Zhong Kui is a figure of Chinese mythology. According to myth, he was born in early Tang Dynasty. The actual existence of the person is not known.
According to myth, Zhong Kui was a man who joins the Imperial Examination in the Imperial Court. Though Zhong achieved top honors in the exams but due to his horrific appearance, the official title of ‘Zhuang Yuan’ (imperial Scholar) was being taken away from him from the Emperor. In humiliation and unjust, he killed himself in the Palace by bursting his head onto the pillars of the court in front of the Emperor.
In Tang Dynasty historical records, there's no such a person known as Zhong Kui. However there is a kind root-plant with the name of Zhong Kui. The plant is believed to possess magical powers and used to ward off bad or evil entities. Some anonymous scholars during the Tang Dynasty wrote some articles regarding the plant. It stated that the plant Zhong Kui manifest itself from a vegetation to a spirit and later to a human.
Zhong Kui die classified as a ‘Gui Yin’ (demonic and ghostly hordes) due to suicide and according to the Chinese mythology, Gui Yin can never be reborn and has to remain in the repeating cycle of sufferings and torments. It was the Jade Emperor who had Zhong Kui’s soul summon to the heaven from hell and bestowed him with the title of “Capturer of all Negative Entities”. His primary duty is to subdue evil spirits. Zhong Kui was then promoted from a ‘Gui Yin’ to a high ranking deity or ghost lord in hell commanding over 80000 of demons and ghost.
The spirit of Zhong Kui save Emperor Xuan Zong
It was during the reign of Emperor Xuan Zong of Tang China (712 to 756) that Zhong Kui was popularized. The Emperor Xuan Zong was gravely ill. He had a dream in which he saw two ghosts. The smaller ghost was creating havoc in the imperial court. The bigger ghost, wearing the costume of an official, captured the smaller ghost and swallows it. The bigger ghost then introduced himself as Zhong Kui. When Emperor Zhong woke up, he felt revitalized and his illness soon vanished. He instructed to hang paintings of Zhong Kui based on the images of his dreams in the Imperial Palace. The first painting of its kind was by Wu Daozi an artist serving under Emperor Xuan Zong. This painting is believed to be a relic that can drive away any kind of evils unnatural energy.
Zhong Kui today
Zhong Kui’s painting would be hanged on New Year’s Eve and Dragon Boat Festival. It is a fine practice and etiquette to give Zhong Kui’s painting as a present during these dates. This practice is especially common to the Chinese that are highly exposed to the Philosophical and Features schools of Taoism. Some Chinese will idolize Zhong Kui for the blessings of academic success.