Zhong Kui (鐘馗)
Ren Yi (任頤, 1840-1896), Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)
Hanging scroll, ink and color on paper, 171.8 x 93.3 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
In this depiction of Zhong Kui, the legendary Demon Queller, Ren Yi adopted the figural style of Chen Hongshou (1598–1652). During the late Qing dynasty, Zhong Kui became a popular symbol of Chinese opposition to the misrule of the Manchus and was often portrayed glowering ferociously over a motley retinue of cowering ghosts and demons. In Ren Yi's depiction, however, Zhong Kui appears as an elegant, if somewhat eccentric, scholar. His sword sheathed and a blossom stuck in his hair, he sits reading decorously beside a table laid out with archaic bronzes filled with flowers and fruits, an image that suggests it was the Chinese scholars' command of their cultural heritage rather than their military prowess that set them apart from their Manchu overlords.