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Eight Immortals
八仙

The Eight Immortals is a group of deities in the Taoist pantheon who were first mentioned during the Tang and Song period. During this early stage, the identities of the Eight Immortal differ in various versions and it was only in Ming dynasty work “Journey to the East” that the identities of the Eight Immortals were fixed and remained to this day.

8 immortals
8 Immortals, picture from a Chinese temple in Laos

The leader of the Eight Immortals is Lu Dong Bin and the group of eight consists of:

Immortal Emblem Comments
Lu Dong Bin
呂洞賓 /吕洞宾
Sword Leader of the 8 immortals
He Xian Gu
何仙姑
Lotus Flower Only lady in the group
Cao Guo Jiu 
曹國舅 / 曹国舅
Jade Tablet Royal Uncle
Han Xiang Zi
韓湘子/ 韩湘子
Flute Philosopher
Elder Zhang Guo or Zhang Guo Lao 張果老 /张果老 Fish Drum
Zhong Li of Han, Han Zhong Li 漢鐘離 / 汉钟离
Zhong Li Quan 
鐘離權 / 鐘离權
Fan made of banana leaves
Lan Cai He 
藍采和/蓝采和
Bamboo flower basket

Described as a transvestite, transsexual or hermaphrodite

Iron-Crutch Li 
鐵拐李 / 铁拐李
Gourd 

The Eight Immortals are very popular and have appeared in plays, depicted in art and presented in performances. During birthday banquets, families may arrange for a group of actors dressed as the Eight Immortals to wish the birthday person longevity and happiness. This is inspired by the legend of the Eight Immortals paying birthday respects to the Queen Mother of the West.

As the only group of eight in the Taoist pantheon, they are very easily to recognize. In fact, any representation with seven men and a woman is most likely a depiction of the Eight Immortals. Alternatively, they are symbolized by their emblems.

Popularity of the Eight Immortals

Two main reasons account for the popularity of the Eight Immortals.

The Eight Immortals are humans who have attained immortality. As humans, they faced challenges in life and have their imperfections that the common person can relate to. This theme is reflected in many stories that revolve around the Eight Immortals as a group and also as individuals.

The second and perhaps more important reason is the egalitarian nature of Taoism. The Eight Immortals represents a cross section of the Chinese or even human society; the scholar (Lu Dong Bin), royalty and social elites (Cao Guo Jiu & Han Xiang Zi), the elderly (Zhang Guo Lao & Han Zong Li), handicapped (Tie Guai Li)), women (He Xian Gu) and sexual minority (Lan Cai He).

In Taoism, individuals, as seen in the case of these eight immortals, achieve immortality through individual cultivation and virtues. While there are deities and immortals that can help, bulk of the responsibility rests on the individual. It is not dependent on the acknowledgment of a supreme god who needs to be praised or worshipped in exchange for immortality.

Symbol of egalitarianism

Therefore, the Eight Immortals reflects the egalitarianism that anyone regardless of background, age, gender identity can attain immortality.

Being so well respected, temples are of course dedicated to the Eight Immortals. They are commonly called Eight Immortal Palace, 八仙宫. Of the eight, only Lu Dong Bin is commonly often seen and worship on his own as the Progenitor, 呂祖, of the Quan Zhen sect of Taoism.




Related articles:
Culture & Customs
Taoism Main page 
Taoist Pantheon

bao an temple
Wall mural of the 8 immortals
8 immortals
8 immortals worshipped at the Kheng Hock Keng,
Yangon, Burma
8 immortals
The Eight Immortals by Do Opera

Jin De yuan, Jakarta Chinatown, Indonesia
8 immortals har paw villa singapore
8 immortals battles the sea palace
8 immortal temple in bangkok chinatown
8 immortals temple in Bangkok Chinatown
shrine to 8 immortals
Shrine to the 8 immortals
Chinese temple in Vientiane, Laos
cholon 8 immortals saigon chinatown
8 immortals, Mid Autumn celebration
Nhi Phu Club, Cholon, Saigon Chinatown
8 immortals
Shrine to the 8 immortals, Singapore
This temple is dedicated to He Xian Gu,
hence she is positioned in the center.
8 immortals in tainan grand atsu temple
wall painting of 8 immortals, Tainan Grand Matsu temple
8 immortals in 9 emperor gods celebration
8 immortals in a 9 emperor gods celebration
8 immortals
Figures of the 8 immortals on a banner
They appear in between the Chinese characters

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