Ba Xian: Mythical Taoist Figures

Ba Xian | Pa Hsien | Eight Immortals

Legend of the Eight Immortals

The main content of the Legend of the Eight Immortals revolves around the experiences of the eight individuals, including Lu Dongbin, before they attained immortality, as well as the process of how they were enlightened and became immortals.

Folklore predominantly revolves around Lu Dongbin among the Eight Immortals, followed by tales of Tieguai Li and Zhang Guolao. The legend of "Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea" stands out as the climax.

The Legend of the Eight Immortals carries a strong Taoist essence. However, since most of the Eight Immortals came from humble backgrounds, their actions often portrayed unrestrained behavior, including intervening with the powerful, promoting good deeds, and assisting those in need. As a result, they became deeply loved by the masses.

Over time, the religious and absurd elements of the legend gradually diminished, while its vitality in reflecting daily life became increasingly prominent, maintaining its artistic appeal to this day.

Who are the Eight Immortals

Eight Immortals - Chinese Mythology

Before the Ming Dynasty, there were various interpretations of the Eight Immortals, including the Eight Immortals of the Han Dynasty, the Eight Immortals of the Tang Dynasty, and the Eight Immortals of the Song and Yuan Dynasties, with different immortals listed in each. It was not until the Ming Dynasty, in Wu Yuantai's "Dongyouji," that the definitive list was established as: TieGuai Li (Li Xuan), Han XiangZi (Han Xiang), Zhang GuoLao (Zhang Guo), Lu DongBin (Lu Yan), He XianGu (He Qiong), Lan CaiHe (Xu Jian), Han XiangZi, and Cao GuoJiu (Cao Jingxiu).

TieGuai Li

Tieguai Li, the leader of the Eight Immortals, is said to be surnamed Li, named Xuan. It is said that he was originally of robust stature and imposing appearance, practicing in the caves of Dangshan. Before departing to attend the Mount Hua Immortal Conference held by Laozi, he told his disciples that if his spirit did not return within seven days, they should cremate his body, as his spirit would have departed.

However, on the sixth day, a messenger arrived at his disciple's home reporting his mother's critical illness. After cremating the body, the disciple left. Soon after, Li's spirit returned but found no place to reside. In desperation, he entered the body of a dead man in the woods, only realizing the mistake after standing up, hastily pouring out the immortal pills given by Laozi from a gourd.

Suddenly, the gourd emitted a golden light, revealing a grotesque figure with a black face, disheveled hair, curled beard, and a lame right foot. Just as Li was astonished, someone clapped behind him. Turning around, it was Laozi. In a hurry, he tried to expel his spirit.

However, Laozi said, "The Tao lies not in appearances. With sufficient effort, even with such an appearance, you can become a true immortal." Laozi bestowed upon him a golden hoop to restrain his wild hair and a crutch to assist his lame foot. Tieguai Li often carried a gourd, supposedly containing elixirs, which he used specifically to heal and save people when descending to the mortal realm.

ZhongLi Quan

Han Zhongli, one of the Eight Immortals, is said to have lived during the Eastern Han Dynasty. He is one of the Five Northern Ancestors of Taoism. His image often depicts him bare-chested, holding a palm-leaf fan, with large eyes, a red face, two buns on his head, and a serene expression.

Legend has it that on the day of his birth, a giant stepped into his mother's chamber and loudly proclaimed, "I am the ancient Yellow God. I shall entrust my child here." Immediately, a bright light, like flames, appeared, and then Han Zhongli was born. He emerged as large as a three-year-old child, with a naturally auspicious appearance: a round head, broad forehead, thick ears, long eyebrows, square mouth, large cheeks, lips like vermillion, round arms, and long limbs. Strangely, he remained silent day and night, neither crying nor eating.

It wasn't until the seventh day that he suddenly spoke: "My body travels to the Purple Palace, my name inscribed in the Jade Capital." His parents were greatly astonished, for the Purple Palace and the Jade Capital are the heavenly palaces of the Jade Emperor. Thus, they believed him to be a reincarnation of a deity, hoping he would grow up to wield great power. They named him "Quan."

