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Fantômes dans l'Extrême-Orient d'hier et d'aujourd'hui - Tome 1

 | 
Marie Laureillard
, 
Vincent Durand-Dastès

Visions et contours

Ghost-Like Beggars in Chinese Painting: The Case of Zhou Chen

Les mendiants représentés comme des fantômes dans la peinture chinoise: l’exemple de Zhou Chen

中國繪畫中鬼神化的乞丐形象,以周臣《流民圖》為例 –– 白麗思

Alice Bianchi

Résumé

In China, beggars and other marginal and displaced figures with no clear social place or identity have long been associated with ghosts an demons. Both were considered marginal beings, dangerous and capable of harm and disruption if ignored. In order to expel or cope with ghosts and malevolent spirits, local communities staged a wide range of apotropaic or prophylactic ritual performances, which often involved street beggars or beggar households (gaihu) in the Suzhou area. In particular, at the end of the lunar year, beggars and the local poor dressed up like ghosts and demons and executed exorcism dances to drive out threatening malevolent forces and start the new year afresh. Zhou Chen’s now famous Beggars and Street Characters, painted in Suzhou in 1516, might have been informed by contemporary practices surrounding ritual expulsions of this kind. Providing an inventory of wretchedness, degradation and physical affliction, his figures are indeed often shown with a combination of human and demonic visual features. Through a closer examination of some of the characters, it is the aim of this article to consider the reasons for their fiendish aspect and to explore how their iconographical features shaped audiences’ understanding of their overlapping identities.

En Chine, les mendiants et autres figures déclassées et marginales ont longtemps été associés aux fantômes et aux démons. Les uns et les autres étaient considérés comme des êtres à la marge et dangereux, susceptibles de faire du mal si on les ignorait. Les communautés locales organisaient ainsi des rituels d’exorcisme des esprits malfaisants, auxquels prenaient part des mendiants ou des familles de mendiants (gaihu) dans la région de Suzhou. Ceux-ci se déguisaient en fantômes et démons pour exécuter des danses rituelles d’expulsion liées aux célébrations du Nouvel An. Il est fort probable que Zhou Chen, auteur du célèbre rouleau Mendiants et personnages de rue, réalisé en 1516 à Suzhou, se soit inspiré de tels chemineaux vus à l’occasion de ces processions rituelles dans sa ville natale. Ces figures aux corps abîmés, malades, loqueteux, présentent souvent une combinaison de traits humains et démoniaques. L’analyse de quelques-uns de ces personnages s’attachera à mettre en évidence la signification de ces motifs iconographiques et les raisons possibles de leur appropriation par le peintre. Il s’agira également d’explorer de quelle manière ces choix iconographiques ont façonné le regard du public sur les identités multiples de ces gueux.

在中國,乞丐和其他沒有明確社會身份的邊緣人士,長久以來都與鬼怪妖魔相聯系。以上兩類都被認為是邊緣且危險的存在,如果一不小心就可能造成傷害。為了驅逐或應對鬼怪惡靈,當地會舉行大型的驅邪避災的儀式表演,在蘇州地區,這種表演往往涉及到街頭的流丐或丐戶。特別是農歷年底,乞丐和當地貧困戶會打扮得如同鬼和惡靈,執行驅邪的舞蹈,以驅除邪崇,開啟新的一年。周臣1516年繪於蘇州的著名《流民圖》,可能也受到了當地這類驅逐儀式的影響。作為一份集合了不幸,墮落和殘疾的圖畫清單,周臣畫中的人物的確經常展現為人類和鬼怪的視覺特征的組合體。本文的主要目的是通過對一些人物的深入研究,思索構成人物鬼怪特征的原因,並探討其人物形象特點如何塑造了受眾對這些流民雙重身份的理解。

Texte intégral

  • 1 See Zhang Yanghao’s biography in Song Lian 宋濂, 1976, Yuanshi 元史 (Yuan history), Bei (...)
  • 2 Several Chinese terms translate as “beggar”: qigai 乞丐, taofan 討飯, jiaohuazi 叫化子/叫花子 and huazi (...)

1In 1329, Zhang Yanghao 張養浩 (1269-1329), a famous sanqu 散曲 poet and official, was put in charge of relief works for the drought-stricken central Yellow River basin in Shanxi province where, according to his biography, he died from exhaustion a few months later.1 Empathizing with the distress and the harsh conditions of the refugees and beggars he saw and heard about during this final posting of his troubled career, he wrote a “Lamentation for the Liumin2 (Ai liumin cao 哀流民操). Its opening verses read:

  • 3 Zhang Yanghao 張養浩, Guitian leigao 歸田類稿 (Assorted writings from retirement), in Siku quanshu(...)

Alas, the liumin!
哀哉流民
They are ghosts, they are not; they are human beings, they are not.3
為鬼非鬼,為人非人

  • 4 Wolf Arthur P., 1978, “Gods, Ghosts and Ancestors”, in Arthur P. Wolf, ed., Studies (...)
  • 5 Wolf Arthur P., 1978, “Gods, Ghosts and Ancestors”, in Arthur P. Wolf, ed., Studies in Chin (...)
  • 6 For some examples of Ming dynasty cases in which outside beggars were accused of these crim (...)
  • 7 On this subject, see in particular Kuhn Philip A., 1990, Soulstealers: The Chinese (...)
  • 8 There were several categories of people defined in legal terms or regarded as debas (...)
  • 9 For a description of such performances, see Wu Zimu 吳自牧, 1984, Mengliang lu夢梁錄 (A record of (...)

2For centuries, the gaunt appearance of beggars and destitute people has recalled the world of bony and emaciated hungry ghosts (egui 餓鬼), with their skeleton-thin limbs and swollen bellies, to Chinese poets and prose writers. Yet the physical similarities between the two figures brought other connections. Arthur P. Wolf convincingly argues that ghosts, demons and other dissatisfied spirits “are the supernatural equivalent of bandits, beggars, and other dangerous strangers”;4 they are “despised like beggars”.5 Lacking kin and community ties, they were both considered marginal beings by society, dangerous and capable of causing harm and disruption if ignored. In official and semi-official records, beggars and other marginal and displaced figures with no clear social place or identity were, in fact, commonly treated with scorn and suspicion as idlers feigning poverty and disability; sturdy beggars were suspected of deforming, drugging and kidnapping children, among other misdeeds.6 At weddings and funerals, beggars were particularly feared as a potential cause of “ritual sabotage”.7 Labeled as “mean” people (jianmin 賤民) during the Ming and Qing dynasties, in opposition to ordinary commoners (liangmin 良民, literally “good people”),8 beggars were therefore viewed as outsiders, always potentially dangerous, and sometimes challenging to social systems and political orders. Not surprisingly, ghosts were regarded as the supernatural analogues of those with marginal socioeconomic status. Both categories were victims of fear and stigmatization; society attributed a great variety of human misery to them. Hence, people staged a wide range of apotropaic or prophylactic ritual performances to expel or cope with ghosts and malevolent spirits. Interestingly, beggars themselves performed in some of these rituals, including exorcism dances staged at the year’s end to expel ghosts and demons. At least from the Song dynasty (960–1279) onwards, beggars executed ritual dances and exorcistic performances on New Year’s Eve, dressing themselves in masks and costumes to play the roles of the legendary demon-queller Zhong Kui 鍾馗, his sister, judges (panguan 判官), and demons. They marched through the market streets beating gongs and drums, and went from house to house to beg for money.9

  • 10 The work was mounted as a handscroll in later times. It is now divided into two handscroll (...)
  • 11 As Judith Zeitlin and other scholars have observed, the Chinese generic term gui 鬼 refers (...)

3In this regard, the now famous and hitherto admired Beggars and Street Characters (Liumin tu 流民圖), produced in 1516 by the Suzhou painter Zhou Chen 周臣 (c.1455–after 1536), might have been informed by contemporary practices surrounding year-end ritual expulsions, which often involved street beggars or beggar households (gaihu 丐戶) in the Suzhou area. The painting comprises twelve double-page album leaves, followed by the painter’s inscription on a separate page opening.10 The figures, placed at the center of each page against a blank background, face the characters on the opposite page. Apart from the first four characters appearing on the Honolulu scroll, the remaining figures, lined up with a great variety of poses, guises and facial expressions, provide an inventory of wretchedness, degradation and physical affliction. A comprehensive discussion of Zhou Chen’s work is beyond the scope of this paper; the following is a closer examination of some of the figures, focusing on Zhou Chen’s strategies to make them ghostlike, and considering the reasons for their demonic visual features.11 Informative of contemporary practices as it is, Zhou Chen’s painting should not be considered a straightforward depiction of real-world situations, nor should its consistency with social reality be seen as potentially enough to explain the specifics of the figures’ iconography. There is, in Zhou Chen’s work, an awareness of the extremely negative and disturbing soc’’’’ial attitude towards beggars. Therefore, it is not surprising that the artist would capitalize on the similarities between ghosts and beggars to emphasize the “otherness” of the socially marginalized who inhabit the borders of the civilized world.

