A Demon queller is in Chinese and Japanese folklore, a fierce demigod hero dedicated to saving others from evil Demons. He is large and bearded and wields an enormous sword. The origins of the Demon queller date to the eighth century during the T’ang dynasty in China, when he is said to have appeared to Emperor Ming-huang in a DREAM.
In the dream, a Demon broke into the royal chambers, stole the emperor’s jade flute and his favourite consort’s perfume bag, and began dancing around the palace. Just as the emperor was about to summon his guards, a large, bearded man appeared, snatched up the goblin, poked out its eyes and ate it. The stranger said he was Chunk K’uei, a scholar who had committed SUICIDE approximately 150 years earlier. He had failed his exams and had smashed his head against the palace steps. The Emperor Kao-tsu had graciously granted his corpse an official burial, and out of gratitude, Chung K’uei had sworn to rid the world of Demons and suppress all evil.
Emperor Ming-huang might have forgotten his dream, had not it been mysteriously painted by Wu Tao-tzu, the greatest artist of the entire T’ang dynasty. Acting independently and without knowledge of the dream, Wu Taotzu recorded the Demon queller exactly as the emperor had envisioned it. The emperor was so impressed that he awarded the artist 100 taels of gold.
The Demon queller became a popular figure in Chinese folklore. He was adopted by the Japanese, who call him Shoki, as early as the 12th century. Early artists of both nations portrayed him as a fearsome-looking man subduing writhing Demons. By the late 18th century, Shoki became associated with the Boy’s Festival, which occurs on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar year (May 5), and is celebrated by all families with male children under seven years of age. The carp, which represents strength and virility, is the major symbol of the festival. The Boy’s Festival also is feared for the presence of evil spirits, bad luck and poisonous insects. Shoki was adopted as a masculine, amuletic symbol for driving these evil influences away. Images of the Demon queller were painted on banners to be hung outside the homes of families with young, vulnerable sons. In the 19th century, Shoki images began to appear inside homes as well.
An amusing side to the Demon queller also exists. He is sometimes portrayed as a comical figure who does not frighten Demons and occasionally is bested by them. In Chinese art, he has been depicted as a drunkard who must be helped along by a retinue of ghosts and goblins. By the 19th century, Japanese artists were fond of showing the Demon queller being quelled himself by beautiful courtesans.
- Addis, Stephen, ed. Japanese Ghosts & Demons: Art of the Supernatural. New York: George Braziller, 1985.