China's Eight Immortals, or why the number 8 is lucky in China
China's political landscape may have changed dramatically in recent history, but some things never change. "The Eight Immortals continue on the journey of Chinese culture.
Every age and every society has its saints and sages and with its long history, China has produced a great number, some so ancient, as to be lost, except for the echo.
One of the great Chinese philosophies is Taoism, the founder of Taoism is believed by many to be Lao-Tzu (604-531 BCE), a contemporary of Confucius. He was searching for a way that would avoid the constant feudal warfare and other conflicts that disrupted society during his lifetime. The result was his great teaching, the Tao Te Ching. Many believe however, that whoever Lao-Tzu was, he is probably a mythical character, symbolizing the combined great wisdom teachings of the era.
Central to religious Taoism are the eight spiritual beings known as the “eight immortals” (Xian in Chinese) and perhaps intended to be allegorical, these super-humans or perfect persons (chin jean) came to be worshipped and emulated by Taoists.
These perfect beings dwell far away in an untroubled place, where they experience an effortless existence of physical freedom. They are ageless, eat nothing but air, drink nothing but dew, and enjoy the power of flight, they truly exemplify the Taoist virtue of spontaneity and spiritual transcendence.
These powerful eight beings are said to have been born in the Tang Dynasty (618-907) or Song Dynasty (960-1279). . Among the Eight Immortals, a number seem to have had actual historical existences. They were “real people.” Nevertheless, the many stories that have accumulated, describing the magical and mysterious lives of these immortals, make it well-nigh impossible to distinguish historical from mythological reality.
The eight Immortals frequently appear in Chinese literature, mythology and art and each has a symbol and special power. As a group, they are associated symbolically with good fortune as well as the "eight conditions of life”, youth, age, poverty, wealth, high rank, and common people, feminine and masculine. Today, the eight immortals represent the hope for long life and abundant good fortune in the present world.
The immortals are said to live on the mythical island of the blessed, or, Penglai Shan, It is said to be surrounded by water so weak that it will not hold a ship, yet they alone can walk across it. They are always shown together in artwork except maybe, on rare occasions, in Chinese Opera.
Each of the immortals is represented with his / her attribute. The eight immortals are-:
Zhongli Quan who is represented as a fat hermit. With his feather fan he can bring the dead back to life. He has is the secret of longevity.
Zhang Guo Lao is an old man that carries a bamboo tube drum. The purpose of this drum is to announce his arrival. He rides a white donkey and has the power of invisibility.
Lu Dongbin, across his back he wears a magic sword used to slay dragons and demons. In his hand he carries a fly brush. He is said to have traveled the earth for over 400 years slaying dragons.
Li Teiguai walks with a crutch and is famous for carrying a smoking gourd. It is said the smoke from it can pull the spirit right from your body.
Han Xiangzi is famous for the lute he carries. He can make flowers bloom with his music, and soothe the wild animals. He is the patron deity of musicians.
Ts’ao Kuo-ghin,the finest dressed of the Eight Immortals. He is always shown wearing formal court dress and carrying castanets.
Lan Caihe carries a basket of flowers. She is the second woman amongst the Immortals and is always shown wearing a tattered blue gown and only one shoe. This immortal can be represented as both male and female.
He Xiangu, the last of the immortals, is a young girl; she carries with her a magical Lotus flower. She is the second of the two female Immortals; and was brought into the group of Immortals by Lu Dong-Bin after he rescued her from a demon with his magic sword.
China, no matter what the current trend, rarely gives up its much loved ancient heroes and the eight immortals are high on the list of much loved, by example, Why is the number 8 considered lucky by the Chinese? This has a lot to do with these immortals, or, in the words of Shelley, "as if their nature were resolved into the surrounding universe, or as if the surrounding universe were resolved into their being."
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