4Consider, for example, the last double leaf of the Honolulu scroll, which depicts two beggars who present demonic attributes and may be simultaneously understood in a ritual context (Fig. 1).

Figure 1

Figure 1

Zhou Chen (ca.1455-after 1536), detail of Beggars and Street Characters (Liumin tu), 1516. Album leaves mounted in handscroll, ink and colors on paper, overall 31.4 x 245.3 cm, Honolulu Academy of Arts (2239.1: 1956)

© Honolulu Academy of Arts

  • 12 Cahill James, 1978, Parting at the Shore, p. 193.

5The figure on the right, whose fierce expression is emphasized by a feline mouth displaying pointed threatening teeth, brandishes a paddle that bears an image of Zhong Kui, the demon-catcher. Hence, as James Cahill has suggested, the figure may be impersonating a demon exorcist.12 Descriptions found in late Ming local gazetteers confirm these practices and provide interesting parallels with some of the characters depicted in the Zhou Chen series. For instance, the gazetteer of Jiading’s Waigang of the Chongzhen period (1627–1644), reads:

  • 13 Waigang zhi 外岡志 (Gazetteer of Waigang), 2004, Chongzhen reign, rpt., Shanghai: Shanghai she (...)

On the twenty-fourth day of the twelfth lunar month … on the market streets beggars carry out exorcism, two persons costumed as the figures of the Stove God and the Stove Goddess, carrying bamboo leaves and ilex, run and dance all over, this is called “the Stove God dance”. There is also another couple of people: one is dressed up as Zhong Kui carrying a sword, the other as a small demon, they dance one in front of the other from household to household begging for money.13

十二月二十四日 … 丐者儺於市,二人扮男女為竈公竈姥,持竹葉冬青,奔舞東西,謂之跳竈王。又有一人扮鍾馗持劍,一人扮小鬼對舞,沿門而乞。

  • 14 On the subject of beggars enacting the Stove God and his wife on this occasion, the gazette (...)
  • 15 For instance, the Jiajing period (1521–1567) gazetteer of Jiangyin county describes (...)

6Evil demons were therefore driven out by beggars, who took on the role of protectors of the household – the Stove God and his wife14 – or were costumed as the exorcist general Zhong Kui and a “small demon”. It seems likely that the beggar carrying a paddle with the image of Zhong Kui is involved in roughly the same, or the same kind of, ritual action. Similar year-end activities involving beggars and aiming to drive out evil and start the New Year afresh are indeed well documented in various sources covering the Jiangnan area, dating from the mid Ming to the late Ming dynasty.15

  • 16 For a reproduction, see Fu Xinian 傅熹年, ed., 1993, Zhongguo meishu quanji: Huihua bi (...)
  • 17 Huang Susan Shih-Shan, 2001, “Summoning the Gods: Paintings of Three Officials of Heaven, (...)
  • 18 For an account of processions for the expulsion of demons of disease during the late (...)
  • 19 The work, compiled by Yin Qisheng 殷啟聖 (dates unknown), survives in a Wanli edition issued b (...)

7A figure with a similar demonic grin stands on the exorcist’s left, his broom pointing downward. With disheveled hair and wild eyes, his open mouth displays sharp, animal-like teeth. He is probably cleansing as part of an exorcism. An anonymous Southern Song painting (Danuo tu 大儺圖), depicts village elders wearing masks and holding ritual instruments as they perform an exorcist dance to stave off disease and ghosts.16 As Shih‑shan Susan Huang points out, their gestures mimic fighting with demons.17 Interestingly, one figure in the upper right of the painting carries a broom, confirming that this instrument was a prop for exorcists.18 A later visual source seems to provide further evidence of the broom’s exorcist function. A late Ming anthology of dramatic scenes entitled Yaotian yue 堯天樂 includes a wood-block print of the chuanqi drama Xiangshan ji 香山記2.19

Figure 2

Figure 2

Guanyin sweeps the [Buddha] hall (Guanyin saodian). Wood-block illustration from Xiangshan ji, Wanli period

Source: Yin Qisheng, Yaotian yue, p. 36

  • 20 This scene is reproduced in Yin Qisheng 殷啟聖, 1984, Yaotian yue 堯天樂 (Music for the pole of heaven), (...)
  • 21 Dudbridge Glen, 2004, Legend of Miao-shan, p. 79.
  • 22 On ritual cleansing of the stage (jingtai 淨臺 or saotai 掃臺), see Van der Loon Piet, 1977, «  (...)
  • 23 For plate, see Lu Hanchao, 2005, Street Criers: A Cultural History of Chinese Beggars, Stan (...)
  • 24 On this practice on the twenty-forth day, see, for instance, the aforementioned gazetteer o (...)
  • 25 On this subject, see, for instance, Aijmer Göran, 2004, New Year Celebrations in Central China in (...)

8It illustrates a scene entitled “Guanyin sweeps the [Buddha] hall” (Guanyin saodian 觀音掃殿) ), in which Miaoshan 妙善/Guanyin 觀音 sweeps the Buddha hall in a nunnery called Qingxiu an 清秀庵, with the assistance of two ghosts, under the command of the local Earth God (tudi gong 土地公).20 In the illustration, Miaoshan, along with one ghost, is depicted holding a broom, while another demon sweeps the ground. As Glen Dudbrigde observes, in recent times this scene appears as an independent ritual action at the end of Mulian operas (Mulian xi 目連戲) in Fujian province and Singapore.21 Miaoshan sweeps the stage clean in the presence of the monastery protector (qielan 伽藍), a judge (panguan 判官) and a small demon (xiaogui 小鬼), for the purposes of exorcism, i.e. to clear the area of malevolent spirits, impurity and death.22 Even though I do not know the exact parallels with this ritual action in Ming dynasty Mulian plays, Zhou Chen might have borrowed such a visual motif from illustrations in play scripts or from ritual theatrical performances he may have attended in Suzhou. It is also possible, as a much later visual source seems to suggest, that beggars were hired to sweep the doorways of wealthy families during the New Year period. An illustration in the Dianshizhai huabao 點石齋畫報, depicting beggars’ activities on the second day of the new year, includes a beggar in the foreground, sweeping the doorway of a house.23 It was, in fact, customary in the Wu area to sweep the house and the doorway on the twenty-fourth or the twenty-seventh day of the twelfth lunar month. This was called “getting rid of malevolent forces” (chucan 除殘), an act that should be viewed as ritualistic.24 Notably, sweeping away evil influences and demons was a prominent feature of the New Year period.25

  • 26 Various deities of the Daoist pantheon, especially those with a martial background – which (...)
  • 27 Ch’en Pao‑chen, 1984, “Searching for Demons on Mount Kuan‑k’ou”, in Wen Fong, ed., Images o (...)

9Visually, the roots of this pair of beggar-exorcists seem to belong to a particular category: demons or rehabilitated deities of demonic origin.26 The figure on the left (Fig. 3) may be compared to one of the fearsome demons appearing in one version of “Searching [for Demons] in the Mountains” (Soushan tu 搜山圖), which dates to around the mid fifteenth century (Fig. 4).27

Figure 3

Figure 3

Detail of fig. 1: beggar brandishing a paddle

Figure 4

Figure 4

Anonymous, detail from Searching [for Demons] on Mount Guankou (Guankou soushan tu) ), ca. 1500. Hand‑scroll, ink on silk, 48.4 x 935.9 cm, Princeton University Art Museum

Source: Ch’en, “Searching for Demons” ), p. 328

  • 28 A very similar demon soldier appears in at least another version of Soushan tu, dat (...)
  • 29 Soushan tu consist of narrative scenes illustrating the theme of clearing out the m (...)

10The facial and corporeal features of the demon soldier holding a hunting bow and those of the beggar raising a paddle are similar: their protruding eyes, bared sharp teeth and angry roars suggest that they are both producing battle cries. Equally, the posture of the ghost-soldier is akin to that of the beggar-exorcist: both bodies are tense and straining with the effort of brandishing theirweapon of demonifuge.28 These similarities may have their raison d’être in the fact that the beggars here have similar roles: expelling demonic and threatening malevolent forces.29

  • 30 For plates, see Zeitlin Judith T., 2009, “Luo Ping’s Early Ghost Amusement Scroll: Literary (...)

11As for the demonic street sweeper (Fig. 5), his distorted face resembles that of one of the ghosts who died a violent death depicted in a late Yuan dynasty (1271–1368) mural on the northern wall of Qinglong temple 青龍寺 in Shanxi (Fig. 6). Standing next to a skeleton in chains and shown in three-quarter view, the ghost’s physiognomy is comparable to that of our street sweeper: a snubbed nose with flared nostrils, a gaping mouth displaying upper and lower fangs, and a protruding chin.30

Figure 5

Figure 5

Detail of fig. 1: demonic street sweeper

Figure 6

Figure 6

Detail from Ghosts of Those Who Died Violent Deaths, late Yuan dynasty. Wall painting, Qinglong temple, Shanxi

Source: Zeitlin, “Luo Ping’s Early Ghost Amusement Scroll”, p. 56

  • 31 Wuchang 無常 renders the Sanskrit anitya (impermanence). In ancient texts, the term (...)
  • 32 On this subject, see, in particular, Sutton Donald S., 2003, Steps of Perfection: Exorcisti (...)
  • 33 For visual records of Wuchang, according to Judith Zeitlin, Luo Ping’s 羅聘 (1733–1799) Ghost (...)

