The Eight Immortals
- 1 Origin of the Eight Immortals
- 2 Han Zhongli, the Bun-haired Daoist ( 髽髻道人 Zhuaji Daoren )
- 3 Zhang Guolao, Who Rode A Donkey Sitting Backward
- 4 Han Xiangzi, Who Saved His Uncle at Lan Pass
- 5 Iron Stick Li, Who Attaches his Soul to Others' Bodies
- 6 Chao, the Emperor's Brother-in-Law, Who Lives in Mountains as a Hermit
- 7 Lan Caihe, Who Went Begging with Castanets In his Hands
- 8 Female Immortal He, Who Flew to Feed Her Mother
- 9 Lu Dongbin, Who Dreamt an Evanescent Dream
- 10 Worship for the Eight Immortals
Origin of the Eight Immortals
The Eight Immortals ( 八仙 Baxian ) referred to eight Daoist Immortals who were popularly worshiped by Daoist sects as well as ordinary people. They were Zhong Liquan, Zhang Guolao, Lü Dongbin, Li Tieguai, He Xiangu, Nan Caihe, Han Xiangzi and Chao Guojiu. The Eight Immortals of Daoism had nothing to do with other similar callings such as the Han dynasty's Eight Gentlemen of Huainan, the Tang dynasty's Eight Drunken Immortals and the Eight Immortals of Ancient Sichuan. The Daoist version of the Eight Immortals came into being during the Song and Yuan dynasties. Yuan dynasty dramas such as The Yueyang Pavilion by Ma Zhiyan, The Bamboo Raft by Fan Zi'an and the Willow Tree in the South of the City by Gu Zijing depicted the Eight Immortals, whose characteristics were very close to what we see today. After the middle period of the Ming dynasty when Wu Yuantai published his novel The Journey to the East, Where the Eight Immortals Came From ( 八仙出處東遊記 Baxian Chuchu Dongyou Ji ), the depiction of the Eight Immortals was completed.
Han Zhongli, the Bun-haired Daoist ( 髽髻道人 Zhuaji Daoren )
His surname was Zhongli and his personal name Quan, which, in later times, was changed to Jue. He came from Yantai, and styled himself Jidao. Known as Heguzi or Zhenyangzi, he was worshiped as Patriarch Zhenyang, and was counted among the Five Northern Patriarchs. It is said that he was born on the fifteenth of the fourth month, when brilliant rays rose just like flames. In the first days after his birth, he neither cried nor ate. On the seventh day, he suddenly jumped up and said: I am going to ascend to the heavenly world someday. As a grown-up, he was designated as Imperial Counselor. Receiving the emperor's order, he commanded troops to attack enemies in the North. However, he lost the war as well as his troops. He fled the battlefield alone and came to Gumi Path where he met Wang Xuanpu who taught him a formula for longevity, knowledge of divine elixirs and Green Dragon Swordsmanship. After that, he went to Mt. Hua, then to Mt. Kongtong where he met the Venerable Ruler of the Supreme Concourse and was granted the title Yunfang. In the Tang dynasty, after saving Lu Chunyang, he received an order from the Jade Emperor and ascended to heaven where he was designated as 'Perfect Man of the Left Chamber of the Supreme Ultimate' ( 太極左宮真人 Taiji Zuogong Zhenren ). On the basis of his discussions with Lu Dongbin on the Dao of the Divine Immortals, a Daoist book entitled The Transmission of Dao by Zhongli Quan and Lu Dongbin ( 鍾呂傳道集 Zhonglü Chuandao Ji ) was edited. In the first Qinkang year of the Song dynasty emperor Qing, he was granted the title of 'Perfect Man Zhenyang', and also received the title of 'Perfect Man Zhenyang who Enlightens and Transmits Dao" ( 正陽開悟傳道真君 Zhengyang Kaiwu Chuandao Zhenjun ) in the sixth Zhiyuan year of the Tang dynasty (1269 AD). He used to call himself 'Zhongli, the Freest Tramp under Heaven', which, by mistake, was interpreted as Han Zhongli, which referred to a man named Zhong Li living in the Han dynasty. It is said that Zhongli Quan, when teaching Dao, normally wore his hair in two buns, with a big fan in his hand, and exposing a big belly. He was popularly known as the Free Perfect man.
