Episode 33: Eight Immortals 1 — TieGuaiLi

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In Chinese mythology, there is a group of legendary immortals in Taoism that are so well-known called Eight Immortals 八仙. They are the subject of many paintings and sculptures. The eight immortals represents eight groups of people male, female, the old, the young, the poor, the rich, the lower class and the higher class. They live in Penglai 蓬莱, an island paradise in the east China. They were all normal people before they became immortals so they have their weakness and just like people around us. Maybe that’s one reason that Chinese people like to talk about their stories. There were a few versions of Eight Immortals throughout history and until Ming Dynasty明朝 the eight figures that are well-known today were recorded in the book Journey to the East八仙出处东 游记. There is a saying in Chinese 八仙过 海各显 神通, which means the each of the Eight Immortals has their special power to cross the sea to describe everyone have their own things they are good at. The reason is that each immortal has their own power tool yes just like the Avengers. Hmmm. Maybe that’s why Chinese people like Eight Immortals cause they are like the heroes from Marvel. We will use a few episodes to talk about the story of each of them.


Today we start with TieGuaiLi 铁拐李, Iron Crutch Li. Li is his last name. There are a few versions about his life before he became an immortal. In the book ShanTangSiKao山堂肆考 from Ming Dynasty 明朝, it says TieGuaiLi is lame in one leg and XiWangmu 西王母, who is a Taoism goddess granted him an iron crutch and an immortal.

In the book JianHuMiJi坚瓠秘集 from Qing Dynasty清朝, it says, he was a strong and handsome guy who studied Tao really early in a cave. One day he would meet TaiShangLaoJun太上老君, a Taoism god in Mountain Hua 华山 with only his spirit. Before he left, he told his apprentice, “my body will still be here. If my spirit would come back in 7 days, you can cremate my body. “ Guess what happened? His apprentice had to leave on the 6th day because his mom was badly ill and cremated TieGuaiLi’s body on the 6th day. On the 7th day, TieGuaiLi’s spirit came back, it could not find the body and attached to a corpse of a beggar died of starvation. That’s why his image is a not so nice looking beggar with messy hair and beard with some fabrics barely covered his body with a lame leg and an iron crutch. He never criticized his apprentice’s mistake and encouraged him to be a immortal which became true.


Also, in most pairings, he carries a gourd on his shoulder which contains special medicine to cure diseases. His main word is to travel around and cure the sick and help the poor. As I said in the beginning, the Eight Immortals represents different groups of people. He represents the lower classes. In the book GuJinTuShuJiCheng古今图书 集 成, it says, TieGuaiLi always beggared in the markets and people despised of him. He threw his iron crutch in the sky and it became a dragon and then he jumped on it and flew away. He seems not having a good temper.

He is probably one of my favorites among all the eight immortals. Maybe I just like this contrast that he is not like a fancy holy god while he is powerful. He is benevolent to the poor, the sick and people who need help. He could cure diseases with special medicine from his gourd. 


八仙Eight Immortals


西王母 XiWangmu

山堂肆考 ShanTangSiKao

坚瓠秘集 JianHuMiJi

太上老君 TaiShangLaoJun

古今图书 集 成 GuJinTuShuJiCheng

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