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.

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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.

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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.

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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 70: Eight Immortals 7 – CaoGuoJiu

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Today we will talk about the 7th person in the Eight Immortals 八仙 in Chinese mythology. His name is CaoGuoJiu 曹国舅. Cao is his last name. GuoJiu means imperial uncle, since he is the brother of the Empress.

CaoGuoJiu’s original name is CaoYi 曹佾(yi 四声)from the year 1018 to 1089. He is a real person in history. He is the grandson of CaoBin 曹彬, a general from the Song Dynasty 宋朝 and brother of the empress, the wife of Emperor RenZong 宋仁宗 of the Song Dynasty 宋朝. In a word, he is from the royal family. So apparently among the Eight Immortals, he represents the higher class.

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In the history, it says CaoGuoJiu was good at music, playing Go, archery and writing poems. His personality was warm and peaceful. In Taoism and Chinese mythology, he has least stories among the Eight Immortals and the records about him being an immortal is the most recent.

CaoGuoJiu has a younger brother called Can JingZhi 曹景植. As the youngest in the siblings, he was so spoiled growing up. Abusing his family background and social status, he bullied others and engaged in corruptions. He did countless unforgivable practices. CaoGuoJiu tried to educate his brother several times and was in vein. Feeling ashamed by his brother, CaoGuoJiu donated his fortune to the poor as a way to make up for his brother’s misdeeds.

Until one day, Cao JingZhi was accused of corruption and abuse of power to the emperor. He was deprived of his title and fortune and was exiled. Having lost his beloved brother, Cao GuoJiu decided to give up all he had and went to the countryside to practice Tao. During this period of time, he encountered ZhongLieQuan 钟离权 and LvDongBin 吕洞宾 . They asked him, “what are you practicing?” CaoGuoJiu replied, “I am practicing the Tao.” They asked, “where is it?” He pointed up and said, “Tao is in the heaven.” They asked, “where is the heaven?” He pointed his heart. The other two immortals laughed and said, “you already get the essence of Tao” and gifted him 啊Taoism book called HuanZhenMiZhi 还真秘旨. Following the instructions to practice, CaoGuoJiu became an immortal.

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Cao GuoJiu is depicted as a man dressing an ancient Chinese official robe and holding a jade tablet. Ancient Chinese officials often held a jade tablet when they met with the Emperor in the palace.

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It is always amazed how a person who had fortune and high social status decided to become an immortal like Siddhartha gave up everything without any reason and founded Buddhism.

Mentioned:

还真秘旨 HuanZhenMiZhi

Episode 42: Eight Immortals 4 –LvDongBin

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Today we will keeping talking about the fourth immortal in the Eight Immortals 八仙. He has the most stories that people like to talk about and some famous Chinese says based on his stories. His name is Lv DongBin 吕洞宾, a poet, scholar and Taoist immortal, who represents the male. His images vary a lot but mostly he is depicted as a scholar bearing a sword on his back.

Lv Dongbin learned Tao from Zhong Liquan 钟离权, which is another immortal in the Eight Immortals we talked about before. There is a story about Lv Dongbin was tested by Zong Liquang ten times before Zhong Liquan decided to take Lv Dong bin as his disciple.

The first test was one day, Lv Dongbin came back home and found all of his families were dying from diseases. He didn’t show any sadness or regret and started prepare the funerals. However, not too long, all the families came to alive. He didn’t show any joy either. So he passed the first trail.

The second test was one day Lv Dongbin was selling goods in a market. A buyer bargained with him, however, after agreeing on the price, the buyer only paid half of price. Lv Dongbin didn’t get annoyed let him take the product. So he passed the second trail.

The third test was on the Chinese New Year, Lv Dongbin saw a beggar at his door. After being offered some money, the beggar kept asking more and talked with vulgar words. Lv Dongbin treated him with smile. So he passed the third trail.

The fourth test was when Lv Dongbin shepherded goats, there was a hungry tiger chasing the goats. He helped the goats escape to the downhill and stood between the tiger and the goats. The tiger was awed and left. So he passed the fourth trail.