12Similarly, another pair of male characters, displaying black-and white painted faces, might have enacted some kind of ritual performance (Fig. 7). One is carrying a flag; the other is waving a yellow rag. The style of facial make-up, gestures and costumes, as well as the spatial arrangement of the two figures, recall actors on a stage. Their basic make-up, which leaves their eyes, nose and mouth uncovered, is characterized by the contrast between black and white. One might thus be tempted to speculate that the two are playing the roles of the paired Demons of Impermanence (Wuchang 無常or Wuchang gui 鬼).31 An emissary from hell, Wuchang escorts dead souls down to the netherworld for judgment. Depending on the context, he may be alone, with his family, or in a pair with his alter ego, the Black Wuchang.32 Paired Wuchang characters are known as the Black and White Wuchang (heibai Wuchang gui 黑白無常鬼). Unfortunately, both literary records and visual sources regarding this couple are scarce prior to the late Ming (1368-1644) or the early Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, making it difficult to assess which roles these two beggars are enacting.33 Similarly, apart from their make-up, neither is wearing a hat or a stage costume comparable to those found in later representations of Wuchang.

Figure 7

Figure 7

Zhou Chen, detail of Beggars and Street Characters

© Honolulu Academy of Arts

13Notwithstanding the paucity of sources relating to this demonic duo, the presence of envoys from the underworld (such as Zhong Kui and some ghosts of his retinue) in ritual dances carried out by beggars might imply the inclusion of Demons of Impermanence in these performances. Despite the fact that no records supporting this conjecture appear in coeval texts, later sources seem to confirm this hypothesis. Writing in the mid nineteenth century, Justus Doolittle notes that in Fuzhou (Northern Fujian), beggars enacted the Black and White Wuchang during the procession of the City God anniversary:

  • 34 Doolittle Justus, 1876, Social Life of the Chinese, with Some Accounts of Their Religious, (...)

Another performance is that of spirits passing over a bridge. … At a signal, several persons, with their faces painted, dressed as the Chinese imagine spirits to dress – in greenish or striped clothing – make their appearance from some place where they have been concealed from view, and, having received from a priest standing not far from one end of the bridge a paper document, pass on over the bridge. These sometimes represent a tall white devil and a short black devil, or sometimes a beggar or a female. They are usually real beggars or very poor persons, who, for a small sum of money, are willing to personate imps from the lower regions running over the bridge on such occasions.34 (Italics mine.)

  • 35 For a further discussion of similar, later sources on this subject, see Sutton Donald S., 2 (...)
  • 36 Another important mean of transmitting Wuchang imagery was the theatrical tradition, and es (...)
  • 37 Additional records to those cited before include a description found in Xihu youlan zhiyu 西 (...)
  • 38 Katz Paul, 1995, Demon Hordes and Burning Boats: The Cult of Marshal Wen in Late Imperial (...)
  • 39 Haar Barend J. ter, 2006, Telling Stories, p. 49.

14Despite its comparatively recent date, this relevant source may show the persistence of old customs and practices.35 If so, Zhou Chen is not depicting Wuchang the demon(s), but rather two beggars enacting roles; therefore, it is possible that the basic black-and-white make-up of the two characters would have been sufficient for contemporary audiences to identify them with the Demons of Impermanence. However, this can be considered only a tentative hypothesis, pending the discovery of further evidence.36 A safer assumption would be that this couple of beggars is playing an unidentified role in a ritual performance in the last month of the year. Despite the fact that these practices are well documented in contemporary written sources, description of beggars’ facial make-up, dress and paraphernalia are often too vague to match this painted duo closely and thus to determine their exact role.37 To be sure, Zhou Chen’s painting may not be taken as an exact representation of social realities; as such, it must be treated with caution. What is important in this case is to call attention to the multi-leveled relationship between ghosts and beggars, epitomized by the active role beggars played in ritual ghost expulsions. Beggars and the local poor dressed up like demons, not only because it was considered “a dangerous and polluting job that nobody else would willingly assume”,38 but also – and more importantly – because, as B. J. ter Haar has pointed out, being marginalized outcasts, they “were, in many ways, the real life equivalents of the demonic beings they enacted”.39

15The next double leaf pairs a snake charmer with a half-naked masculine figure holding a stick in his left hand. The latter displays sinewy muscles; his tattered clothing reveals a nude torso and protruding shoulder bones (Fig. 8), giving him the appearance of suffering from a congenital elevation of the scapula known as “Sprengel’s deformity”. Moreover, his mouth appears to be affected by a facial nerve paralysis, conferring a bestial quality upon him. Pictorially, the treatment of his visage recalls some baleful stars (xiongshen 凶神, “cruel divinities”, or shaxing 煞星, “murderous stars”) – with their fierce and disturbing appearances and grimacing faces – found, for example, in Water and Land ritual murals in Pilu temple 毘盧寺 in Hebei, dating to the late fifteenth century. For instance, one of the twelve stars of root destiny (Shi’er Yuanchen 十二元辰) (Fig. 9) has similar facial features: seen in three-quarter view, his twisted face with its protruding eyes, disheveled hair, and wild open mouth showing rows of menacing teeth evokes the beggar’s terrifying visual details.

Figure 8

Figure 8

Zhou Chen, detail of Beggars and Street Characters

© Honolulu Academy of Arts

Figure 9’

Figure 9’

Anonymous, Star of root destiny, ca. 1500. Section of a wall panting, Pilu temple, Hebei

Source: Sun, Pilu si bihua, p. 17

16The next pair in the series shows a relatively healthy-looking beggar, about to eat a root vegetable, facing a firewood carrier. The latter, barefoot and wearing only a tattered loincloth, shows signs of extreme emaciation (Fig. 10).

Figure 10

Figure 10

Zhou Chen, detail of Beggars and Street Characters

© Honolulu Academy of Arts

  • 40 Teiser Stephen T., 1988, The Ghost Festival in Medieval China, Princeton: Princeton (...)
  • 41 On these paintings, see Ledderrose Lothar, Ten Thousand Things: Module and Mass Production (...)

17His lower garment fails to cover a skeletal body: his bones stick out so much from his skin that they can be easily counted. He presents exaggerated joints; his ribcage protrudes to the point that it seems to rip through his parchment-like flesh. His figure displays bulging eyes, prominent cheekbones and tousled hair, with loose locks spread over his right shoulder. No doubt, Zhou Chen based his work on close observations of the bodily signs of advanced starvation among the rags and poor people of Suzhou’s markets and streets. However, iconographically, the appearance of the firewood carrier also recalls the racked physiques of semi-naked victims of karma retribution in hell paintings. The sinners’ partial or total nudity not only exposes their bodies to punishment, but nakedness also defines the otherness of those who are socially or morally deviant, thus indicating their moral status in the hierarchy of rebirth. Through precise iconographic tools, illustrations from tenth-century versions of the “Scripture on the Ten Kings” (Shiwang jing 十王經), from Dunhuang, indeed show two possible paths for the deceased: while “good” people (those whose families have sent offerings) are well dressed and serene, “evil” people (sinners who lack support from their families) are confined in cangues and scantily clad in loincloths that reveal their bare chests, arms and legs.40 Later sets of paintings depicting the ten kings of hell, such as those produced during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries by workshops of Ningbo, include scenes of torture and punishment in the lower register of each scroll. Relegated to the bottom of the paintings, penitents are emaciated and semi-naked, blood running over their bodies.41

  • 42 Hungry ghosts appear in particular in legends associated with Mulian, whose spiritual power (...)
  • 43 Hungry ghost do not always have swollen bellies. For instance, those appearing in the upper (...)

18Similarly, the bare-bodied hungry ghosts depicted in some Water and Land ritual paintings (shuilu hua 水陸畫) offer other comparative examples. One of the 139 ritual scrolls from the set of Baoning temple 寶寧寺 in Shanxi province features, according to the cartouche, an “assembly of ghosts with large stomach, dirty hair, needle-thin throat, torch-like mouth, starving to death” (Dafu choumao zhenxi jukou jihuo chiran guihun zhong 大腹臭毛针咽巨[炬]口饥火炽然鬼魂众) (Fig. 11). Undoubtedly, these are hungry ghosts, often described, in Indian as well as in Chinese sources, as having stomachs as large as mountains and throats as thin as needles.42 Aside from their large bellies,43 these creatures visually recall the firewood carrier depicted by Zhou Chen, who was doubtless familiar with these kind of images, given the popularity of Water and Land rituals during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Thus, Water and Land rite paintings were arguably visual precedents for this figure.

