The Eight Immortals encompass a wide spectrum of Chinese lore and ideals. Each story depicts a legend of intense proportions. It circles around average personas during the Tang and Song Dynasties that overcome challenges in their life, each of their own perspective, in order to achieve immortality ascend to the heavens.
Each of the Eight Immortals is oft described with a special totem. An object that they carry with them which normally is accrdited to some sort of magical power. The descriptions of the Eight Immortals are very symbolic, and over time their legend has grown amongst the storytellers and is known throughout China and embedded into their culture.
Lu Dongbin is one of, if not the, most famous of the Eight Immortals. His popularity within Chinese Daoist culture gives him the standing of being the leader of the group in most stories. Even though the formal leader is mostly recognized as being Zhongli Quan, as Zhongli is the immortal that takes Lu Dongbin as a disciple and teaches and tests him on his own journey to becoming an immortal. One of the most famous stories of Lu Dongbin is the Yellow Millet Dream.In this story, Lu Dongbin crossed paths with Zhongli Quan. Unbeknownst to Lu Dongbin at the time that the old man with him was an immortal and will later even become his master and teacher, Lu continues on his normal day. He puts a pot of yellow millet on to cook as Zhongli offers him a pillow and a chance to take a nap.
Lu Dongbin accepted and quickly fell into a deep sleep. He dreamed that he passed the imperial exam that he had recently failed, and moved on to a prestigious career. During promotions that eventually led him to a high ranking official, he met a beautiful woman from a good family. Soon he married her and had a family. He fame and fortune continued to grow until jealously followed suit. He was then accused of false crimes that led to him losing his job, betrayed by his wife which led to his family falling apart, and bandits killed his children while taking the last of his wealth. In the end of the dream that turned nightmare, Lu Dongbin was dying on the street. As he awoke, the yellow millet that he started cooking a lifetime ago hadn't yet finished.In a few moments, Lu Dongbin had lived his whole life. With this vivid experience, he vowed to leave the material world he had grown to wisely understand and to intensely study the Dao. Without further thought, he left the empire and struck out on his own. After a long time of practicing self-cultivation, he crossed paths with Zhongli Quan once again. When Zhongli realized how wise Lu Dongbin had become and how well his understanding was of the Dao, he accepted him as a disciple and taught him the secrets to immortality.
In Chinese culture, Zhongli Quan was destined from birth to achieve greatness. He was born into a family that had a long line of ancestry as high ranking government officials, namely in the Han empire. When he was born, it was said that a great light shined in the room, causing the guards nearby to drop to their knees and shield their eyes. Everything about Zhongli was extraordinary and pointed towards a blessed life. He had a broad forehead, long ears, bright deep eyes, high cheeks, and strong arms and legs. His first week as a baby was a silent one as he never cried. After this somber time, on the 7th day, he stood up and said, "My feet have wandered in the Purple Palace of the Immortals, and my name has been recorded in the capital of the Jade Emperor."
He grew up to be a very strong and intelligent commander for the Han empire. On one of his most challenging battles, Zhongli was forced to flee back into a labyrinth of canyons and barren land. When all hope was lost and Zhongli was thoroughly lost, he crossed paths with a mysterious stranger who said he could lead him to a safe place. Apprehensively accepting, Zhongli was led through yet another maze of trails until they came upon an oasis. After the man stated that he could find solace inside, he disappeared, leaving Zhongli to decide what to do. Zhongli pressed on, and soon found a large house. There at the door, another strange man met and welcomed Zhongli Quan, the general of the Han empire. Zhongli Quan realized that this man was no ordinary mortal. He immediately fell to his knees, begging the old master to teach him the arts of immortality. Three days later, he emerged with the first lessons on his journey towards that goal. At his last glance back towards his masters home, the building vanished along with the oasis. Zhongli then left the place to travel the world and cultivate the Dao.Later in life, Zhongli was accredited for doing various good deeds, the most known of which were the trials he put Lu Dongbin through as he taught him. Another thing he was infamous for was turning pebbles into silver and gold coins with a wave of his magical fan. He regularly donated these, to help those stricken with poverty and hunger. In some stories, he was even able to bring people back from the dead with this fan.
Zhang Guo, along with Lu Dongbin and Zhongli Quan, is one of the eight immortals that holds true residency in ancient Chinese history. Zhang Guo's name is recorded during the Tang dynasty and is accredited with the writing of an astrology book that includes a system of celestial divination that is still used by Chinese seers today. Zhang Guo is most often depicted with his white mule, humorously riding it backwards.
