Eight Immortals – 八仙 Bā Xiān
Shrouded in myth the eight immortals have always been of popular legend. Through the ages strict practices of Taoism has lead some individuals to immortality. Being an immortal consists of attaining high levels spirituality through meditative practices. Although there have been other ways of attaining immortality such as eating a “divine” fruit or flower, encountering “supernatural” being, or through a talisman. What makes the eight immortals different from other immortals? Most immortals of Taoism are portrayed as being wise, calculating of their actions, contributors to society, and generally kind to others.
The famous eight immortals have not been portrayed as such by any means. They have been portrayed as nonchalant, without care and concern, leisurely strolling along through the ages. Although different from other immortals, these eight still protected people from destructive forces. Coming off as brash or careless they still cared for the common person. This along with tales of mischief has made the legends of the eight immortals popular in many cultures today.
With any legend there are contradictory stories. This is one depiction of the eight immortals, although this may not be the most popular of the legends. Generally immortals traveled by themselves. Although the eight immortals have origins before 900AD, they supposedly joined together at this time. The eight immortals are comprised of 何仙姑 Hé Xiān Gū, 李铁拐 Lǐ Tiěguǎi, 藍采和 Lán Cǎihé, 呂洞賓 Lü Tung-Pin, 韓湘子 Hán Xiāng Zi, 張果老 Zhāng Guǒ Lǎo, 鐘離權 Zhōnglí Quán, 曹國舅 Cáo Guó Jiù (or in Wade-Gales format: Lan Chai He, He Siang Ku, Siang Chung Li, Li Tie Kuai, Chuang Kao Lao, Chao Kuo Chiu, Han Yang Chie, and Li Tung Ping).
Born around 900AD Lan Chai He mistakenly ate a “divine” fruit to gain immortality. It is not clear as to whether Lan Chai He was a boy or girl. Most legends depict her as a young girl of the age of fourteen. She was attributed for wandering villages teaching the treacheries of the pleasures of life. The form, however depicts Lan Chai He as a young boy with incredible speed, lightness, and limberness.
Born around 700-800AD He Siang Ku was a beautiful girl. She became one of the most popular prostitutes in the area to help support her family. This was not uncommon at that time. When traveling through the forest she became lost. A demon appeared and tried to possess the girl. At that moment Li Tung Ping appeared with his “magical sword” saving He Siang Ku. She is noticed as always carrying a lotus in her hand. She attributed to incorporating the feminine or yin aspects into the martial arts.
Born around 800-820AD Han Yang Chie gained his immortality through the “supernatural peach tree”. Li Tung Ping was known for bringing him to the tree. Others have said he gained it at birth. He was known for having the ability to make flowers grow and blossom instantaneously. He was attributed for seeing the past and foretelling future. He is attributed to having great intelligence and precognition.
Born around 500AD Li Tie Kuai is also known as the leader of the eight immortals depending on which legend is being told. He originally was named Li Chuan and was a teacher of Taoism. He had the ability to leave his body and travel in spirit. While traveling one day he met another immortal named Shi Chang. Shi was more advanced in meditation than Li. Li became his disciple and spent many days in teachings with Li Chuan. When Li Tie Kuai would leave in spirit he would leave his body in care with one of his students. One day while learning from Shi Chuan, Li realized he had been gone for a long time and needed to get back to his body. Upon returning Li realized his student had mistaken him for being dead and buried his body. Li Chuan didn’t have much time to find another body to go into. He found two bodies, one was a baby girl being born and the other was a crippled beggar dying. He chose the crippled beggar instead of going into the girl. At the moment of the beggar’s death Li entered the his body. Now Li Chaun changed into Li Tieh Kuai meaning “Iron Crutch Li”. Angered by this crude body, he twisted the beggar’s short stick and turned it into an iron crutch. He is attributed to having many kicks despite of his limp in the form.
Chao Kuo Chiu, while in meditation, gained his immortality through reliving the lives of two unknown people as if they were his own. Through this he had gained new meditative techniques. He was the son of Ts’ao Pin, a military commander and brother to Empress Ts’ao Hou of the Sung Dynasty. He was known for wearing official’s clothing and court head-dress. Chao Kuo Chiu represents royalty, knowledge, and is attributed to incorporating knowledge of other styles into the fighting system.
Born around 550AD Siang Chung Li is portrayed as the leader of the eight immortals. The more poplar legend places him around 1122-249BC during the Chou Dynasty. Known as the drunkard, this immortal loved to fight and cause trouble. Li Tie Kuai found him one day being obnoxiously drunk and told the disorderly Saing Chung Li he would straighten out his life. Saing laughed at Li Tie Kuai, but was beaten unmistakably by the crippled beggar. Although there were a few times he tried to escape from Li Tie Kuai, Siang became his devoted student. At Hua mountain Saing meditated for nine years to reach immortality. He never lost his love for wine and continues to fight while intoxicated. He is attributed for his powerful blows, crushing stomps, and great strength.
Born around 705-800AD Li Tung Ping was a student of Taoism with Chung Li Chuan as his teacher. He was known as a poet and scholar. One day Li tried to exorcise a demon from a young girl. Unfortunately instead of ridding it from the girl it possessed him instead. With one month passing he lay week and was dying when a friend Han Hsiang Tze came to him in a dream. He told Li the demon could not be fought by using Yang Chi methods and instead he would have to use Yin Chi to combat the demon. From time to time Han would appear in his dreams to help direct him. After two years of battling the demon he finally conquered it. This is when he attained his immortality. When he later received ten temptations is when he acquired his famous “magical sword”, which is now his emblem. He is attributed for flamboyant and dramatic fighting abilities.
Born around 400AD Chuang Kao Lao is known as “Chuang, the man who is old as the country”. He was known for riding a white donkey. Often while in deep contemplative thought he would ride it backwards without realizing it. He had been known for reciting Lao Tsu’s “Tao Te Ching” not only word for word but also backwards. He is attributed for wisdom, elusiveness, and unorthodox fighting techniques.