The five noxious creatures-the centipede, snake, scorpion, gecko, and toad-were symbolically expelled during the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, close to the summer solstice, a moment of transition when mankind was particularly exposed to danger.(1) On this day a picture of Zhongkui, exorcist par excellence, would be hung in order to expel evil spirits and demons. Bearing a sword, he is frequently shown, as here, pursuing the creatures and driving them away. The painting is thus apotropeic in nature, designed to avert evil and to secure a safe and secure environment for the house in which it was hung.
Paintings of this subject were done in a great variety of styles and by artists ranging widely in talent and technical expertise. The present painting actually presents only three of the noxious creatures.
1. See Wolfram Eberhard: A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols, London, 1986, pp. 208-09.