Zhang Guo (referred to as Zhang Guo Lao; 'lao' meaning old) was a hermit living during the Tang Dynasty. Among civilization he was noted to be several hundred years old and a master of magic and medicines. In the immortal circle, he was well known for his wine making abilities and eccentric behavior. It is also part of his legend that he could go for days without eating or drinking, save a small sip of his wine which the immortals believed had healing properties, thanks to his exceptional qigong practice.
Zhang Guo, like many other of the immortals, impressed many prestigious people of his time and intrigued them with his abilities so much to be sought out by messengers and scholars many times. Being of an eccentric persona, Zhang Guo seemed to hearken to these requests only to later deceive the Emperors and courts is outrageous patterns. Once, upon arrival through the gates of such a place, Zhang Guo's body fell to the ground and was seen covered in worms and maggots only to later be discovered on distant mountain paths.
Once his true nature under heaven was revealed to be a bat sent forth from the primeval chaos. When the words were uttered the prefect who spoke them dropped dead on the spot. Then when Zhang Guo appeared the Emperor, who had pressed the prefect to speak of such, the Emperor fell to his knees and begged forgiveness. Zhang Guo granted it and revived the prefect. The Emperor tried to thank him with many gifts, treasures, wines, and even two assistants. Zhang Guo refused all except the assistants which he took with him on his journey home. Although along the path, he eventually sent one back to the city. When he finally became sick and weary, his one assistant assembled and lit his funeral pyre. Suddenly the coffin door blew off and when he inspected it, the box was empty.
Lan Caihe is something of a paradox in the eight immortals traditions. Caihe is depicted sometimes as a girl and other times as a boy making her/his true sex somewhat ambiguous. The legend goes that Lan Caihe was cut of the thread of a simple local beggar. At least this was the case upon first sight of him. During the Tang Dynasty, he was oft to be spotted on the side of roads and near taverns singing songs and clad in old rags for clothing. Often she is described as without one shoe and carrying two long bamboo sticks used to keep time with her verses. Many onlookers would stop, being entertained by his singing, only to find that the lyrics were intertwined with the fleeting feelings of this life and its materialistic qualities.
When passerbys would give money to Lan Caihe, she would simply tie them on a string and drag them behind her. They in time scattered to the ground where she would leave them to be collected by other poor people of the area.
He was often taken for a lunatic; sleeping on the snow in the winter and overdressing in the heat of the summer, were normal characteristics of Lan Caihe.
One day, supposedly in a drunken stupor he disappeared from the crowd. Thought to have gone to the bathroom, later his body was nowhere to be found. Only his cloths, tattered as they were, were found left upon the floor. It is assumed that at that time Lan finally ascended to heaven, borne on a flying cranes back.
Tieguai is translated to Iron Crutch. This popular immortal owes his namesake to the iconic trait that he is often depicted with, his sturdy iron crutches. Li is often portrayed as an old man and, while wielding a crutch to balance out his handicap, he carried his magical gourd and he traveled across the world humbly helping those is in need. But to gather his iconic traits, Li was underwent extraordinary tests.
He was said to have been taught from Lao Zi himself. Constantly, he was tempted by ruses put together by Lao Zi in order to test for his true potential to become an immortal. During the beginning of his training, he was living and meditating in a cave. Lao Zi saw this and tried to disturb his peace by making a beautiful women out of wood, the counterpart to the tall and handsome Li.
Li refused to be distracted by the mystery girl, let alone even acknowledge her. Lao Zi eventually told him of the trick, and rewarded Li with a tablet that removed hunger and sickness from Li's life. On another occasion, robbers buried money into Li's field, unaware that he was watching them. Lao Zi then disguised himself and tried to persuade Li to go and take the hidden treasure. Li refused stating that he did not care if he was poor for the rest of his life. Lao Zi rewarded him yet again with another pill that granted him powers of flight.
Eventually in Li's training in cultivating the Dao, he was invited to a gathering of Immortals. He ascended from his body to travel to the mystical mountain leaving his apprentice in charge of his physical body. He instructed his apprentice that if, by the sunset of the seventh day, he did not return, he should burn his body, gather his things, and return home. He watched over Li's body for six days and six nights. But on the seventh day, he received notice that his mother was ill on her deathbed. After coming to the assumption that his master would most likely not return, he decided to burn his body early in the day and return home. Some time after, Li's spirit returned to find his body in ashes. Being that his spirit could only survive so much longer without a physical body, he searched the land for another vessel. The only thing he found was a beggar that had recently died. Li was never embarrassed of his previous body, as he took great pride in being so healthy and handsome, an apparent effect of his ongoing training in the internal arts. Although, being a pious man and understanding that the body is only his vessel, Li shrugged off his pride. Some believe that this was his Karma, or a lesson in his road to immortality to change into such a crude form compared to his previous body.