Zhang Guolao, Who Rode A Donkey Sitting Backward
He was a Daoist who lived in the Tang dynasty. His surname was Zhang, and his personal name was Guo. He used to cultivate Dao as a hermit on Mt. Zhongtiao. He claimed that he was born during the Yao era, so he was too old to know his real age. It was said that he was born on the 23rd day of the eleventh lunar month. Zhang Guolao used to travel tens of thousands of miles on a donkey, sitting backwards. When he had a rest, he folded his donkey and changed it into a piece of paper. So he could even place it in a box. When he needed it, he spat some water at it, then he got his white donkey again. He declined appointments by the Tang dynasty emperors Tai and Gao. In the 23rd Kaiyuan year of Tang dynasty emperor Xuan (735 AD), he was granted the title of 'Senior Official of the Silver Seal and Blue Ribbon in Charge of the Emperor's Diet" ( 銀青光祿大夫 Yinqing Guanglu Dafu ). He was also known as 'Gentleman of Pervasive Mystery' ( 通玄先生 Tongxuan Xiansheng ).
Han Xiangzi, Who Saved His Uncle at Lan Pass
His personal name was Xiang, and he styled himself Qingfu. It was said that he was Han Yu's grandnephew and that he was born on the ninth day of the eleventh lunar month. Even in his childhood, Han Xiangzi began to follow Lu Dongbin and learn Dao. He fell from a peach tree and died, which was thought to be a case of Deliverance from the Corpse. When Han Yu was designated as Minister of Justice, guests thronged his home, inviting him to banquets in his honor. Han Xiangzi tried to persuade him to give up his political career and pursue Dao. Han Yu, however, suggested to Han Xiangzi to give up his pursuit for Dao and engage himself in a political career. Han Xiangzi drank to all the guests with his calabash, which remained full of wine no matter how much he had drunk. In addition to that, he planted two flowers in a basin filled with soil, on which was an antithetical couplet. It said: 'Where was your home when you stood before Mt. Qing as high as the clouds, where the horse refused to go further than Lan Pass torn by a terrible storm'. Afterwards, because he was opposed to the emperor's enthusiasm over the so-called Buddha's bones, Han Yu was demoted from his original position to a minor post in Chaozhou. When he and his family came to Lan Pass, the bad weather made things even worse. They were stranded by a terrible storm. Even the horses refused to advance. Then Han Xiangzi emerged in heavy snow. Han Yu asked him where they were. When he was told it was Lan Pass, Han Yu became astonished over Han Xiangzi's previous prediction. Then Han Xiangzi escorted Han Yu to his destination. After that, they transferred to Yuanzhou together. Later, Han Xiangzi succeffully led his uncle to Dao.
Iron Stick Li, Who Attaches his Soul to Others' Bodies
It was said that Iron Stick Li's surname was Li, and his personal name Ningyang or Hongshui. In childhood, his nickname was Crippled Kid. He normally called himself Minor Official Li. It is said that he was born on the tenth day of the seventh lunar month. According to the Original Chaos Chart of Immortals' Lineages ( 混元仙派圖 Hunyuan Xianpai Tu ), Li was Lu Dongbin's disciple. It is said that, at the invitation of the Supreme Venerable Sovereign and Gentleman Wanqiu, Li Ningyang's soul would visit Mt. Hua. Prior to his departure, he ordered his disciple to take care of his body during his seven-day absence. Unfortunately, on the sixth day, because his mother was terribly sick, the disciple had to go home. In a hurry, he burned the master's body. When Li's soul came back next day, he could not find his body. His soul was homeless. So he had to attach his soul to the body of a man who had died of hunger. That explained why he looked so ugly and had a crippled right leg. In later times, he was granted the title of 'Imperial Sovereign Donghua Who Reaches the Sun and Reveals the Origin' ( 東華齊陽啟元帝君 Donghua Qiyang Qiyuan Dijun ).