It is said that as Zhongli grew up, he became a counselor of the court, later summoned to campaign against Tubo (Tibet), but suffered defeat and retired to Mount Zhongnan. There, he encountered Emperor Donghua Wang Xuanfu, from whom he learned the secret of eternal life, the refinement of the golden elixir, and the technique of the Azure Dragon Sword. He also met the True Man of Huayang, who taught him the Great Yi Nine Squares technique, the fire symbol of the golden elixir, and the profound mysteries of the Dao. Finally, on the Four Haofeng Peaks of Mount Kongtong, he obtained the secret of the jade box and ascended to immortality.

During the Tang Dynasty, Zhongli converted Lu Dongbin.

Zhang GuoLao

Zhang Guolao, an elderly immortal among the Eight Immortals, is recorded in historical books as a Taoist during the Tang Dynasty, skilled in magic arts, and said to have lived for hundreds of years, revered as Zhang Guolao.

Folklore depicts him often carrying a Taoist alms bowl, riding backward on a white donkey, wandering far and wide, preaching Taoism, and persuading and guiding people. The saying "watching a play while riding a donkey" originated from this.

His white donkey could travel thousands of miles during the day, and at night, it could be folded like paper and placed in a box. During the day, when riding, Zhang Guolao would spray water from his mouth onto the donkey, instantly restoring it to its original state.

He was once invited to the palace by Emperor Xuanzong of Tang but declined the proposal of marrying the princess. After refusing, he resigned and returned to the mountains. On his way, he passed away in Hengshan, Puwu County. His disciples claimed he transcended into an immortal. Emperor Xuanzong ordered the construction of the Qixia Temple in the area to honor him.

Lu DongBin

Lu Dongbin, whose name was Lu Yan and self-styled as "Chunyangzi," was born amidst a fragrant breeze in his mother's room, with celestial music filling the air. A white crane descended from the sky and vanished into his mother's tent.

From a young age, Lu Dongbin was exceptionally intelligent, with the ability to memorize thousands of words and speak fluently. While traveling to Mount Lu, Lu Dongbin encountered the Immortal Huo Long, who taught him the Heavenly Escape Sword Technique.

At the age of sixty-four, while visiting Chang'an, Lu Dongbin made up his mind to study the Tao with Zhong Liquan. After enduring ten trials, he was granted the Taoist teachings by Zhong Liquan. Later, relying on Taoist arts and the Heavenly Escape Sword Technique, Lu Dongbin slew demons and monsters, benefiting the people.

He is the most widely spread and emotionally resonant among the Eight Immortals, known for his elegance, wit, and deeds of justice. He enjoyed wine and women, and there is a famous legend called "Lu Dongbin's Three Encounters with the White Peony" circulating in the world.

He XianGu

He Xiangu, originally named He Xiugui, was born during the reign of Empress Wu Zetian of the Tang Dynasty. Upon her birth, purple clouds enveloped the room, and six beams of light shone above her head. She is the only female immortal among the Eight Immortals, known for her exceptional intelligence since childhood.

At the age of fifteen, she dreamt of a divine figure instructing her to eat mica powder, which enabled her to fly freely and move between mountain peaks. She would go out every morning and return in the evening, gathering mountain fruits to honor her mother.

Later, she refrained from eating grain, and her speech became abnormal. Upon hearing this, Empress Wu Zetian sent messengers to summon her, but she lost her direction halfway. Some say she ascended to the heavens on the eighth day of the eighth lunar month during Emperor Tang Zhongzong's reign.

Another version suggests that at the age of thirteen, He Xiangu entered the mountains and encountered the Immortal Lu Dongbin, who gave her a peach to eat.

After consuming it, she no longer felt hunger and could foresee calamities and blessings. He Xiangu was revered by the people as a deity and was honored with a tower dedicated to her residence. She was later transcended into an immortal by Lu Dongbin.

Lan CaiHe

Lan Caihe was originally a male, often dressed as a woman, carrying a flower basket. It is said that Lan Caihe was originally born as a wandering Taoist and often wore ragged blue clothes with a wide wooden belt over three inches wide, one foot wearing boots, and the other barefoot.

In summer, Lan Caihe wore cotton clothes and lay on the snow, breathing out steam, often carrying a three-foot-long clapperboard, singing while walking in the city, appearing somewhat eccentric.