Figure 11

Figure 11

Source: Shanxi Sheng Bowuguan, Baoning si Mingdai shuilu hua, pl. 126

  • 44 For plates, see Lee Sherman E., 1993, “Yan Hui, Zhong Kui, Demons and the New Year” (...)
  • 45 Interestingly, Jusepe de Ribera’s painting, known as The Clubfoot, housed in the Lo (...)

19Another category of paintings in which we can find ghost images are those representing Zhong Kui and his grotesque-looking demon attendants in procession, catching and warding off ghosts and devil spirits. The handscroll of Yan Geng 颜庚 (active c.1300), “Zhong Kui Giving Off His Sister to Marriage” (Zhong Kui jiamei tu 鍾馗嫁妹圖), shows a motley crew of demons in ragged attire leading the nuptial procession of the demon-catcher’s sister.44 Zhong Kui himself, heavily intoxicated, is sitting on a donkey with three imps supporting him. One of these retainers, shown in frontal view and displaying eyebrows distorted into a frown, has a flat and snout-like nose sitting atop a closed mouth, forming a large arc of a circle (Fig. 12). The retainer closely resembles the cripple standing next to the large-bellied beggar, supporting himself with two crutches in the Zhou Chen series (Fig. 13). Seen with his left foot firmly planted on the ground and a turned-out right foot, he is probably suffering from foot and hand deformities.45

Figure 12

Figure 12

Yan Geng (active ca. 1300), detail from Zhong Kui Giving off His Sister to Marriage (Zhong Kui jiamei tu). Handscroll, ink on silk, 24.4 x 253.4 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Arts (1990.134)

© Metropolitan Museum of Arts

Figure 13

Figure 13

Zhou Chen, detail of Beggars and Street Characters.

© Cleveland Museum of Art

  • 46 For plates, see Lee Sherman E., 1993, “Yan Hui” , pp. 224–225. According to Sherman Lee, th (...)

20Taking an almost frontal stance, the beggar has turned slightly to meet the viewer with a direct gaze. He seems to show off his handicap clearly in order to arouse some pity, and eventually some coins, from people passing by. His facial features, which include a winkled forehead, frowning eyebrows, a flat nose, protruding ears, and lips pressed together and turned down, are also reminiscent of one of the fiends appearing in a scroll attributed to Yan Hui 顏輝 (active before 1298–after 1324?), depicting a Zhong Kui night excursion.46 Intriguingly, the hunting demon, accompanied by a greyhound, looks more pitiable than frightening, making one wonder whether he was modeled after a real beggar (Fig. 14).

Figure 14

Figure 14

Yan Hui (active ca. 1298-1324) (claimed to be by), detail from The Hunting Excursion of Zhong Kui, 14th century (?). Handscroll, ink on paper, dimensions and location unknown

Source: Lee, “Yan Hui, Zhong Kui, Demons and the New Year”, p. 225

  • 47 Lee Sherman E., 1993, Zhong Kui
  • 48 The scroll and the colophon appended to it, written by Tang Yin 唐寅 (1470–1524), are analyse (...)
  • 49 During the sixteenth century, two of these Yuan dynasty scrolls on the theme of Zho (...)

21On this point, I have already argued that some of Zhou Chen characters were probably inspired by beggars performing during New Year’s ritual expulsions. Equally, it is worth noting that, as Sherman Lee has convincingly shown, the Yuan dynasty paintings of Zhong Kui and his demon entourage depict New Year’s exorcising practices as recorded, for instance, in the aforementioned Mengliang lu.47 In such processions, which actually occurred during and after the Song period, real beggars dressed themselves as Zhong Kui and his company of demons, marching through the street of the capital, striking drums and beating gongs in order to expel evil forces. Zhong Kui’s night excursions remained a popular subject throughout the Ming dynasty, and Zhou Chen was no doubt familiar with some of these past models (he himself painted a handscroll of Zhong Kui and his sister riding an ox and a horse, escorted by a procession of demons48), arguably borrowing some visual conventions from earlier paintings on the theme of the demon-queller.49

Figure 15

Figure 15

Zhou Chen, detail of Beggars and Street Characters

© Cleveland Museum of Art

  • 50 Wang‑Toutain Françoise, 2007, « Le sutra qui sauve des maladies. Un aspect peu connu de Vaj (...)
  • 51 On this point, it is interesting to note that a Liang dynasty (502–557) book about the (...)
  • 52 Barnhart Richard, 1993, Painters of the Great Ming: The Imperial Court and the Zhe School, (...)

22Amid the gallery of sick and crippled is a figure whose features seem to aim to instill fear in the viewer (Fig. 15). Although the dark lines across his chest evoke the bony ribs of hungry ghosts, his upper chest, arms and legs are powerfully muscular. He is holding a rock in his right hand, which recalls the vajra (Chinese: jingang 金剛), the tool that is the scepter of peaceful deities and the weapon of wrathful ones. When held in the raised right hand, this ritual tool is hence understood to be a weapon. Interestingly, the beggar raising a rock with his right hand is probably employing it as a “weapon” too, since the rock can be identified as a coercive tool beggars used to elicit alms from potential donors. If refused, the beggars would start to hit themselves with rocks, inducing people to give a few coins to get rid of them. The powerful body of this beggar, virtually unprecedented in the history of Chinese secular art, evokes a Vajrapani (Chinese: Jingang lishi 金剛力士), a protector deity usually depicted with bare chest and bulging muscles. Often shown with non-Chinese facial features (round and protruding eyes, prominent nose and eyebrows, wild hair and beard) and skin tone, Vajrapani is primarily a yakṣa.50 Understood to protect the Buddha and control demons, he shares some of the physical attributes of ghosts and monsters. His terrifying form is therefore suitable for representing a demonic defender supposed to frighten away the forces of evil.51 The figure of one such protector deity from a Ming dynasty mural in Fahai temple 法海寺 near Beijing (Fig. 16) was arguably a visual precedent for the muscular beggar, as Richard Barnhart has pointed out.52 The eyes of the dark-skinned vajrapani are as round, protruding and wild as those of the beggar raising a rock; the positions of their muscled bodies are also comparable.

Figure 16

Figure 16

Anonymous, Guardian Figure, 15th century. Section of a wall painting, Fahai Temple, Beijing

Source: Zhou, Huashen yuyun, p. 46

© Cleveland Museum of Art

  • 53 As Carlos Hugo Espinel points out, the nasolabial sulcus of this character starts high abov (...)
  • 54 Campany Robert Ford, 1996,Strange Writing: Anomaly Accounts in Early Medieval China, Albany (...)

23Both overly muscular and markedly bony, barely clothed, with exaggerated, almost bestial facial features (protruding eyes, gaping mouths, unruly hair), Zhou Chen’s beggars share certain physical attributes with ghosts and demons without being reducible to them. Rather than portraying them in a negative light, as explicitly evil, the artist combines stock and unique features, through an acute observation and a convincing depiction of his subjects’ afflictions. Consider, for instance, the animal trainer carrying a squirrel, seen in the opening section of the Cleveland scroll (Fig. 17). If, on the one hand, his hair is reminiscent of that of the hungry ghosts (two tufts rise from behind the ears on either side of a bald pate), on the other hand, he presents individual, if excruciating facial details; he is suffering from a unilateral cleft palate. There is something almost clinical in the exactitude of his facial anomalies, suggesting that the artist has modeled his figure on a person presenting such a deformity.53 Therefore, Zhou Chen’s figures are also portrayals of individual distress, degradation and suffering that force the viewer to feel the dehumanizing effect of starvation, illness and physical deformities; these are highly detailed, anatomically correct renderings of powerful though undernourished anatomies that exert a strong physical presence, and as such are virtually unprecedented in the history of Chinese secular painting. This combination of human identities and ghostly features, highlighting the ambiguity of the boundaries between the living and the dead, is one of the sources of the uncanny and disturbing power the characters hold over the viewer. Unlike ghosts and demons, Zhou Chen’s beggars do not occupy spaces on the periphery of the urban and civilized center, nor have they been expulsed to a peripheral zone. Through the mixture of fiendish and more familiar physical features, Zhou Chen seems to suggest that his beggars and street characters are the inner demons: the different, ugly and terrifying in the world of those living within the bounds of the ordinary. The point might not be the assimilation of anomalies under a taxonomic scheme of order (“the collection”, as Robert Campany designates it54), but rather the exposure of these anomalous beings to the viewer, making him aware of their harsh realities.

Figure 17

Figure 17

Zhou Chen, detail ofBeggars of Street Characters.

© Cleveland Museum of Art

Notes

1 See Zhang Yanghao’s biography in Song Lian 宋濂, 1976, Yuanshi 元史 (Yuan history), Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, p. 4092.

2 Several Chinese terms translate as “beggar”: qigai 乞丐, taofan 討飯, jiaohuazi 叫化子/叫花子 and huazi 化子/花子 are the most common and semantically correct, but beggars are also associated with or referred to as liumin 流民 (crisis refugees) or youmin 遊民 (vagrants).