Chao, the Emperor's Brother-in-Law, Who Lives in Mountains as a Hermit
His surname was Chao and his personal name Jingxiu, and he came from the Xu district. Because he was the younger brother of Queen Chao, the wife of Song dynasty emperor Ren, he was known as the Emperor's Brother-in-Law. It is said that he was born on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month. Because his younger brother Jingzhi was executed for murdering, he was so ashamed that he decided to live in the mountains as a hermit. Since then, he wore simple clothes, devoting himself to the Refinement of Dao. After receiving teachings from Lu Dongbin and Zhongli Quan, he got the secret formula for refinement, and ultimately attained Dao, becoming a Perfect Man. He was led to the Heavenly World by Zhongli Quan and Lu Dongbin.
Lan Caihe, Who Went Begging with Castanets In his Hands
Lan was a hermit in the Tang dynasty. According to the Supplement to the Biographies of the Immortals ( 續仙傳 Xu Xianzhuan ) and the Extensive Records of the Taiping Era ( 太平廣記 Taiping Guangji ), he normally wore blue rags, and had only one shoe. In summer, he used to wrap himself in a quilt. In winter, however, he was seen lying naked on snow, and his whole body was steaming. He used to emerge in cities, singing and begging, with a pair of three-chi-long castanets in his hands. It is hard to judge whether or not he was drunk when he sang the song: 'In singer Lan Caihe's eyes, how long can your life last? Good-looking faces are just like the green trees in spring, how could they keep this unchanged forever?" Through his songs, he urged people to go away from the secular world and pursue Dao. It is said that he was led by Zhongli Quan to Dao and ultimately ascended to the clouds.
Female Immortal He, Who Flew to Feed Her Mother
She was the only female among the Eight Immortals. It was said that her personal name was Qiong and that she came from Ninling, in the district of Yong, and that she was born on the tenth day of the fourth lunar month. When she was thirteen, she went into mountains to pick tea. There she met Lu Dongbin. After that, she dreamed that a spirit taught her how to eat mica powder ( 雲母粉 Yunmu Fen ). Since then, she swore not to marry. She used to be seen flying to and fro in the deep mountains. At sunrise, she brought some fruits to her mother. She ultimately Delivered herself from the Corpse and became a Female Immortal.
Lu Dongbin, Who Dreamt an Evanescent Dream
Lu Yan's literary name was Dongbin. He styled himself Chunyangzi, which implied that he enjoyed a body of pure Yang. It is said that after his repeated failures in the imperial examination, he happened to meet Zhongli Quan, who was cooking a pot of millet. He gave Lu a pillow to rest his head on. During his sleep, Lu dreamed that he succeeded in the imperial examination and became a government official. After a series of promotions, he was designated as an important official in the imperial court and got married. At last, he became prime minister. But then, bad luck came. He was framed and put in jail for crimes he didn't commit. Because of that, his family was ruined and lived a terribly poor life. After having experienced all this in his dream, he awoke to find that Zhongli Quan hadn't even finished cooking millet. He came to realize that a man should not pay too much attention to transient glory and success, and that a man's life was nothing but a dream. So he left his family and followed Zhongli Quan, starting to cultivate Dao on Mt. Zhongnan.
Worship for the Eight Immortals
For most Chinese people, the Eight Immortals represented eight factors in their daily life: men and women, old and young, the rich and the poor, the noble and the lowly. In addition, the things the Eight Immortals held in their hands -- castanets, fan, stick, sword, calabash, duster and flower basket -- were popularly found among and used by ordinary people in later period. It shows that the Eight Immortals were very close to the daily life of Daoist believers as well as to ordinary Chinese people. That explains why stories about the Eight Immortals could be so popular and influential in Chinese society. Special halls were dedicated to the Eight Immortals in most Daoist temples. In Xi'an city, there is an Eight Immortals Temple, which was called the Eight Immortals Studio in ancient times, where the Eight Immortals were worshiped in the main hall. During spring festival as well as the first and fifteenth days of the lunar month, Daoist believers and ordinary people used to come to the Eight Immortals Hall, showing their respect and praying for good health and good luck.