8 Immortals

If you are practicing Wudang style martial arts, I am sure you have heard of the 8 Immortal staff and sword forms.  The 8 Immortals are a group of folk heroes who play an important role in Chinese culture. They first appeared as a group in the Ming Dynasty novel Chronicle of the Eight Immortals’ Journey to the East (八仙出处东游记) by Wu Yuantai.  They have been a source of inspiration and entertainment for as long as parents and storytellers have been telling their tales.  They have appeared in TV shows and Jackie Chan movies.  Then even fight the X-Men in a Marvel comic book:

Here is more about each of these amazing heroes:

Cao Guojiu 曹国舅

Cao Guojiu is the brother of a Song Dynasty Empress Cao Hou.  A former criminal, Cao Guojiu narrowly escaped the death penalty.  Ashamed of his behavior, he ran off to the mountains.  Cao dresses in official robes and carries a jade tablet as a symbol of his rank at court.  He is the patron god of actors and theatre.

Tieguai Li 李铁拐 (Iron-Crutch Li)

Tieguai Li was a young and handsome Daoist monk.  One day while he was astral traveling, his disciple burned his body.  When Tieguai Li’s spirit returned to find only a pile of ashes, he had no choice but to settle in the corpse of an disabled old man.  Tieguai Li carries a gourd that holds his etherial soul.  At night he can make himself small enough to sleep inside it.  He is believed to be the most powerful of the Eight Immortals and is the bestower of wisdom.

Lan Caihe 蓝采和

The gender-bending immortal, Lan Caihe is depicted as both a teenage boy and teenage girl.  Lan Caihe is said to have been in a tavern one day when suddenly the room filled with music and the drunken immortal was carried up to heaven on the back of a crane.  A wandering street performer, Lan Caihe is depicted carrying a basket of flowers and wearing blue robes with only one shoe.

Lü Dongbin 吕洞宾

Lü Dongbin was born during the Tang Dynasty in Shanxi Province.  A poet and scholar, he failed the imperial civil service exam (twice).  Later, after an encounter with Zhongli Quan, he devoted himself to following the Dao.  Lü Dongbin carries a fly whisk.  Strapped to his back is a magic sword.  Lü Dongbin has the power to slay demons.  Jackie Chan played Lü Dongbin in his movie The Forbidden Kingdom.

Han Xiangzi 韩湘子

When Han Xiangzi was young, he had no interest in his studies and was mean to his classmates.  When his grandfather yelled at him, the young boy was discovered to have magical powers and could change the color of flowers.  Soon after, Lü Dongbin carried Han Xiangzi to the top a peach tree, where he fell out.  Fortunately for Han Xiangzi, he achieved immortality before he hit the ground.  The hermit in the group, Han Xiang Zi carries a flute that he uses to make flowers bloom and soothe wild animals.  He is said to have composed the song Tian Hua Yin (天花引).

He Xiangu 何仙姑

The only woman in the group, He Xiang is the daughter of a shopkeeper born in Hunan Province during the Tang dynasty.  When she was born she had six long hairs growing out of her head.  She became immortal after living off a diet of mother-of-pearl and moonbeams and taking a vow of eternal chastity.  She carries a magical lotus blossom.

Zhang Guolao 张果老

Zhang Gulao is an eccentric old man.  He grew up in a poor farming family.  One day, returning from the market, he felt asleep in an abandoned temple.  When he awoke he found a delicious cauldron of stew.  After eating the stew (and feeding some to his donkey) he realized it was an immortality potion.  The clown of the group, Zhang Gulao can be seen riding on his donkey (often backwards), who can travel thousands of miles in a day and can fold up and be sorted in his pickets.  He carries a magic drum.  Zhang Gulao is the protector of young families.  Chinese couples pray to him for children.

Zhongli Quan 钟离权

The official leader of the 8 Immortals, Zhongli Quan is a former military official who became a hermit in his old age.  One day when he was mediating, the walls of his hut split apart and he discovered a jade box captaining the secret to immortality.  Zhongli Quan is depicted as an untidy old man who walks around with his large belly peeking out.  He carries a magical fan he can use to cure illness and raise the dead. 

The 8 immortals have played an important role in Chinese culture for hundreds of years.  Their funny antics make us laugh, but they also provide hope.  The message behind the tales of the the 8 immortals is that regardless of age, gender, disability or social status, each and every one of us has the potential to become a hero.


Marvel Comics Eight Immortals Image Found At:  http://marvel.wikia.com/wiki/Eight_Immortals_(Earth-616)