Taoist Immortals ()

Taoist Immortals
The Eight Immortals crossing the sea, from Myths and Legends of China, 1922 by E. T. C. Werner. Clockwise in the boat starting from the stern: He Xiangu, Han Xiang Zi, Lan Caihe, Li Tieguai, Lü Dongbin, Zhongli Quan, Cao Guojiu and outside the boat is Zhang Guo Lao.

The spiritual beings of primary importance in religious Taoism are the Immortals (Xian in Chinese). First introduced in the Chuang-Tzu and perhaps intended by the author to be allegorical, these super-humans or "perfected persons" (chen jen) came to be worshipped and emulated by Taoists. Some even seek to locate them, in the hope of asking them their secret of immortality.

In the Chuang-Tzu, 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 exemplify the Taoist virtue of spontaneity - they are nothing other than their essential nature.

The Eight Immortals

These powerful beings are especially known and revered in the group of Eight Immortals, who are said to have been born in the Tang Dynasty (618-907) or Song Dynasty (960-1279).

The Eight Immortals frequently appear in Chinese literature, mythology and art and they each have 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, common people, feminine and masculine).

Patron of

Li T'ieh-kuai
Li Tie Guai

"Li with the iron crutch," a bad-tempered eccentric who carries a gourd containing magic and healing potions.

the sick crutch and gourd

Chungli Ch'uan
Zhongli Quan
鐘 離權

A stout man with only wisps of remaning hair but a beard reaching his waist. His fan has the power to raise the dead.

military men fan

Lan Ts'ai-ho
Lan Cai He

A strolling singer depicted as a woman or young boy. A type of "holy fool," he is shown dressed in rags with a boot on only one foot.

florists flower-basket

Chang Kuo-lao
Zhang Guo Lao

A historical figure from the Tang Dynasty but better known through legends; shown as a ruler with his mule.

old men bamboo tube-drum with iron sticks

Ho Hsien-ku
He Xian Gu

The only female immortal; said to have lived in the late 7th century.

  lotus blossom or flower basket, and occasionally with a peach and reed-organ.

Lu Tung-pin
Lü Dong Bin

Born 798 AD and honored as a scholar. Received from a fire dragon a sword enabling him to hide from death. He is the most widely known of the Immortals and considered the de facto leader.

barbers Fly-whisker, scholar's robes

Han Hsiang-tzu
Han Xiang Zi

Said to be the nephew of the Tang Dynasty statesman and scholar Han Yu. He is the epitome of the peaceful mountain-dweller.

musicians flute, flowers and peach

Ts'ao Kuo-ch'iu
Cao Guojiu

Said to have been connected with the Sung Imperial family.

actors castanets or a jade tablet of admission to cout


  1. "Taoism." Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service, 2004.
  2. John Bowker, ed., Oxford Concise Dictionary of World Religions (2000).
  3. Xian (Daoist Immortal) - Wikipedia (Janurary 2007)

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