The fifth test was when Lv Dongbin studied in a small house in the mountains, a beautiful lady stopped by and asked if she could stay for the night since she got lost. During the night, the lady tried to flirt and seduce him, Lv Dongbin wasn’t moved by any temptation. So he passed the fifth trail.

The sixth test was one day Lv Dongbin came back home and found he had been burglarized and lost all of his belongings. Instead of getting depressed or telling the police, he went back to work in the farm. As he was digging the land, he found a lot of gold. Guess what he did? He uncovered the gold without taking any. So he passed the sixth trail.

The seventh test was Lv Dongbin bought some bronze containers from the market and found them all made of gold at home. He immediately returned them to the seller. So he passed the seventh trail.

The eighth test was that there was a mad Taoist priest selling medicine on the streets telling people that his magic pills would let people die immediately while become immortal in the next life. No one would dare to try except Lv Dongbin. He took the potion and never happened to him. So he passed the eighth trail.

The ninth test was Lv Dongbin was on a boat with other people on a flooded river. In the middle of the river, it started becoming super windy. Everyone started screaming and scared to death except him. He was peacefully sitting at his spot and not even moved. So he passed the ninth trail.

The last test the tenth test was one day Lv Dongbin was alone at home and something weird happened. He saw ghosts and demons fighting with each other. He didn’t pay much attention. Another group of devils came with a bloody person they just got, yelling to Lv Dongbin, “you killed me in your previous life, Now it’s time for you to redeem it.” Lv Dongbin said without anything changed on his face, “go ahead to take my life. It is fair.” Suddenly all the ghosts and demons disappered. Zhong Liquan, his teacher showed up and laughed. These tests proved Lv Dongbin was a pure and dignified person with inner peace. So after all this, Lv Dongbin passed all of his teacher’s tests and left with his teacher to Mountain Zhongnan 钟南山where they practice Tao.

The reason Zhong Liquan tested Lv Dongbin was that he met Lv Dongbin on a trip in Changan长安. Through their conversations, he found Lv DongBin could be a great Taoist. While they were staying in a hotel, Zhong Liquan started cooking yellow millet for both of them.

Lv Dongbin fell asleep. He had a dream that he got the first place in the imperial exam and was awarded a prestigious position in the government. He was extremely successful in his career and finally became the prime minister just below the emperor. In the household, he had beautiful wives and a lot of kids and grand kids. After ten years, he got sabotaged and was accused of crimes that in the end he lost everything: his job, his families and his wealth. He was standing alone on the street in an old age, shivering when he woke up from the dream. Zhong Liquan’s yellow millet was still not ready to eat.

Zhong Liquan saw Lv Dongbin waking up and said a poem : 黄粱犹未熟,一梦到华 胥, which means many years has passed in a dream during the time the yellow millet is cooked. Lv Dongbin was surprised that Zhong Liquan knew about his dream. Zhong Liquan tried to tell him life is like a dream. There is no need people put too much importance on success or failure. There is nothing need to be happy or sad about in life. That’s when Lv Dongbin decided to follow Zhong Liquan and study Tao.

This story can be found in the book ZhenZhongJi 枕中记, while the character were different though. Later people used this story as Lv DongBin’s story. There are a lot of stories of Lv Dongbin were actually not originally about him. However, since he is too popular, people just use him as the main characters in them.

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There is a famous saying with his name in it: 狗咬吕洞宾 不识 好人心, a dog biting Lv Dongbin is not able to recognize a kind-heart person, which means the goodness of a person is of no consequence to the ungrateful. There are a few version about where this saying is from. I will just tell one version here. After Lv Dongbin became an immortal, he saw a man drawing in the river when he passed by. He saved the body from the river and replaced his heart with a dog’s heart. Yeah, he killed the dog first to save the man. The man came to life, instead of being thankful, he yelled at Lv DongBin that he wanted to die himself and why did he save him. Lv Dongbin then made a heart for the dog out of mud. The dog came to life and bit him. So what he did neither satisfy to man or the dog.

After all kind of myths about Lv Dongbin, in the history he is considered as a Taoist scholar, a poet, a sword master and so on.

Mentioned:

八仙 Eight Immortals

吕洞宾 Lv DongBin

钟离权 Zhong Liquan

枕中记 ZhenZhongJi

 

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.

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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.

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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