8 Immortals

“Chung-Li Chuan * Ho Hsien-ku * Chang Kuo * Lu Tung-pin * Han Hsiang-tzu * Ts’ao Kuo-chiu * Li T’ieh-kuai * Lan Ts’ai-ho

This Taoist pantheon of gods, heroes, and historical individuals had by the thirteenth century become a sort of national pantheon of Chinese saints. Painted on silk, depicted on vases, sculpted and used as a central motif in story telling, they are a ubiquitous element in art. They are also known as the Eight Immortal Scholars of the Han.

Chung-li Ch’uan is usually depicted as a bearded sage with fan; Ho Hsien-ku, as a young girl holding a lotus; Chang Kuo is a comical bearded figure mounted back to front on a white mule with a bamboo drum; Lu Tung-pin, the bearded patron of barbers, is equipped with a fly whisk and word slung across his back; Han Hsiang-tzu is a youthful flute player and the patron saint of musicians; Ts’ao Kuo-chiu is an elderly bearded figure (the patron of actors) usually seen playing castanets; Li T’ieh-kuai is a beggar with a gourd bowl and iron crutch; while Lan Ts’ai-ho is a woman holding a basket of flowers, who is (naturally) the patron saint of florists.

Excerpted from: Rogerson, Barnaby. Rogerson’s Book of Numbers: The Culture of Numbers–from 1,001 Nights to the Seven Wonders of the World. New York: Picador, 2013.

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