it publicized widely. The emperor ordered to print the Painting of Zhong Kui Seizing Demons and handed out to each ministers. The paintings were hang on the door of each household to expel demons and evils, and the invincible might of heroic Zhong Kui was also popularized among people. The door-god of Zhong Kui was later spread broadly to every household.