People of all ages followed and gave him copper coins, which he threaded on a long rope, dragging it along without looking back if some coins fell off. Sometimes, when encountering the poor, he would give them the coins.

Han XiangZi

Han Xiangzi, originally named Han Xiang, was the nephew of the great Tang dynasty literary figure Han Yu. His image is often depicted as a handsome youth holding a flute or as a refined gentleman.

Legend has it that during the Han Dynasty, there was a prime minister named Anfu. His daughter, named Lingling, was both talented and beautiful and was already promised in marriage. However, the Emperor wanted to marry her to his nephew, which Anfu firmly opposed. Enraged, the Emperor punished both Anfu and Lingling's betrothed family, leading to Lingling's death from grief. Her betrothed reincarnated as a white crane.

The white crane, under the guidance of Lu Dongbin and Zhongli Quan, reincarnated again as the son of Han Hui from Changli County, named Han Xiang, and was raised by his uncle Han Yu.

Upon growing up, he learned the Taoist practices from Lu Dongbin and Zhongli Quan. Despite his uncle Han Yu's strong opposition, Han Xiangzi chose to become a Taoist and secluded himself in Mount Zhongnan to cultivate, eventually achieving enlightenment and becoming one of the Eight Immortals.

Cao GuoJiu

Cao Guojiu is depicted wearing a gauze hat, a red official robe, and holding a Yin-Yang board (a jade board), a dress style distinct from other immortals.

Legend has it that he was the younger brother of Empress Cao, wife of Emperor Renzong of the Song Dynasty, named Jingxiu. Gifted with natural virtue, he aspired to purity, disregarding worldly pleasures and wealth.

Later, due to his brother's indulgence in lawlessness and killing, Cao Jingxiu felt deeply ashamed and secluded himself in the mountains. One day, he encountered Zhong Liquan and Lu Dongbin, who taught him the Taoist arts and guided him towards enlightenment.

Another version suggests that when Cao Jingxiu became a monk, the emperor gave him a gold medal. Later, when crossing the Yellow River without money for the ferry, he met Lu Dongbin, and together they traveled. Through this, he attained enlightenment and became one of the "Eight Immortals."

The Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea

The Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea**

Legend has it that one day, the Eight Immortals joyfully gathered at Penglai Pavilion to drink and revel. As the wine flowed freely, Tieguai Li, not yet satisfied, proposed, "They say Penglai, Fangzhang, and Yingzhou's Three Sacred Mountains are beautiful. Why don't we go sightseeing and admire them?"

The other immortals enthusiastically agreed. Lu Dongbin suggested, "Since we are immortals, why not cross the sea without boats, relying solely on our individual Taoist skills? What do you think?"

The immortals, delighted, unanimously agreed, abandoning their seats and setting off. In an instant, a hundred boats competed, each displaying their divine abilities, bravely navigating the vast blue waves.

On their return, they encountered opposition from the Dragon King of the East Sea. As a result, they and their allies split into two groups and engaged in a magical battle. Finally, the Eight Immortals and their friends each presented their own magic treasures, achieving victory and successfully crossing the sea.

Influence of the Legend of the Eight Immortals**

The Legend of the Eight Immortals continues to deeply influence the people of coastal regions, giving rise to many customs and traditions.

For example, due to the Eight Immortals' sea adventure, coastal people often have the taboo of "seven males and one female not on the same boat."

The barbering profession reveres Lu Dongbin as their patriarch. It is said that on the fourteenth day of the fourth month of the lunar calendar, known as Lu's birthday, the barbering industry in various places celebrates with great fervor.

During birthday celebrations, people impersonate the Eight Immortals to toast, creating a festive atmosphere.

The Legend of the Eight Immortals blends unique "immortal culture" with strong worldly sentiments, becoming a popular tale of mountains and seas, deeply influencing the masses' spirits.

The eight immortals represent different social classes in secular society. The legend's rich humanistic colors and regional styles provide abundant materials for the creation of various artistic forms such as folk literature and arts and crafts, possessing high artistic value.

With the passage of time and the impact of modern communication methods, the image of the Eight Immortals in folklore is gradually becoming blurred. Therefore, the task of protecting and inheriting the legend of the Eight Immortals has become extremely urgent.