The Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea

Zhong Li Quan | Han Zhong Li

  • Zhongli Quan, an Eight Immortal, lived during the Zhou Dynasty.
  • Studied Taoism under Li Tieguai and discovered immortality instructions.
  • Aided a widow in drying her husband's grave magically.
  • Tested his wife's loyalty by faking his death and transforming into a young man.
  • Wife's betrayal led to tragic events and Zhongli Quan's quest for immortality.
  • Depicted as a fat, bearded, bald man with a magic fan reviving the dead.

Zhongli Quan is one of the BA XIAN, or Eight Immortals in Chinese folklore and Taoist tradition. He has the compound surname Zhongli, a courtesy name Jidao, the sobriquet Yunfangzi, and is also known as Zhengyangzi. He hailed from Xianyang in the Eastern Han Dynasty.

As one of the Eight Immortals, Zhongli Quan's characteristic appearance includes having his hair tied in a topknot, a long beard reaching down to his stomach, holding a fan, and a broad and open chest, exuding a bold and forthright aura.

It is said that Zhongli Quan tested Lü Dongbin, one of the other Eight Immortals, ten times, eventually guiding him to immortality and teaching him the Taoist art of "turning stone into gold." Because of this ability, both Zhongli Quan and Lü Dongbin are revered in folklore, with people believing they can bless gold mines and bring wealth.

Ascension to Heaven

Following the uncovered instructions, Zhongli Quan ascended to HEAVEN riding on a cloud. There is a tale recounting his life as a philosopher in the countryside, married to a beautiful young wife. He encountered a woman mourning by a grave, attempting to expedite the drying of the soil, as per her late husband's wish. Zhongli Quan, invoking spirits, miraculously dried the gravesite, leaving the widow grateful but fleeing in haste, leaving her fan behind.

Loyalty Test and Tragic Outcome

Upon returning home, Zhongli Quan narrated the incident to his wife, who criticized the widow for hastily remarrying. To test his wife's loyalty, Zhongli Quan feigned his death, magically transforming into a young, handsome man. The deceived wife fell in love and agreed to marry the new persona. Expressing anger, the disguised Zhongli Quan asked her to steal her deceased husband's brain for a potent potion. Opening the coffin revealed Zhongli Quan alive, leading to the wife's shock and subsequent suicide. Grief-stricken, Zhongli Quan set their home ablaze.

Discovery of Immortality's Secret

Amidst the burning wreckage, Zhongli Quan stumbled upon a book unveiling the secret to immortality. Carrying only the fan and a sacred book, he left, embarking on a journey across the world. Depicted as a plump, bearded, bald man in a loose robe revealing his stomach, Zhongli Quan perpetually clutched a magic fan made of palm leaves, possessing the power to resurrect the souls of the deceased.

The Story of Zhongli Quan's Immortality

Legend has it that Zhongli Quan, at birth, was already the size of a three-year-old child, with a rounded head, wide forehead, thick ears, long eyebrows, deep-set eyes, a high nose bridge, a square jaw, and a reddish complexion, all characteristics indicative of good fortune. This "tiger child" from a military family could seemingly weigh objects with his hands as if holding a "quan" (an ancient weight scale), leading his father to name him Zhongli Quan. When he grew up, he was eight feet tall, with handsome eyes and a magnificent beard. He quickly became a government official, but soon after, due to a rebellion by the Qiang people, his brother Zhongli Jian recommended him to lead the military campaign. Although the emperor recognized his extraordinary appearance and talents, the power-hungry courtier Liang Ji grew envious and sent him with 20,000 weak soldiers to suppress the rebellion. Zhongli Quan's troops were ambushed, leading to a disastrous defeat, and he fled into the wilderness.

After his defeat, Zhongli Quan wandered in despair through a dense forest until a shaggy-haired monk appeared and led him to an estate. The monk left, saying, "This is where the Sage of the Eastern Hua became immortal; you can rest here." Zhongli Quan stood outside, unsure what to do, until an elder with white hair and a green walking stick opened the door, recognizing him. He asked why Zhongli Quan didn't take shelter with the monks in the mountains, suggesting he was a man of extraordinary ability. Desiring to escape from his worldly frustrations, Zhongli Quan knelt and asked the elder for guidance in transcending earthly troubles. The elder, known as the Sage of the Eastern Hua, granted him teachings in alchemy, swordsmanship, and Taoist cultivation. When Zhongli Quan left, he realized the elder had disappeared, indicating he was a spiritual being.

Zhongli Quan then went to the Hua Mountains to cultivate his Taoist path, adopting the name "He Guzi." Later, he traveled to Mount Tai and encountered Maoshan Master Huayang, who taught him the secrets of Taoist alchemy. After completing his training, he took on the name "Zhengyang Zhenren." He then traveled to Kongtong Mountain to meet the Supreme Old Lord, who conferred upon him the title "Yunfang" and recommended him to the Jade Emperor, who formally inducted him into the celestial ranks as "Taiji Left Palace Zhenren." From then on, Zhongli Quan was officially recognized as one of the immortals.

Zhongli Quan and the Haircut

The following story is from the 《Yi Jian Zhi》:

During the Zhenghe reign period, there was a barber shop in Chengdu, where a shaggy-haired Taoist arrived, offering 200 copper coins for a haircut. The barber's wife cut his left side, but when she moved to the right, the left side's hair had grown back. She cut the right side again, only for the left side's hair to regrow. This repeated several times, until the barber's wife grew tired and returned the money, refusing further service. When her husband heard about it, he was upset, saying, "That must have been Zhongli Quan! Why did you turn him away? Even if it took until tomorrow to finish the haircut, it would have been worth it! What bad luck not to meet such a legendary figure."

The Origin of "Han Zhongli"

According to the "Xuanhe Shu Pu," Zhongli Quan once wrote a calligraphy piece that said, "天下都散汉锺离权," meaning, "I, Zhongli Quan, am the greatest idle person in the world." However, because of a misinterpretation due to the placement of a comma, it was read as, "天下都散, 汉锺离权," suggesting that "Han" is his surname. Thus, the name "Han Zhongli" emerged from this misunderstanding.