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August 15, 2010

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钟馗的故事 (zhong1 kui2 de gu4 shi4) The Demon Queller

IN the early years of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), a young man called Zhong Kui lived in Zhongnan Mountain. With a panther-like head, bull-like eyes and whiskers-like curled iron, Zhong looked very ugly and menacing.

However, Zhong was a highly-gifted scholar and a man of integrity, who feared no devils or demons.

In AD 712, Zhong and his friend Du Ping traveled together to Chang'an, the capital in the dynasty, to take part in the imperial examinations. Zhong passed the exams with flying colors and he was praised by the chief examiner as a prodigy. As a result, he was recommended to attend the imperial palace examination, the highest level of the procedures to pick court officials at that time.

Again, Zhong did very well in the examination, but he failed to win the top prize because the minister who was in charge of the palace examination didn't like his ugly face and repeatedly spoke ill of him in front of the emperor.

Zhong was so angry that he committed suicide by hurling himself against a pillar in the court. His head was cracked and he died on the spot.

His friend Du Ping was very sad, but he arranged a proper funeral and buried Zhong.

In the following month, the emperor suffered from a lingering illness and few imperial doctors could help.

One night, the emperor had a bad dream. In the dream, he saw a small ghost saunter into his bedroom and take away a fragrance pouch from his favorite concubine and a precious jade flute from him.

The brazen behavior made the emperor so mad that he yelled out in the dream in an attempt to stop the small ghost from escaping from the palace.

Just then, a bigger ghost appeared. He grabbed the small ghost, tore it apart and ate it. Then, he introduced himself to the emperor as Zhong Kui, who committed suicide after being treated unfairly in the palace examination.

He said he had become the King of Ghosts in hell and swore to get rid of all ghosts and evil beings in the empire.

Next morning, after waking up, the emperor felt suddenly fully recovered from his illness.

He immediately summoned Wu Daozi, the court painter, and asked him to paint a portrait of Zhong Kui. When the portrait was finished, the emperor ordered his people to hang it on a palace gate.

As the legend has it, Zhong later returned to his hometown one night and gave his younger sister to his friend Du Ping as his wife.

Since then, Chinese folk people always hang paintings of Zhong Kui catching ghosts on their gates during New Year's Eve or during the Dragon Boat Festival as a guardian spirit to protect families from intrusion of ghosts and evil beings. And Zhong is known today as the Demon Queller or the God of the Gate.


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