This is one of a set of paintings the Yao people used in their ritual ceremonies. Living in today's southern China, the Yao people are associated with the early history of China and their paintings shed important light on Daoism and the ritual and artistic traditions it inspired.
In the centre of this 19th century painting, a figure with a furious face rides a dragon while holding a small bowl of purification water in his right hand. His right foot is bare and the lost boot is on top of the dragon's tail. He is given a name of Xiao Haifan (the minor Haifan), who is believed to be an exorcist – one of the three deities initially permitted for use to invoke workshop during ceremonies. Oral traditional has it that he lost his boot while crossing a river (or the sea), but his dragon was able to recover it. Some scholars connect this detail with the Chinese demon-queller god Zhong Kui who was rescued by a giant fish when he jumped into a river to drown himself.
The inscription reads:
The [Daoist] disciple Pan Fade along with his sons Pan Fayuan and Pan Fawang, whole heartedly commissioned a painting of the four deities. May the whole household be propitious and prosperous. [Inscribed or painted by] Li Zongzhang of Changde county. A 'kaiguang' ceremony was performed on the eleventh moon of the first year of Xianfeng (1851) [to endow the icons with power].
Asian Art Department, AGNSW, January 2012.
Hoi Fan Ton
Ceremonial painting - Xiao Haifan (The Sea Banner)
pigment on paper
124.5 x 51.0 cm
Gift of Dr John Yu and Dr George Soutter 2006