Japanese Drawing of Shoki the Demon Slayer
Shoki 鍾馗 – The Demon Slayer-Protector Against Evil Spirits & Illness; Expels the Demons of Plague; Guardian — Safety of Hearth & Home; Protects Homes with Male Children; Protects Male Heirs to the Chinese Throne.
Chinese Name: Zhōng Kuí, Chung Kuei, Chung K’uei, Chung Kwei
Japanese spellings: Shōki, Shoki, Shouki, Shooki
Shōki 鍾馗 is a deity from China’s Taoist pantheon who was depicted often in Edo-period (1615-1868) Japanese sculptures and paintings, but one who is today largely neglected. Legends about Shōki reportedly first appear in Tang-era (618-907) Chinese documents. The deity reached Japan by at least the late Heian Period (794 to 1185), for the oldest extant image of Shōki in Japan is a scroll at the Nara National Museum dated to the reign of Emperor Goshirakawa 後白河天皇 (1127-1192). Numerous legends surround Shōki in Japan and the West. The three most widespread are:
Shōki is the Chinese deity who protected Tang-era Emperor Xuanzong 玄宗 (Jp: Gensō, 685-762) from malevolent demons. According to this legend, Shōki appeared to the sick emperor in a dream and subdued the demons causing his sickness. In gratitude, the emperor awarded Shōki the title of “Doctor of Zhongnanshan” (Jp. = Shūnanzan-no-Shinshi 終南山の進士). By the way, Zhongnanshan 終南山 is the legendary birthplace of Chinese Taosim. It is here that Taoism’s founder, Laozi 老子 (Jp. = Rōshi) reportedly gave classes and wrote the Taoist classic “Tao Te Ching.” The sacred terrace monastery is called Louguantai 楼観台. (Sources: Tokyo National Museum, JAANUS, and The Art Institute of Chicago)
Shōki wanted, above all else, to serve as a physician in the imperial palace, but when he failed the national exam he committed suicide in despair. Emperor Xuanzong heard this story, and in pity, posthumously awarded Shōki the title “Doctor of Zhongnanshan.” Shōki’s spirit thereafter vowed to protect the emperor and empire from evil. (Source: JAANUS)
Shōki was a Tang-era physician in the Chinese province of Shensi, but he was very ugly. To advance his career, he took the national examination to enter imperial service, and performed brilliantly, scoring first place among all applicants. But when Shōki was presented to the emperor, he was rejected because of his ugliness, and in shame, Shōki committed suicide. Overcome with remorse, the emperor ordered Shōki to be buried in the green robe reserved for the imperial clan. In gratitude, Shōki’s spirit vowed to protect the ruler and all male heirs from demons of illness and evil. (Source: Minneapolis Institute of Art)
In his “Dictionary of Chinese and Japanese Art,” Hugo Munsterberg states, “In China, he is canonized with the title of ‘Great Spiritual Chaser of Demons.’ He is usually represented in art as a large ugly man, wearing a scholar’s hat, a green robe and large boots, and is usually shown either stabbing or trampling on demons.”
Shōki’s popularity peaked in Japan during the Edo period, when people began to hang images of Shōki outside their houses to ward off evil spirits during the Boys’ Day festival (Tango no Sekku 端午の節句, May 5 each year, but now a festival for all children of both sexes) and to adorn the eaves and entrances of their homes with ceramic statues of the deity. Today, Shōki is a minor deity relatively neglected or forgotten by most Japanese, except perhaps in Kyoto city, where residents still adorn the eaves and rooftops of their homes with Shōki’s effigy to ward off evil and illness, and to protect the male heir to the family.