3 Zhang Yanghao 張養浩, Guitian leigao 歸田類稿 (Assorted writings from retirement), in Siku quanshu, vol. 1192, p. 604.

4 Wolf Arthur P., 1978, “Gods, Ghosts and Ancestors”, in Arthur P. Wolf, ed., Studies in Chinese Society, Stanford: Stanford University Press, p. 134.

5 Wolf Arthur P., 1978, “Gods, Ghosts and Ancestors”, in Arthur P. Wolf, ed., Studies in Chinese Society, Stanford: Stanford University Press, p. 169.

6 For some examples of Ming dynasty cases in which outside beggars were accused of these crimes, see Haar Barend J. ter, 2006, Telling Stories: Witchcraft and Scapegoating in Chinese History, Leiden and Boston: Brill, pp. 123–125.

7 On this subject, see in particular Kuhn Philip A., 1990, Soulstealers: The Chinese Sorcery Scare of 1768, Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, pp. 115–116.

8 There were several categories of people defined in legal terms or regarded as debased or mean people (jianmin), including hereditary beggars (called gaihu 丐戶, beggar households, or duomin 墮民/惰, fallen/lazy people), households of musicians (yuehu 樂戶), bondservants (nupu 奴僕), etc. These people suffered from restrictions and discriminations, such as the exclusion from state examinations, prohibitions against marrying commoners, and so forth. Their status was hereditary. For a general introduction to the “mean” categories, see Hansson Anders, 1996, Chinese Outcasts: Discrimination and Emancipation in Late Imperial China, Leiden: Brill. Even though there are no precise legal restrictions against non-hereditary beggars in official documents, there was probably almost no chance of upward social mobility for them. Hereditary and non-hereditary beggars were indeed involved in the same despised activities, and, at least in social practices, the boundaries between the two groups were not clearly delineated: non-hereditary beggars were, in all probability, treated as members of the same mean categories, distinct from ordinary commoners. As many scholars have pointed out, by the mid Ming dynasty, the so-called mean people were no longer distinguished simply by their hereditary status. Instead, their occupations and conduct – which were considered immoral – distinguished them from the respectable liang people (liang carrying the double connotation of “commoner” in legal terms and of “good,” in moral ones). On this issue, see, for instance, Liang Qizi 梁其姿, 1993, “‘Pinqiong’ yu ‘qiongren’ guannian zai Zhongguo su she shehui zhong de lishi yanbian” 「貧窮」與「窮人」觀念在中國俗世社會中的歷史演變 (The evolutions of the concepts of “poverty” and “the poor” in Chinese secular society), in Yinggui Huang 黃應貴, ed., Renguan yiyi yu shehui 人觀意義與社會, Taipei: Zhongyang yanjiuyuan minzuxue yanjiusuo, pp. 129–162.

9 For a description of such performances, see Wu Zimu 吳自牧, 1984, Mengliang lu夢梁錄 (A record of dreams of happiness), Hangzhou: Zhejiang renmin chubanshe, p. 50. For the English translation, see Lee Sherman E., 1993, “Yan Hui, Zhong Kui, Demons and the New Year”, Artibus Asiae, 53/1–2, p. 211. An earlier source, Dongjing menghua lu 東京夢華錄, describes a very similar custom for expelling evil demons at the year’s end, a ritual known as “beating the yehu” (nightly barbarian) (da yehu 打夜胡), in which poor people (pinzhe 貧者) dressed as women, deities and ghosts, and beating gongs and drums, went from house to house demanding alms. See Meng Yuanlao 孟元老, 1982, Dongjing menghua lu 東京夢華錄 (Records of a dream of past splendor in the Eastern capital), Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, p. 249. For a translation and a discussion of this passage, see HaarBarend J. ter, 2006, Telling Stories , p. 48.

10 The work was mounted as a handscroll in later times. It is now divided into two handscroll paintings in the collections of the Honolulu Academy of Arts and the Cleveland Museum of Art. The Honolulu scroll (ink and colors on paper, 31.4 x 245.3 cm, accession number 2239.1: 1956) is reproduced in Ecke Gustav, Chinese Painting in Hawaii in the Honolulu Academy of Arts and in Private Collections, 2 vols.,Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1965, ii, pl. xxxvi; the Cleveland scroll (ink and colors on paper, 31.9 x 244.5 cm, accession number 64.94) is reproduced in Ho Wai-kam, ed., 1980, Eight Dynasties of Chinese Painting: The Collection of the Nelson Gallery-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, and the Cleveland Museum of ArtCleveland: Cleveland Museum of Art, p. 196. For a general discussion of the painting, see Lee Sherman E., 1965, “‘Beggars and Street Characters’ by Chou Ch’en”, The Burlington Magazine, 107/744, pp. 159–167; Yang Xin 楊新, 1985, “Zhou Chen de Qishi tu” 周臣的乞食圖 (Zhou Chen’s Beggars) , Meishu yanjiu 美術研究, 2, pp. 85–88 ; Siggstedt Mette, 1983, Zhou Chen, the Life and Painting of a Ming Professional Artist, Kungsbacka: Elanders Boktryckeri Aktiebolag, pp. 97–102; Cahill James, 1978, Parting at the Shore: Chinese Painting of the Early and Middle Ming Dynasty, Tokyo: Weatherhill, pp. 191–193.

11 As Judith Zeitlin and other scholars have observed, the Chinese generic term gui 鬼 refers to a wide range of spirits, demons and monsters, as well as the souls of the dead (suicide, murder victims, etc.). See Zeitlin Judith T., The Phantom Heroine: Ghosts and Gender in Seventeenth-Century Chinese Literature, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, p. 4. My analysis also includes low-level functionaries associated with deities: demons whom they have subdued or victims of violent death. As Shahar and Weller point out: “Many gods share the kind of premature and violent deaths, often by suicide, that typify malevolent ghosts, and draw upon the power of the margins, of death and of the outside.” See Shahar Meir and Weller Robert P., ed., Unruly Gods: Divinity and Society in China, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, p. 11.

12 Cahill James, 1978, Parting at the Shore, p. 193.

13 Waigang zhi 外岡志 (Gazetteer of Waigang), 2004, Chongzhen reign, rpt., Shanghai: Shanghai shehui kexueyuan chubanshe, p. 12.

14 On the subject of beggars enacting the Stove God and his wife on this occasion, the gazetteer of Songjiang prefecture of 1630 reads: “One beggar applies make-up all over his face to impersonate the Stove God, another dresses up as his wife. Holding bamboo branches they dance and beat gongs to perform exorcism on the market streets” (丐者粉墨塗面飾為竈神一丐裝婦女共揭竹枝跳舞鳴鑼儺於街市). See Songjiang fuzhi, 松江府志 (Gazetteer of Songjiang Prefecture), 1991 [1630], rpt., Vol. 1, Beijing: Shumu wenxian chubanshe, p. 179. A similar performance is described in the 1579 gazetteer of Hangzhou prefecture and in the 1609 gazetteer of Qiantang county of Hangzhou. According to those sources, in addition to the beggars costumed as the Stove God and Goddess, poor people (pinmin 貧民) would also take part in the performances: they would beat jars to catch ghosts and handle chimonanthus branches to beg for money. See Hangzhou fuzhi, 黃巖縣志 (Gazetteer of Huangyan County), 1983 [1579], Wanli reign, rpt., Shanghai: Shanghai guji shudian, 19.19a; Qiantang xianzhi, jishi 錢塘縣志 (Gazetteer of Qiantang County), 1893, Hangzhou: Qiantang Dingshi Jiahui tang, 13b.

15 For instance, the Jiajing period (1521–1567) gazetteer of Jiangyin county describes an exorcist ritual (nuo) performed on the market streets by two beggars with painted faces (huamian 花面) on the twenty-fourth day of the twelfth lunar month. See Jiangyin xianzhi 江陰縣志 (Gazetteer of Jiangyin County), 1981, Jiajing reign, rpt., Shanghai: Shanghai guji shudian, 4.4a. The 1575 gazetteer of Kuaiji county mentions a ritual to drive off epidemics (zhuyi 逐疫) performed at the year’s end by beggar household members dressed as demons and holding weapons in a way that is compared to that in the ritual known as “Beating the yehu” (da yehu 打夜胡). See Kuaiji xianzhi 會稽縣志 (Gazetteer of Kuaiji County), 1983 [1575], rpt., Taipei: Chengwen chubanshe, 3.3a. In addition to the data discussed below, a stele dated 1733 defines the role of beggar households during the New Year’s rituals. According to it, professional drama actors (liyuan 梨園) had received the order to perform exorcistic rituals on the New Year from the Suzhou yamen, and were therefore extremely offended because such a degrading and polluting job was customarily the responsibility of beggar households. For the text of the stele, see Jiangsu sheng bowuguan, 江蘇省博物館, ed., 1959, Jiangsu sheng Ming Qing yilai beike ziliao xuanji 江蘇省明清以來碑刻資料選集 (Selected epigraphic materials since the Ming and Qing from Jiangsu province), Beijing: Sanlian shudian, pp. 276–278. In his memorial on the beggar households and the fallen people dated 11 August 11 1723, the salt commissioner Geertai 鄂爾泰 (1677–1745) stated that these people were traditionally allowed to perform only certain occupations, among which was “exorcising ghosts” (zhugui 逐鬼). See Shizong Xian huangdi zhupi yuzhi 世宗憲皇帝硃批諭旨 (The Yongzheng Emperor’s vermillion rescripts to official memorials), in Siku quanshu, Vol. 422, p. 832.

