Shoki, the Demon Queller, on a Donkey

Zhong Kui (Shoki), the Demon Queller, on a Donkey
Japanese, Edo period, 18th–19th century

I cannot take my eyes off this beautiful drawing. I can almost imagine it to be my portrait from a previous life, and remain pleasantly undecided if I can identify better with the rider or the donkey: both are sketched well enough to strike my fancy. The zeal, even the pomp so apparent in the minimalistic outline of the reckless rider, and the gallop of the regal, nimble-footed donkey with the fringed rim of the straw hat and ass ears blown back are all so natural, so lifelike and exuberant! The self-assured visual impression itself quells demons, even if partly by a certain comicality of the motif.

Folklore has it that Zhong Kui, the original demon slayer of Shensi, China was interpreted as Shoki, the demon queller, only later in the Edo period of Japan. Thanks to the artist’s ingenuity, Shoki looks more experienced in this picture: wise enough to ride a reliably unceremonious, daring donkey, without insisting on a twitchy thoroughbred. Shoki, the slayer of yore and protector of humans – especially of young boys on the Boy’s Festival, and girls as well, some say – is even known to befriend and leaguer the quelled demons, and hence could be considered both humane and demane.

I also like to believe Shoki would love to sportively dispel upheaving, belligerent amen beings, demagogues and tin gods with a flyswatter.


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