When Zhongli Quan ( 钟离权) was born, light filled the room and it was evident from his features, which included a broad forehead, thick ears and scarlet lips, that he was destined for greatness.
Known also as Han Zhongli (汉钟离) because is said he was born during the Han dynasty, Zhongli Quan became a member of court and an army general. During a battle with Tibetan forces, Zhongli’s troops were overpowered, forcing him to flee to the mountains. There he encountered an elderly man who gave him shelter and taught him the art of alchemy, Daoist philosophy and magic. Thereafter, Zhongli was told to serve his people, which he did, helping the less fortunate in various ways.
Eventually, as a result of his use of powers for good and meditation, he ascended to the shimmering cloud of the immortals.
Zhongli is depicted as a smiling, bearded fat man with a bare midriff. He carries either a peach (symbol of immortality) or a feathered fan with which he wields power over the seas and the forces of life and death).
He is the patron of military soldiers.
Han Xiangzi (韓湘子) is believed to have been the great-nephew of Han Yu, a Tang Dynasty politician, poet and Confucian scholar.
It is said he studied Taoist magical arts under the guidance of Lu Dongbin, rejecting his uncle’s plans to have him enter government service. Han Yu, who raised Han Ziangzi after the death of the latter’s parents, married his nephew to the daugher of another scholar. However, Han Xiangzi left his family to join Lu Dongbin and Zhongli Quan in order to cultivate himself according to Daoist doctrine.
Han Xiangzi eventually became immortal, but his uncle was adamant that he give up Daoism. During a banquet in honour of Han Yu’s birthday, Han Xiangzi magically produced a bouquet of peonies. On the petals of the flowers appeared the following verse, in gold:
Clouds shroud Qin Peak, where is my abode?
Snow is piled on Languan (Blue Pass), and my horse will not push on
Years later, when Han Yu was banished by the Emperor Xianzong to Chaozhou, his journey to that city was impeded by heavy snowfall on Languan. Recalling Han Xiangzi’s prophecy, Han Yu wept, but his great-nephew miraculously appeared before him and swept the snow away. It was then that Han Yu converted to Daoism.
Han Xiangzi is usually depicted playing or holding a dizi (Chinese flute). He is the patron deity of flautists.
Lü Dongbin (呂洞賓) is the best known of the Eight Immortals and the only one who is venerated as an individual deity.
His real name is Lü Yan (呂巖) and he was a Tang Dynasty scholar and poet, and the disciple of Zhongli Quan (钟离权) another of the Eight Immortals.
It is said that Zhongli Quan put Lu Dongbin through ten trials before he agreed to take him on as a student.
Although a scholarly man with a kind heart and a calm disposition, Zhongli Quan is said to have a weakness for women. One of his lovers was a woman called White Peony and there are several versions of their relationship. However, in all of them, White Peony eventually achieves immortality for herself.
Lü Dongbin is usually depicted dressed as a scholar and wielding a two-handed sword or a fly-whisk, which symbolises the ability to fly.
Lu is the patron deity of doctors and literature, and is the protector against all evil spirits, which he defeats with his sword. He also ensures the success of off-spring.
Lan Caihe is the most enigmatic of the Eight Immortals. This deity is often depicted in a gender ambiguous fashion, with a sweet, androgynous face, flowing tattered blue robes, and carrying a flower basket and, sometimes, castanets. They also behave in a rather eccentric way: dressing inappropriately (woollen clothes in the summer and thin shirts in the winter); singing in the street for coins and then giving their earnings away; sleeping in odd places etc.
It is said that Lan Caihe earned their status as an immortal by caring for a beggar who turned out to be Li Tieguai. Their compassion and generosity towards one less fortunate was rewarded with immortality. Following this event, Lan Caihe was whiling away their time at a tavern when a giant stork flew through the window and settled on the table, whereupon this newly minted immortal leapt upon the bird’s back and disappeared into the sky, leaving their blue robes behind!
Lan Caihe is the patron of actors, beggars and the mentally-ill. Perhaps they should also be the patron deity of misfits and eccentrics.
It is likely that Li Tieguai (李铁拐), one of the Daoist Eight Immortals is a figure of legend not history, as there isn’t a fixed date for this deity’s lifetime.
Li Tieguai is usually depicted as an old and crippled man with bulging eyes and dirty, torn clothes. His name means ‘Iron-crutch Li’, which refers to the crutch that he needs to help him walk.
Although stories about Li portray a grumpy man with a short fuse, he is also shown to be kind to the poor and ill. Continue reading “The Eight Immortals: Li Tieguai “
He Xian’gu (何仙姑), which translates as The Immortal Woman He, is the only woman among the Eight Immortals (Bāxiān 八仙). She is known as a chaste woman who was devoted to her parents during their lifetime. She is usually portrayed holding a lotus flower or a peach to signify immortality.
Legend has it that He Xian’gu was the daughter of a Tang Dynasty peasant. The He family lived in the Zengcheng District in Guangzhou (Canton), Guangdong. Her birth name was He Qiong.
When He Xian’gu was about fourteen, she had a dream in which an immortal instructed her to eat the powdered mica that could be found on the banks of a distant stream. He Xian’gu was so inspired and moved by her dream that she took a vow of celibacy and travelled to the stream where she found and ate the mica. As a result, He Xian’gu became light as a feather; was able to cover large distances in a single stride; and ceased to require food and water to stay alive.
Having achieved immortality, He Xian’gu remained a filial daughter, continuing to care for her parents until their deaths.
Tales of her piety and immortality spread and the Empress Wu (AD 690-705) summoned the young woman to court, eager to discover her secret. However, on the way to the palace, He Xian’gu floated up to Heaven on a cloud.
He Xian’gu is the patron deity of women and women seeking spiritual enlightenment.
As far as I know, there are more than eight Daoist immortals so I’m not sure what sets the eight, in the group known as The Eight Immortals (Bāxiān 八仙), apart from the rest.
Each immortal has an instrument or implement onto which the immortals may transfer his/her power. These instruments are known as the Covert Eight Immortals (暗八仙).
The exact identities of the Eight Immortals are unknown, but some of them are associated with actual historical figures born during the Tang and Song dynasties. Apparently they reside on a group of five mythical islands in the Bohai Sea, namely Mount Penglai (蓬莱) Island, Fāngzhàng (方丈), Yíngzhōu (瀛州), Dàiyú (岱輿), and Yuánjiāo (員嬌).
The Eight Immortals are He Xian’gu (何仙姑), Cao Guojiu (曹國舅), Li Tieguai (李铁拐), Lan Caihe, Lü Dongbin (呂洞賓), Han Xiangzi, Zhang Guolao and Zhongli Quan (钟离权). Continue reading “The Eight Immortals”