16 For a reproduction, see Fu Xinian 傅熹年, ed., 1993, Zhongguo meishu quanji: Huihua bian, Liang Song huihua 中國美術全集: 繪畫編, 兩宋繪畫 (Compendium of the arts of China: Painting section: The Two Song dynasties), Hong Kong: Jinxiu chubanshe, p. 87.

17 Huang Susan Shih-Shan, 2001, “Summoning the Gods: Paintings of Three Officials of Heaven, Earth and Water and Their Association with Daoist Ritual Performance in the Southern Song Period”, Artibus Asiae, 61/1, p. 44.

18 For an account of processions for the expulsion of demons of disease during the late Qing dynasty in Fujian province, which were headed by broom-bearers cleansing the road to remove the plague and the demons which caused it, see Groot J. J. M. de, 1892, The Religious System of China, Its Ancient Forms, Evolution, History and Present Aspect, Manners, Customs and Social Institutions Connected Therewith, 5 vols., Leiden: Brill, v, p. 986.

19 The work, compiled by Yin Qisheng 殷啟聖 (dates unknown), survives in a Wanli edition issued by the publishing house of Xiong Renhuang 熊稔寰. According to Glen Dudbridge, despite some changes, this fragmentary play consisting of only two scenes presents similarities in plot and scene construction to another Ming play bearing the same title, issued by the Nanjing publishing firm Fuchun tang 富春堂. Even though the two texts are quite different, he considered them the product of a common tradition, and more importantly, as ritual plays. See Dudbridge Glen, 2004, The Legend of Miao-shan, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 77–79.

20 This scene is reproduced in Yin Qisheng 殷啟聖, 1984, Yaotian yue 堯天樂 (Music for the pole of heaven), in Qiugui Wang 王秋桂, ed., Shanben xiqu congkan 善本戲曲叢刊, Taipei: Taiwan xuesheng shuju, p. 36.

21 Dudbridge Glen, 2004, Legend of Miao-shan, p. 79.

22 On ritual cleansing of the stage (jingtai 淨臺 or saotai 掃臺), see Van der Loon Piet, 1977, « Les origines rituelles du théâtre chinois », Journal Asiatique, 265/ 3–4, p. 162–163.

23 For plate, see Lu Hanchao, 2005, Street Criers: A Cultural History of Chinese Beggars, Stanford: Stanford University Press, p. 141.

24 On this practice on the twenty-forth day, see, for instance, the aforementioned gazetteer of the Jiangyin county, 4.4a, and Huangyan xianzhi 黃巖縣志, 1.36b. It seems that this ritual creasing was held in Suzhou on the twenty-seventh day of the month 臘月 (i.e. the last month of the year). See, for example, the 1506 Suzhou gazetteer Gusu zhi 姑蘇志 (Gazetteer of Gusu [Suzhou]), 1986, preface dated 1506, in Wenyuange Siku quanshu 文淵閣四庫全書, Taipei: Taiwan Shangwu yinshuguan, vol. 493, 13.6a. See also Yuan Hongdao 袁宏道, 2008, Yuan Hongdao ji jianjiao 袁宏道集箋校 (The works of Yuan Hongdao, annotated and collated), Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, p. 183.

25 On this subject, see, for instance, Aijmer Göran, 2004, New Year Celebrations in Central China in Late Imperial Times, Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, pp. 39–42.

26 Various deities of the Daoist pantheon, especially those with a martial background – which have been rehabilitated and converted into proper gods by local cults, particularly during the liturgical renouveau of the Southern Song – have human origins and often share the same fate: they are heroes or soldiers who died by violent death (murder, unjust execution, and so forth), or else died away from home and were forgotten. Their dreadful fate is the cause of their demonic appearance. On this subject, see, for example, Gyss‑Vermande Caroline, 1991, « Les Messagers divins et leur iconographie », Arts Asiatiques, 46/1, p. 105. A similar phenomenon is found in Buddhist demons transformed into deities. See Gyss‑Vermande Caroline, 1988, « Démons et merveilles : vision de la nature dans une peinture liturgique du xve siècle », Arts Asiatiques, 43, p. 111. These deities of demonic origin are often demon-catchers themselves.

27 Ch’en Pao‑chen, 1984, “Searching for Demons on Mount Kuan‑k’ou”, in Wen Fong, ed., Images of the Mind: Selections from the Edward L. Elliott Family and John B. Elliott Collections of Chinese Painting and Calligraphy at The Art Museum, Princeton: Princeton University Press, pp. 322–325. For a complete reproduction of this scroll, now held by the Princeton University Art Museum, see Ch’en Pao‑chen, 1984, “Searching for Demons”, pp. 326–329.

28 A very similar demon soldier appears in at least another version of Soushan tu, dating from the fourteenth century and now held in the Palace Museum, Beijing. For reproductions, see Fu Xinian 傅熹年, ed., 1993, Zhongguo meishu quanji : Huihua bian, Yuandai huihua 中國美術全集: 繪畫編, 元代繪畫 (Compendium of the arts of China: Painting section: Yuan dynasty painting), Hong Kong: Jinxiu chubanshe, pl. 72, pp. 103–107.

29 Soushan tu consist of narrative scenes illustrating the theme of clearing out the mountains by a water deity generally identified as Erlang 二郎, which is quelling and killing – with the assistance of his ghost soldiers (all kinds of demonic creatures living in the mountains, forests and seas). On the identity of the deity presiding over the mountain search, see in particular Hinton Carmina, 2001, “In Search of Erlang”, East Asian History, 21, pp. 1–32.

30 For plates, see Zeitlin Judith T., 2009, “Luo Ping’s Early Ghost Amusement Scroll: Literary and Theatrical Perspectives”, in Kim Karlsson, Michele Matteini and Alfreda Murck, eds., Eccentric Visions: The Worlds of Luo Ping (1733–1799), Zurich: Rietberg Museum, p. 56; Zhongguo siguan bihua quanji bianji weiyuanhui, 2011, Yuandai siguan shuilu fahui tu 元代寺觀水陸法會圖 (Yuan dynasty water-and-land ritual temple paintings), in Zhongguo siguan bihua quanji 中國寺觀壁畫全集, Guanzhou: Guandong jiaoyu chubanshe p. 72–74.

31 Wuchang 無常 renders the Sanskrit anitya (impermanence). In ancient texts, the term was used as a synonym for “death”, and in later times also refers to an envoy from the underworld.

32 On this subject, see, in particular, Sutton Donald S., 2003, Steps of Perfection: Exorcistic Performers and Chinese Religion in Twentieth-Century Taiwan, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, pp. 112–119 and pp. 224–229. In fiction and drama, when alone, Wuchang is often described as dressed in white mourning dress (jiaoyi 教衣) and wearing a tall white hat. His paraphernalia include a broken umbrella held in his left hand and a palm-leaf fan in his right hand. His face can be bloody, with his long tongue hanging out. His alter ego, the Black Wuchang, is short and squat; he has a black face and wears a square black hat and a black dress.

