What were the ghosts that Zhong Kui was out to exterminate? The answer to this question is found in a memorial the Kings of Ten Hells presented to the Jade Emperor: As administrators of the nether world, your humble subjects feel duty bound to pass unbiased verdicts on all crimes. However, there are strange demi-ghosts in the Tang Empire in the southern land, who have the motives for commit- ting crimes but on whom, having no evidence for their crimes, we cannot administer the royal law. For this reason, the world is dark and right is con- fused with wrong. Your humble subjects have been gripped by worries. Fortunately, we can now count on Zhong Kui.What Zhong Kui is out to do away with are just demons in the human world, such as sycophants, drunkards, double-dealers, swindlers, and lechers.
The following are records of how Zhong Kui tamed ghosts.
The first ghost Zhong Kui tackled was Arrogant Ghost. As soon as Zhong Kui and his party arrived at the human world and took up their lodging in an ancient temple, a demon came to visit Maitreya Buddha with a letter of introduction. When Zhong Kui reproved him for his bad manners, the demon retorted, If I tell you who I am, you will know I am a person who ought to be invited to a seat of honour while you should stand in waiting on the side. He claimed to be a fellow-disciple with Mai- treya Buddha learning the Tao (the Way) from the same tutor.Then I was appointed Grand General Equalling Heaven, he continued,a general next to nobody in rank, with power over Heaven and Earth. When the Great Heavenly Emperor sees me, he addresses me as 'Your Excellency my teacher,' and when the Kings of Ten Hells fall across me, they present themselves to me as 'Your humble subordi- nates so and so.' Zhong Kui told the demon to go back and bring his weapon for a fight. In a trice the demon vanished in the sky. Appalled at his super- natural power, Zhong Kui consulted with his two subordinate generals for a way to deal with the demon. Fu Qu, the Trail-Blazing General, said he had wondered why the demon should pay respects to the clay idol of Maltreya Buddha and why the name of the demon had not been found on the Register of Ghosts and Demons. At this, Zhong Kui ordered another general, Han Yuan (The Wronged), to go and investigate in the guise of a country doctor. Han Yuan met an old man called Tong Feng (Informant) who was on his way to look for a doctor to cure his sick daughter, and the old man told him the demon was called Arrogant Ghost whose gold crown and garments were both bor- rowed. Zhong Kui laughed when Han Yuan report- ed the results of his investigations. Soon after, Arro- gant Ghost arrived with a troop of ghost soldiers and challenged Zhong Kui to fight a duel. Zhong Kui emerged from his formation and shouted, Isn't that the Arrogant Ghost? Arrogant Ghost was stunned, wondering how his adversary had come to know his name. When they were tied at the fiftieth round of fighting, the old man Tong Feng rushed on the scene. Arrogant Ghost, give me back my garments, he yelled. Your concubine has died of hunger and you are expected to run home to buy a coffin for her. Arrogant Ghost collapsed with fear. Zhong Kui gouged out his eyes, and from then on, the ghost had gone about shorn of his arrogant air.
Another story has it that once a county magistrate and Zhong Kui read a written complaint lodged by Lie-Telling Ghost, accusing someone of robbing his property in broad daylight and killing countless numbers of people. Can you give me facts to support your complaint about the accused killing countless numbers of people? asked the magistrate. Lie-Telling Ghost replied, If my money and proper- ty had not been robbed, I could have used it to buy myself a wife and a bevy of concubines. Then they would give me several sons, who, when grown up, would marry and have sons and grandsons and so on to infinity. With my money and property gone, I am impoverished and will soon starve to death. Then I would leave no offspring behind. Doesn't this mean killing countless numbers of people? Enraged by his absurd arguments, the magistrate was about to put him to torture, when Zhong Kui emerged from behind the screen and, brandishing his sword, cut off the liar's head with one fell swoop.
There were times, however, when Zhong Kui landed in trouble. One story tells how his leg was pulled by five ghosts. After Zhong Kui had killed Drunkard and driven Dandy into a coffin, Swindler cried and made up his mind to avenge them. So he got his ghost-brothers together and, when the coun- ty magistrate was away from the yamen on a mis- sion, they entered the county yamen disguised as yamen runners. Seeing Zhong Kui sitting idly under a huge pine tree in the rear garden of the mansion, they went up to him, entertaining him with singing and dancing and plying him with drain after drain of liquor until he was inebriated. Swindler removed Zhong Kui's boots from his feet; Scapegoat took off his sword and Philanderer took away his scepter, while Shortlived Ghost climbed up the tree and fished up his official gauze cap with one foot. When General Fu Qu returned and saw Swindler leaving with the boots on his back, he captured him and the other ghosts. He was wondering where the gauze cap had disappeared, when he heard the rustle of the tree leaves and saw Shortlived Ghost shivering on the branch, the gauze cap on his head. He shot the demon down with an arrow, picked up the cap and put it on Zhong Kui's head. Only then did Zhong Kui wake up. When he saw his two guardian generals and found what had happened, he felt embarrassed and pledged that he would give up drinking and eliminate all the ghosts and monsters on earth.