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Oriental China - The Immortals Or Chens

( Originally Published 1911 )

THE Pa Sien, or eight Immortals, were followers of the Taoist religion founded by Lao Tsze, who lived about the time of Confucius. They seemed to be noted for a combination of pure Taoism, which taught contempt for riches and worldly power, and advocated complete subjugation of all bodily passions, and such practice of magic and alchemy as gave them the power they affected to despise. These eight lived at various times and attained immortality through the mysterious elixir of immortality.

1. Han Chung-le, who lived in the Chow dynasty (B.C. 1122-249), is represented as a fat man, either with bare stomach or fully clothed. His emblem is a fan with which he revives the spirits of the dead.

2. Leu Tung-pin (about A.D. 755). He learnt the mysteries from Han Chung-le whilst wandering in the mountain gorges. Tempted ten times, he overcame the temptations, and with a sword, which is his emblem, he slew evil monsters and rid the earth of them for more than four hundred years.

3. Le Tee-kwae (period unknown) was a scholar of Han Chung-le in the celestial regions which he visited in spirit, leaving his body under charge of a disciple on the earth below. On returning from one visit, he found his body was gone, and the only way in which he could continue his existence was by taking refuge in the body of a lame beggar, whose crutch and gourd are his symbols.

4. Tsaou Kwo-kiu (circa A.D. 999) is generally represented with a court headdress, being connected by birth with the Emperor. His symbol is a pair of flappers or castanets, which he carries in one hand.

5. Lan Tsae-ho is rather a myth of myths, for neither the sex nor period is given. The figure is represented bearing a flower-basket or wine-pot, either of which is the emblem.

6. Chang Ko-laou (close of seventh to middle of eighth centuries) was a great magician, whose white mule carried him immense distances, and when not in use was folded up and put away. His symbol is a bamboo tube drum, carried on either arm, with two rods, the ends of which are usually projecting from the upper opening of the drum in which they are placed.

7. Han Seang-tsze (about the same period as the last) was a pupil of Leu Tung-pin. His symbol is a flute carried in either hand, usually end up-wards. The story says that his master carried him to the famous peach-tree of the genii from which he fell.

8. Ho Seen-koo (A.D. 690-705) was an example of filial piety. The legend tells how vast were the distances she travelled to get dainty bamboo shoots for her sick mother, how she conquered the desire for mortal food, sustaining herself with the powder of mother-of-pearl, and how finally she disappeared with the promise of coming back again. This she did, on occasion when a good genius was necessary, appearing in the clouds and bringing blessings. Hers is the flower symbol—the lotus.

Here, before me, are two vases on each of which is depicted a feast of the immortals in the celestial regions. Under the spreading pine-tree, emblem of longevity, sits Han Chung-le, listening to the music of the flute. Around him are the others with wine-cups set on a rock table. Lan Tsae-ho is bearing the wine-pot, whilst in the clouds, over the pine-tree, the gracious Ho Seen-koo gazes down upon the scene. Not only in decoration, on vases, and other pieces, are these gods depicted either singly, in pairs, or all in one group, but also in single figures and as a group of figures. Sometimes eight, and sometimes nine are found in one group, the ninth being Lao Tsze himself,

the founder of Taoism. Many of these figures, as in the illustrations, are very beautiful in colour, and so entirely quaint and curious in modelling, often with faces and hands, in white biscuit, and so rare. Old Ming figures, early Celadon figures, later enamelled figures, in sets of eight, standing or sitting, are often worth a knight's ransom.

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