33 For visual records of Wuchang, according to Judith Zeitlin, Luo Ping’s 羅聘 (1733–1799) Ghost Amusement Scroll (Guiqu tu 鬼趣圖) might be the earliest extant painting of the white demon of impermanence. See Zeitlin Judith T., 2009, “Luo Ping’s Early Ghost Amusement Scroll”, p. 59. No Wuchang gui is, for instance, depicted in the illustrations of the 1582 edition of Mulian jiumu quanshan xiwen 目連救母勸善戲文 by Zheng Zhizhen 鄭之珍 (1518–1595). However, as Zeitlin points out, a woodblock print from a late Ming collection of drama entitled Xuanxue pu 玄雪譜, illustrating a scene from Fengxiang ji 焚香記, depicts a white Wuchang standing next to another ghost holding a placard with a warrant for the arrest of the protagonist’s husband. See Zeitlin Judith T., 2009, “Luo Ping’s Early Ghost Amusement Scroll”, p. 63. In this illustration, the Demon of Impermanence is recognizable by his typical tall white hat and white mourning dress. He is not holding the fan and umbrella seen, for instance, in the Luo Ping painting. For plate, see Chulan Renren 鋤蘭忍人 (pseud.), 1987, Xuanxue pu 玄雪譜 (Dark snow formulary), in Qiugui Wang 王秋桂 ed., Shanben xiqu congkan 善本戲曲叢刊, Vol. 50, Taipei: Xuesheng shuju, p. 271. Paired Wuchang characters seem to appear in visual arts not earlier than the late Qing, for instance in illustrations of Jade Registers (yuli 玉歷). See Sutton Donald S., 2003, Steps of Perfection, pp. 227–228. For a discussion of the illustrations of these popular religious texts, see in particular Brook Timothy, Bourgon Jérôme and Blue Gregory, eds., Death by a Thousand Cuts, Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, pp. 128–151. As for the written records, according to Ruth Fuller Sasaki (The Record of Linji, trans. Ruth Fuller Shahar, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, p. 159), the earliest mention of Wuchang (Wuchang shagui 無常煞鬼) appears in the treatise Mohe zhiguan 摩訶止觀, dating from the sixth century. For the Chinese text, see Zhiyi 智顗, 1996, Mohe zhiguan 摩訶止觀 (The great calming and contemplation), in Xuxiu Siku quanshu 續修四庫全書, Vol. 1279, Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, p. 542. Early references to the Demon of Impermanence also appear in texts from Dunhuang dating from the Tang dynasty. For example, Wang Fanzhi 王梵志 (?–c.670) mentions a “Wuchang shagui” 無常煞鬼 in one of his poems. See Chen 陳尚君, ed., Quan Tangshi bubian 全唐詩補編 (Supplement to the complete collection of Tang poetry), Vol. 2, Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, p. 709. The death-dealing Demon of Impermanence also appears in an anonymous Chan poem dating from the same period. See Zeng Zhaomin 曾昭岷, ed., 1999, Quan Tang Wudai ci 全唐五代詞 (Complete Ci poetry of the Tang and Five Dynasties), Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, p. 1108. However, the earliest mentions of paired Wuchang I have found date from the Song dynasty: for example, Ni Junshi 倪君奭 (Song dynasty, dates unknown) mentions two Wuchang (Wuchang ergui 無常二鬼) in a poem written before death (linzhong ci 臨終詞), entitled “Sailing a Boat at Night” (Ye xing chuan 夜行船). See Tang 唐圭璋, ed., 1965, Quan Song ci 全宋詞 (Complete Ci poetry of the Song dynasty) , Vol. 5, Beijing, Hong Kong: Zhonghua shuju, p. 3320. Unfortunately, none of these earlier records describe Wuchang’s physical appearance.

34 Doolittle Justus, 1876, Social Life of the Chinese, with Some Accounts of Their Religious, Governmental, Educational and Business Customs and Opinions, with Special but not Exclusive Reference to Fuhchau, 2 vols., New York: Harper & Brothers, i, p. 105.

35 For a further discussion of similar, later sources on this subject, see Sutton Donald S., 2003, Steps of Perfection, pp. 228–229. The aforementioned account by Groot on ritual expulsions of demons in Fujian province mentions that in such processions, the broom-bearers were followed by three men costumed as the figure of Zhong Kui and two demons “in the service of the God of Walls and Moats, charged with haling criminal souls before his tribunal …. One of the pair is tall and lean, the other short and broad.” Groot J. J. M. de, 1892, Religious System of China, p. 987. It is hence possible that these two demons were the two Wuchang.

36 Another important mean of transmitting Wuchang imagery was the theatrical tradition, and especially the Mulian operas. However, this character does not appear in Ming dynasty Mulian plays (see Zeitlin Judith T., 2009, “Luo Ping’s Early Ghost Amusement Scroll”, pp. 59–60), even though we know that beggars sometimes performed in ritual operas, such as the Mulian performances. A court case dating from the Qianlong period (1749) concerns a hereditary beggar performing in a Mulian opera at a temple in Cixi 慈溪, near the city of Ningbo. Unfortunately, the role played by this beggar, called Zheng Shide 鄭世德, is unknown. See Tong De 同德, 1755, Cheng’an Xubian 成案續編 (Sequel compilation of leading cases), Tianjin, edition held by Tōkyō Daigaku Tōyō Bunka Kenkyūjo, 4.79a–80b. On this case, see also Tanaka Issei 田仲一成, 1968, Shindai chihōgeki shiryōshū 淸代地方劇資料集 (A collection of materials on regional operas in the Qing), Tokyo: Tōkyō Daigaku Tōyō Bunka Kenkyūjo, pp. 60–62.

37 Additional records to those cited before include a description found in Xihu youlan zhiyu 西湖遊覽志餘 (Supplement to the guide to the West Lake), by the Ming scholar-official Tian Rucheng 田汝成 (jinshi 1526), who wrote that on the twenty-fourth day of the twelve month, beggars painted their faces (tumo 塗抹) and dressed up as officials from the underworlds (guipan 鬼判) to perform exorcist dances in exchange for money. See Tian Rucheng 田汝成, 1980, Xihu youlan zhiyu 西湖遊覽志餘 (Supplement to the guide to the West Lake), Shanghai: Shanghai guji chubanshe, p. 363. A Chongzhen-period gazetteer of Wucheng county in northern Zhejiang includes an almost identical passage. See Wucheng xianzhi 烏程縣志 (Gazetteer of Wucheng County), Chongzhen reign, rpt., Beijing: Shumu wenxian chubanshe, 4.19a. According to the 1600 gazetteer of Jiaxing prefecture, during the Lunar New Year, beggars used to smear their faces with red ink and perform ritual dances in the streets to expel demons. See Jiaxing fuzhi 嘉興府志 (Gazetteer of Jiaxing Prefecture), 1983 [1600], rpt., Taipei: Chengwen chubanshe, 1.18a.

38 Katz Paul, 1995, Demon Hordes and Burning Boats: The Cult of Marshal Wen in Late Imperial China, Albany: State University of New York Press, p. 180.

39 Haar Barend J. ter, 2006, Telling Stories, p. 49.

40 Teiser Stephen T., 1988, The Ghost Festival in Medieval China, Princeton: Princeton University Press, p. 32; Teiser Stephen T., 1999, “Picturing Purtagory: Illustrated Versions of the Scripture on the Ten Kings”, in Jean‑Pierre Drège, ed.,Images de Dunhuang. Dessins et peintures sur papier des fonds Pelliot et Stein, Paris : E. F. E. O., p. 172. For plates, see Monnet Natalie, 2004, Chine : l’Empire du Trait, Calligraphies et dessins du ve au xixe siècle, Paris : Éditions de la Bibliothèque Nationale de France, pp. 124–127.

41 On these paintings, see Ledderrose Lothar, Ten Thousand Things: Module and Mass Production in Chinese Art, Princeton: Princeton University Press, pp. 163–185.

42 Hungry ghosts appear in particular in legends associated with Mulian, whose spiritual powers permit him to see these creatures. On this topic, Teiser Stephen T., 1988, Ghost Festival in Medieval China, pp. 124–130.

43 Hungry ghost do not always have swollen bellies. For instance, those appearing in the upper register of the Ming Buddhist murals on the south wall of Gongzhu temple 公主寺 in Shanxi do not have large stomachs. The mural paintings can be dated to c.1503. This detail is reproduced in Jin Weinuo 金維諾, ed., 2007, Shanxi fanzhi gongzhu si bihua 山西繁峙公主寺壁畫 (Mural paintings of Gongzhumonastery in Fanzhi county, Shanxi), Shijiazhuang: Hebei meishu chubanshe, p. 5; Zhongguo siguan bihua quanji bianji weiyuanhui, ed., 2011, 中國寺觀壁畫全集編輯委員會, Ming Qing siguan shuilu fahui tu 明清寺觀水陸法會圖 (Ming and Qing dynasties water-and-land ritual temple paintings), vol. 3, in Zhongguo siguan bihua quanji 中國寺觀壁畫全集, Guanzhou: Guandong jiaoyu chubanshe, pl. 36, p. 77. Equally depicted as lacking prominent bellies are the hungry ghosts surrounding the face-flaming king of ghosts (mianran guiwang 面然鬼王) on the upper left of the south-west wall of Pilu temple. See Kang Dianfeng 康殿, ed., 1998, Pilu si bihua 毗盧寺壁畫 (Mural paintings of the Pilu temple), Shijiazhuan: Heibei meishu chubanshe, pl. 144–145.

44 For plates, see Lee Sherman E., 1993, “Yan Hui, Zhong Kui, Demons and the New Year”, Artibus Asiae, 53/1–2, pp. 222–223; Fong Wen C., 1992, Beyond Representation: Chinese Painting and Calligraphy, 8th–14th Century, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, pp. 368–372.

