Kangxi: Blue and White Zhong Kui Brush Washer
A blue and white brush washer depicting Zhong Kui capturing a ghost. The backside has two empty rings which indicates an early Kangxi period origin. It is important to note that Kangxi period porcelains predominantly used one type of blue but were able to control the temperature to turn that blue into different shades.
There are two depictions of Zhong Kui in Chinese culture. the first being:
Kuei Xing, whose name before deification was Zhong Kuei, is said to have passed his own examination with remarkable success but was denied the usual honours when the emperor beheld his ugly features. Brokenhearted, Kuei attempted suicide. He would have died, according to one account, had not an ao fish (or an ao turtle) borne him to safety. Another account says that Kuei actually died.
As depicted in art, Kuei bends forward like a runner, his left leg raised behind, the other sometimes balanced on the head of a fish (or giant sea turtle). Sometimes he sits astride the animal. In his right hand Kuei holds a writing brush to check off the most outstanding scholar candidates whose names are listed on a paper belonging to Yudi, the great Jade Emperor. In his left hand Kuei holds an official seal (some say a bushel basket to measure the talents of examinees).
Before the imperial examinations were discontinued in 1905, virtually every Chinese scholar gave Kuei a place of honour in his home, with images and name tablets. Some delightful representations of the god merely stylized the Chinese character of his name (kuei) in such a way that a man in motion was clearly visible. The arms are extended, the left leg is raised behind, and the right foot is sometimes balanced on the Chinese character for ao (sea turtle).
Kuei Xing resides among the stars as the deity in charge of the Ursa Major constellation. He is also one of two assistants assigned to help Wendi, the god of literature.
According to folklore, Zhong Kui travelled with Du Ping (杜平), a friend from his hometown, to take part in the imperial examinations at the capital. Though Zhong achieved top honours in the exams, his title of "zhuangyuan" was stripped by the emperor because of his disfigured appearance. In anger, Zhong Kui committed suicide upon the palace steps by hurling himself against the palace gate until his head was broken. Du Ping buried him. During his judgment, the Hell King saw potential in Zhong. Intelligent enough to score top honors in the imperial examinations, but damned to hell because he committed suicide. The Hell King (judge) then gave him the title, as king of ghosts, forever to hunt, capture, maintain and order ghosts. After Zhong became king of ghosts in Hell, he returned to his hometown on Chinese New Year's Eve. To repay Du Ping's kindness, Zhong Kui gave his younger sister in marriage to Du.
Encyclopedia Britannica. Kuei Xing, Chinese Deity
Nagendra Kumar Singh (1997). International encyclopaedia of Buddhism: India