Episode 72 : Eight Immortals 8 – HanXiangZi

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Today we will talk about the last immortal in the Eight Immortals 八仙. Finally we talk about all eight of them. If you want to know about other immortals please check out our previous episodes.

The 8th immortal is called Han XiangZi 韩湘子, who represent the young. He is depicted carrying a Chinese flute and it is believed that he is the composer of a Taoist musical piece Tian Hua Yin 天花引. LvDongBin 吕洞宾, another immortal from the Eight Immortals was his master.

韩湘子1

It is said HanXiangZi is the grandnephew of Han Yu 韩愈, a famous Chinese poet and politician of the Tang Dynasty 唐朝, between the year 768 to the year 824. He had a significant influence on the development of Neo-Confucianism 宋明理学 and a part of the Neo-Confucianism was to reject superstitious elements of Taoism and Buddhism that influenced Confucianism after the Han Dynasty 汉朝. So you can image how much the people believed Taoism and Buddhism hated Han Yu.

During the year 819, the Emperor XianZong of the Tang Dynasty 唐宪 宗 arranged a ceremony for a Buddhist relic to be escorted to the imperial place and encouraged people to worship the Buddhist monasteries. HanYu, since he strongly stand for Neo-Confucianism, advised the emperor against doing so. The emperor was angry and exiled him to ChaoZhou, far south in China. In the history, Han Yu wrote three poems to his grandnephew Han XiangZi. One of the poems is the famous Zuo Qian Zhi Lan Guan Shi Zhi Sun Xiang 左迁至蓝 关示侄孙 湘I remembered it was requested to memorize in school as a kid. It is about Han Yu’s unfortunate destiny that he couldn’t fulfill his political dreams and was demoted at an old age. He wrote the poem to his grandnephew that it was nice of him to accompany him on the long trip to the remote south and maybe he could take care of his funeral some day.

In the history there isn’t much thing recorded about Han XiangZi. However, since he was designated by Han Yu to take care of his funeral after death, the Taoism people created the character Han XiangZi in Chinese mythology as a Taoist immortal. The point is that although Han Yu was against Taoism and Buddhism, in the end, his life and death was blessed by the Taoism. It is kind of ironic for Han Yu I think.

In the book YouYangZaZu 酉阳杂 俎, the story says, Han Yu had an grandnephew who lived in the region of Huai River. Han Yu instructed him to study in a Confucian school, however, he had no interests studying and bullied other students. Han Yu then arranged him to study in a Buddhist school, the abbot complained that he was reckless. HanYu scolded him that he could do nothing. While the grandnephew replied he could change the colors of MuDan 牡丹, a kind of flower native to China, looking like peony. He claimed that he had special magic powers and demonstrated it in front of Han Yu. I think this story was created as a metaphor of history. Han XiangZi, the grandnephew, is a metaphor of all the people believed Taoism who had different theories with the Confucianism and Buddhism.

韩湘子2

In some pictures, you can see Han XiangZi is surrounded by red-crowned cranes. We talked about it before that red-crowned cranes is a symbol of luck and longevity in Chinese mythology. But also in the book Han XiangZi QuanZuan 韩湘子全传 from the Ming Dynasty 明朝, it mentioned that Han XiangZi was reincarnated from a red-crowned crane.

韩湘子3

Mentioned:

天花引 TianHuaYin

韩愈 Han Yu

宋明理学 Neo-Confucianism

左迁至蓝 关示侄孙 湘ZuoQianZhiLanGuanShiZhiSunXiang

酉阳杂 俎YouYangZaZu

韩湘子全传 HanXiangZiQuanZuan

Episode 36: Eight Immortals 3–ZhangGuoLao

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Today we are going to talk about the third immortal in the Eight Immortals 八仙. He is known as ZhangGuoLao张果老. ZhangGuo is his real name and Lao means the old. Just from the name we know he is an old man and he is the immortal representing the old. ZhangGuo was a real historical figure from around the year 600~900 during Tang Dynasty唐朝. He was a Taoist alchemist and he claimed to be several hundred years old.

He is depicted always an old man riding his white mule facing backwards holding a fish drum 渔鼓, a tube-shaped drum made of bamboo. It is said his mule never drink or eat and when he doesn’t need the mule, he could fold the mule like paper and put it into pocket. He just spit water on it when he needs the mule again.

张果老

There are a couple of stories about why he rides the mule facing backwards. One story says the famous bridge called Zhaozhou Bridge赵州桥 in Hebei province河北 was built by Luban鲁班, one of the most well-known carpenter, engineer and inventor from Zhou Dynasty周朝 . I know he didn’t live in the same dynasty with ZhangGuoLao. Those forktales just like to put famous people together in one story.

Anyways, after the bridge was built, ZhangGuoLao was a naughty old man. He challenged Luban and said, “let’s have a bet to see if your bridge is sturdy enough to let me pass it with my mule.” Of course Luban looked at the old man and mule and said”challenge accepted! ” ZhangGuoLao said, “if you win I will ride my mule backwards in the future. Otherwise, please leave this place and don’t call yourself the top builder in the world”. At this moment, two other people ChaiWangye柴王爷and ZhaoKuangyin赵匡胤 said,”what about us?” Those two people are historical figures as well later became legendary god in Taoism. Luban didn’t care about two more people to join. So the challenge started.