45 Interestingly, Jusepe de Ribera’s painting, known as The Clubfoot, housed in the Louvre (dated 1642), depicts a young beggar who seems to show analogous foot and hand deformities. Specialists have recently tried to identify his condition: according to a French orthopedic surgeon, the diagnosis is hemiplegic cerebral palsy (see Fitoussi Franck and Meslay Olivier, “Le Pied-Bot de Jusepe de Ribera (1591-1652). Un regard médical sur le modèle, en collaboration avec l’hôpital Robert‑Debré à Paris”, Paris : Musée du Louvre, http://cartelfr.louvre.fr/pub/fr/pdf/31924_mois120.pdf (accessed 03/04/2012), while M. Ramachandran argues that arthrogryposis is worth considering as well. See Ramachandran Manoj, 2006, “The Diagnosis of Art: Arthrogryposis and Ribera’s The Clubfoot”, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 99/6, pp. 321–322. Be that as it may, the boy’s turned-out right foot and flexed right wrist resemble the disabilities depicted here. Although we do not clearly see the right hand of Zhou Chen’s figure – which is holding a staff – his wrist seems distorted as well; thus, he might be affected by the same condition.

46 For plates, see Lee Sherman E., 1993, “Yan Hui” , pp. 224–225. According to Sherman Lee, the painting (present location unknown), although traditionally attributed to Yan Hui, is probably a work dating from almost a century later. See Lee Sherman E., 1993, “Yan Hui” , p. 215.

47 Lee Sherman E., 1993, Zhong Kui

48 The scroll and the colophon appended to it, written by Tang Yin 唐寅 (1470–1524), are analysed by Siggstedt Mette, 1983, Zhou Chen, pp. 112–113. For plate of the painting (ink on paper, 27.9 x 77.9 cm, present location unknown), see Siggstedt Mette, 1983, Zhou Chen, p. 227, and Wang Shijie, Na Zhiliang and Zhang Wanli, eds., 1967, A Garland of Chinese Paintings, 3 vols., Hong Kong: Cafa Company Limited, iii, pl. 13.

49 During the sixteenth century, two of these Yuan dynasty scrolls on the theme of Zhong Kui night excursions – one produced by Gong Kai 龔開 (1222–c.1304) (Zhongshan chuyou tu 中山出遊圖), now in the Freer Gallery of Art, and a very similar scroll by Yan Hui in the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art – were owned by An Guo 安國 (1481–1534), a famous editor and art collector from Wuxi, in the Changzhou prefecture in Jiangsu. See Little Stephen, 1985, “The Demon Queller and the Art of Qiu Ying”, Artibus Asiae, 46/1–2, p. 35. Moreover, the fact that one of the twenty-one colophons appended to the Gong Kai painting was composed by the famous calligrapher Feng Fang 豐坊 (1492–1563) in 1527 attests that these kind of paintings were circulating in collecting circles in the Wu area during the sixteenth century. For a transcription and translation of Feng Fang’s colophon, see the technical data sheet “Gong Kai, Zhongshan Going on Excursion”, 2007, Washington: Freer Gallery of Art, pp. 19–20, http://www.asia.si.edu/SongYuan/F1938.4/F1938-4.Documentation.pdf (accessed 01/11/2010).

50 Wang‑Toutain Françoise, 2007, « Le sutra qui sauve des maladies. Un aspect peu connu de Vajrapani, Protecteur de la Loi », in Jean‑Pierre Drège, ed., Études de Dunhuang et Turfan, Geneva : Droz, p. 118.

51 On this point, it is interesting to note that a Liang dynasty (502–557) book about the customs and festivals throughout the year in the southern region of Jing and Chu (modern Hubei and Hunan) describes an expulsion rite held on the la day 臘日 (i.e. the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month), in which village people would disguise themselves as Jingang lishi to drive off epidemics (zhuyi 逐疫). See Zong Lin 宗懍, 1987, Jing Chu suishi ji 荊楚歲時記 (A record of seasonal festivals in the Jing and Chu regions), Taiyuan: Shanxi renmin chubanshe, p. 64.

52 Barnhart Richard, 1993, Painters of the Great Ming: The Imperial Court and the Zhe School, Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art, p. 289.

53 As Carlos Hugo Espinel points out, the nasolabial sulcus of this character starts high above the left nasal ala, angles laterally, and ends down near the jaw. His philtrum is missing, and a thick cleft cuts through the skin and the muscles that encircle the left upper lip, extending up toward the left nostril. The upper incisors show deviation, suggesting a lack of support due to a cleft palate. The lower lip protrudes to compensate for the failure of the upper lip. Finally, the square and protruding lower jaw indicates pseudoprognathism. See Espinel Carlos Hugo, 1996, “Chou Ch’en’s Street Character: Facial Deformity in the Art of the Ming Dynasty”, Lancet, 348, pp. 1714–1716.

54 Campany Robert Ford, 1996,Strange Writing: Anomaly Accounts in Early Medieval China, Albany: State University of New York Press, p. 9.

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1
Légende Zhou Chen (ca.1455-after 1536), detail of Beggars and Street Characters (Liumin tu), 1516. Album leaves mounted in handscroll, ink and colors on paper, overall 31.4 x 245.3 cm, Honolulu Academy of Arts (2239.1: 1956)
URL http://books.openedition.org/pressesinalco/docannexe/image/1484/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 3,2M
Titre Figure 2
Légende Guanyin sweeps the [Buddha] hall (Guanyin saodian). Wood-block illustration from Xiangshan ji, Wanli period
URL http://books.openedition.org/pressesinalco/docannexe/image/1484/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 174k
Titre Figure 3
Légende Detail of fig. 1: beggar brandishing a paddle
URL http://books.openedition.org/pressesinalco/docannexe/image/1484/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 3,3M
Titre Figure 4
Légende Anonymous, detail from Searching [for Demons] on Mount Guankou (Guankou soushan tu) ), ca. 1500. Hand‑scroll, ink on silk, 48.4 x 935.9 cm, Princeton University Art Museum
URL http://books.openedition.org/pressesinalco/docannexe/image/1484/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 173k
Titre Figure 5
Légende Detail of fig. 1: demonic street sweeper
URL http://books.openedition.org/pressesinalco/docannexe/image/1484/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 435k
Titre Figure 6
Légende Detail from Ghosts of Those Who Died Violent Deaths, late Yuan dynasty. Wall painting, Qinglong temple, Shanxi
Crédits Source: Zeitlin, “Luo Ping’s Early Ghost Amusement Scroll”, p. 56
URL http://books.openedition.org/pressesinalco/docannexe/image/1484/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 472k
Titre Figure 7
Légende Zhou Chen, detail of Beggars and Street Characters
Crédits © Honolulu Academy of Arts
URL http://books.openedition.org/pressesinalco/docannexe/image/1484/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 3,3M
Titre Figure 8
Légende Zhou Chen, detail of Beggars and Street Characters
Crédits © Honolulu Academy of Arts
URL http://books.openedition.org/pressesinalco/docannexe/image/1484/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,2M
Titre Figure 9’
Légende Anonymous, Star of root destiny, ca. 1500. Section of a wall panting, Pilu temple, Hebei
Crédits Source: Sun, Pilu si bihua, p. 17
URL http://books.openedition.org/pressesinalco/docannexe/image/1484/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,9M
Titre Figure 10
Légende Zhou Chen, detail of Beggars and Street Characters
Crédits © Honolulu Academy of Arts
URL http://books.openedition.org/pressesinalco/docannexe/image/1484/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 2,4M
Titre Figure 11
Crédits Source: Shanxi Sheng Bowuguan, Baoning si Mingdai shuilu hua, pl. 126
URL http://books.openedition.org/pressesinalco/docannexe/image/1484/img-11.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 2,3M
Titre Figure 12
Légende Yan Geng (active ca. 1300), detail from Zhong Kui Giving off His Sister to Marriage (Zhong Kui jiamei tu). Handscroll, ink on silk, 24.4 x 253.4 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Arts (1990.134)
URL http://books.openedition.org/pressesinalco/docannexe/image/1484/img-12.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 79k
Titre Figure 13
Légende Zhou Chen, detail of Beggars and Street Characters.
Crédits © Cleveland Museum of Art
URL http://books.openedition.org/pressesinalco/docannexe/image/1484/img-13.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 2,7M
Titre Figure 14
Légende Yan Hui (active ca. 1298-1324) (claimed to be by), detail from The Hunting Excursion of Zhong Kui, 14th century (?). Handscroll, ink on paper, dimensions and location unknown
Crédits Source: Lee, “Yan Hui, Zhong Kui, Demons and the New Year”, p. 225
URL http://books.openedition.org/pressesinalco/docannexe/image/1484/img-14.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 212k
Titre Figure 15
Légende Zhou Chen, detail of Beggars and Street Characters
Crédits © Cleveland Museum of Art
URL http://books.openedition.org/pressesinalco/docannexe/image/1484/img-15.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 3,2M
Titre Figure 16
Légende Anonymous, Guardian Figure, 15th century. Section of a wall painting, Fahai Temple, Beijing
Crédits Source: Zhou, Huashen yuyun, p. 46
URL http://books.openedition.org/pressesinalco/docannexe/image/1484/img-16.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,2M
Titre Figure 17
Légende Zhou Chen, detail ofBeggars of Street Characters.
Crédits © Cleveland Museum of Art
URL http://books.openedition.org/pressesinalco/docannexe/image/1484/img-17.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 4,0M

Auteur

Université Paris-Diderot