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Zhong Kui (Chinese: 鍾馗; pinyin: Zhōng Kuí; Japanese: Shōki) is a person from ancient Chinese mythology. Traditionally regarded as a vanquisher of ghosts and evil beings, and reputedly able to command 80,000 demons, his image is often painted by ordinary persons on household gates as a guardian spirit, as well as in places of business where high-value goods are involved. As with legends and myths in many cultures a number of variations to his story can be found. There are many literary works, dramas, plays and more about him.
According to Wikipedia and other folklore, myth and legend sources, Zhong Kui traveled with Du Ping (杜平), a friend from his hometown, to take part in the imperial examinations at the capital. Some versions of the story explain how his face became disfigured and his sword became magical after he visited some monks for a feast on his way to the examination. Though Zhong achieved top honors in the exams, his title of “zhuangyuan” was stripped by the emperor because of his disfigured appearance. In anger, Zhong Kui committed suicide upon the palace steps by hurling himself against the palace gate until his head was broken. Du Ping buried him. After Zhong became king of ghosts in Hell, he returned to his hometown on the Chinese New Year’s Eve. To repay Du Ping’s kindness, Zhong Kui gave his younger sister in marriage to Du.
Zhong Kui’s popularity in folklore, myth and legend can be traced to the reign of Emperor Xuanzong of Tang China (712 to 756). According to Song Dynasty sources, once the Emperor Xuanzong was gravely ill. He had a dream in which he saw two ghosts. The smaller of the ghosts stole an embroidered perfumed purse from a favorite imperial consort, Yang Guifei, and a jade flute belonging to the emperor. The bigger ghost, wearing the hat of an official, captured the smaller ghost, tore out his eye and ate it. The bigger ghost then introduced himself as Zhong Kui and said he was sworn to rid the empire of evil. The Emperor awarded him with an honorable burial of a court official. Zhong Kui continues to be a popular figure in modern China.