Since all these three people are not normal people but Taoism gods, they wouldn’t just walk through the bridge like us. ZhangGuoLao did some tricks to gather stars and the moon the sun and hid in his clothes. The other two gods gathered the five most famous mountains. The mule started to feel the weight and breathed really heavily then the bridge started the shake. Luban saw this and jumped into the river and used on hand to hold the bridge. In the end the three gods passed the bridge safely and ZhangGuoLao lost. That’s why he is riding his mule backwards now to keep his promise.

In the book MingHuangZaLu明皇杂录, it says theTang Dynasty唐朝 emperors Taizong太宗 and Gaozong高宗 invited ZhangGuoLao multiple times to their imperial palaces for the secrets of longevity and he never went. Once Empress Wu 武则 天 invited him again and he finally agreed to come. Guess what. On the road he faked to die in front of a temple called DuNv Temple 妒女庙 like insects faking to die. His body stared to decomposed and being consumed by worms. So persuasive and real! But later he was seen alive and well in the Mountain ZhongTian中天山 .

In the year 735, the Emperor Xuanzong玄宗 heard he was alive and invited him again. Those emperors are just so determined to see him I think the reason is to ask him about the way for longevity. He faked death again for a couple of times until he couldn’t refuse more and went to the palace.

When Emperor Xuanzong asked him why he still looks like an old man with few hair and teeth in spite that he knew the way to longevity. ZhangGuoLao replied, “there is a way : if you knock off your teeth and pull off all the hair you can grow new hair and teeth.”and he did it in front of the emperor and miracle happened. ZhangGuoLao looked like he grew back new teeth and dark hair again. Of course the emperor wouldn’t do that and failed to get his real secret to live forever. However, impressed by Zhangguolao, Emperor XuanZhong entitled him as”perspicacious Teacher 通玄先生” and willing to give the marriage of his sister to ZhangGuoLao. ZhangGuoLao refused by singing a song and left.

Maybe this is not related with the story. I just thought about the news I saw last year. A lady from Spain lied to everyone that she was blind cause she was anti-social and didn’t want to greet people. It turned out the news was fake though. If you can do a good job like Zhangguolao you probably can avoid some social situations.

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Mentioned:

张果老 ZhangGuoLao

鲁班 Luban

赵州桥 Bridge Zhaozhou

赵匡胤 ZhaoKuangyin

柴王爷 ChaiWangye

明皇杂录 MingHuangZaLu

太宗 Emperor Taizong

高宗 Emperor Gaozong

玄宗 Emperor Xuanzong

武则 天 Empress Wu

Episode 34: Eight Immortals 2 — HanZhongLi

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Today we will keep talking about the Eight Immortals 八仙. There is one immortal kind of looking like TieGuaiLi we talked about last time. I had a hard time to distinguish them when I was a kid. His name is ZhongLieQuan钟离权or HanZhongLi汉钟离. He is usually depited with his chest and belly bare and two wisps of hair like a girl’s hair and a long beard down to his belly button. He is also depicted laugh in a lot of images. His powerful tool is a huge fan which can make fire like a blowtorch.

汉钟离

In the book LieXianQuanZhuan列仙全传, it says, HanZhongLi was from a place called Yangtai燕台, he was a general who was forced to flee into the mountains after being defeated by Tufan吐蕃, which is near Tibet today. In the valleys and mountains, he got lost in the forests where he ran into a monk who led him to a sanctuary and said,” this is where Sir Donghua东华先生lives” and the monk left. After a while, HanZhongLi saw a guy wearing white deer hide with a green crutch and asked, “aren’t you the general HanZhongLi from Han Dynasty? ” HanZhongLi was shocked that he was recognized and thought this guy was not usual. He started leaning Tao there including the ways of the immortal rituals with that guy and later with HuaYangZhenRen华阳真人 and Wang Xuanfu王玄甫, who are all Taoism immortals. ZhongLieQuan himself is known as ZhengYangZuShi正阳祖师 in Taoism.

HanZhongLi represents the rich people since he was born in a rich family and his dad was related with royalty, which gave him chances to become a famous general. As we mentioned in the story he started to learn Tao because of he failed in a battle like a lot of people try to find help from religions after facing obstacles in the reality. Also his magical fan can transform stones into silver or gold as he learned alchemy which is an important part in Taoism.

Like a lot of legendary people in mythology, HanZhongLi was born to be different. According to a forktale, there was a giant went into the room on the day he was born and claimed to be HuangshenShi黄神氏, a god from the ancient time. He said he would reincarnate here. Then bright beams of lights filled the room like fire. He was as big as a 3-year-old when he was born. He had a round face and big forehead, big earlobe , long eyebrows, deep eyes and square mouth. Basically he looked like he has a good fortune. You know Chinese people really believe physiognomy and claim to tell people’s fortune just from faces. He kept silence until the 7th day after he was born. The first sentence he said was “my feet have wandered in the purple palace and my name is recorded in the capital of the Jade Emperor 玉皇大帝”. I guess this kid is special after all.

Mentioned:

八仙 Eight Immortals

钟离权ZhongLieQuan 汉钟离HanZhongLi

东华先生 Sir Donghua

华阳真人HuaYangZhenRen

王玄甫 Wang Xuanfu

黄神氏 HuangshenShi

玉皇大帝Jade Emperor

列仙全传 LieXianQuanZhuan

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.

八仙

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.

铁拐李

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. 

Mentioned:

八仙Eight Immortals

铁拐李TieGuaiLi

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