Han Xiang Zi
Han Xiang Zi is noted to have lived during the Tang Dynasty. He was the supposed nephew/grandnephew of Han Yu, a prestigious member of the court and a well noted poet as well as intellectual of Confucianism.
It is said that at some gathering, Han Xiang tried to get his uncle, Han Yu, to convert over to studying the Daoist principles along with himself. Although Han Yu had strong ideals based in his Confucian foundation and sought it upon himself to sway his nephew over to his own practice. In the end, neither faltered from their beliefs and instead stayed true to their own principles.
Han Xiang made a prophecy about his uncle then that one day he would be in the distant mountains and be at a loss for a path in the deep snow where the horses would not go. Han Yu did not understand this prophecy and his nephew only explained to him that only time would unveil this meaning. Years later Han Yu was sent in disgrace from the courts to live in a distant land. Upon his travels he came to mountains where it was snowing and he soon lost his way. That was when Han Xiang reappeared and swept the deep snows to the side once again, revealing his uncle's path. Here they were to only crossing paths though and Han Yu became depressed at the thought of his future exile that he would live out his days in while his nephew was free to enlighten himself unrestricted. Then, Han Xiang Zi gave him another prophecy and said that before his uncles days were counted he would indeed return in good favor to his family and his office. And so it came to pass in time.
Han Xiang is also well known for his flute playing, which he is almost always depicted playing or carrying. It is said that his flute brought life where death dwelt and health to those that were sick.
He Qiong is the only female among the 8 Immortals. This particular deity has been cultivating her pure energy for most of her lifetime. She was born with 6 unusually gold hairs on top of her head. A sign interpreted by her family that she was destined for an extraordinary life.
The first unusual experience that sets He Qiong apart from many others on their path to immortality came to her when she was a young teenager. In a dream she was visited by a divine immortal who instructed her to eat mica. (Mica in raw form is a crystal that is used in many things from cave paintings to drywall to summer dresses.) Without hesitation He Qiong found and ate it the next day. With these first steps she vowed to stay a virgin and continue cultivating her understanding of the Dao.
With this decision, He Qiong began fasting, studying, and walking the path to her immortality. Even though her parents were not happy with her choice, the supported her and she continued to live with them. She would spend her days walking hundreds of miles in the mountains, but always returning before night with fruit for her family. When her family passed away, she completely detached herself from worldly things and moved into the mountains. Here, she cultivated her body and spirit in peace.
However, she did not go completely unseen. An empress at the time heard of He Qiong and her great wisdom in the arts of longevity and internal alchemy. Thinking to use these gifts to keep the throne past her own death, the empress sent her soldiers to find He Qiong and offer her a position as an adviser. Although, He Qiong was wise and saw past this polite gesture. Knowing that these powers could not be used for power hungry and selfish acts, she escaped from the guards. She was never found after that day. Many times the empress was alerted to appearances of He Qiong but when she sent her guards to the location, it was in vain for He Qiong was always no where to be found.
Cao Guo Jiu
Cao Guo Jiu is the youngest of the eight immortals and also the last one to join the company. It is said that the immortals counted seven in this time and wished to see their eighth seat filled (eight being a lucky number is Chinese lore).
Cao Guo Jiu is said to be the uncle of the Emperor during the Song Dynasty. There are few different renditions of his story that brought him to study Dao. Here is but one version:
His brothers were tangled into a crime of homicide and jealous murder. This brought shame to Cao Guo Jiu and he eventually left office to become a hermit and perfect his character and well being.
In his studies, Lu Dongbin and Zhongli Quan came upon his residence and found him diligently at word in discovering his true nature. Here they asked him what he was doing. He responding that he was looking for the Way. Lu Dongbin asked him where is the Way he sought and Cao Guo Jiu pointed to the heavens. Then they asked where are the heavens and then he pointed to his own heart. When Lu Dongbin and Zhongli Quan saw this they smiled and were satisfied. After they offered assistance to Cao Guo Jiu in reaching immortality, designing for him a recipe that would bring him among the ranks of the immortals. Within days of practice afterwards, he reached his goal and attained perfection.