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Supernatural Beings in Genre Painting Scenes: Some “Costume Portraits” of the Demon Queller Zhong Kui in China since the 13th Century

Sat, June 25, 5:00 to 6:50pm, Shikokan (SK), Floor: 1F, 120


Known collectively as “paintings of genre scenes in farming communities” (tianjia fengwu tu), images of country-dwellers participating in wedding marches, returning from village festivities, and migrating across the countryside comprise a significant portion of genre paintings recorded in Southern Song China (1127-1279). These “scenes of everyday life” were so widespread at the time that they were even used as backdrops of paintings of supernatural characters like the Demon Queller Zhong Kui.
This paper focuses on Zhong Kui Giving His Sister Away in Marriage, a 13th-14th century handscroll in The Metropolitan Museum of Art which is a good example of such “supernatural genre paintings.” Based on evidences in painting inscriptions and biji writings, I argue that shifting beliefs in popular deities and demons at the time made village weddings and moving appropriate themes for Zhong Kui paintings. I point out how such themes may reflect the patrons’ yearnings for simple and naïve customs of the ancients as well as a peaceful life away from the hustle and bustle of this world. Finally, I propose how the eclectic combination and cultural significance of these rural activities could offer clues to the scroll’s creation and viewership in the absence of direct documentation.