Hanging of the Eight Immortals and God of Longevity
This striking embroidery is emblazoned with the images of the Eight Daoist Immortals, from right to left: Han Xiangzi, Cao Gaojiu, Lan Caihe, and Li Tieguai, with Shoulao, the God of Longevity (not one of the Eight Immortals) in the center, then continuing on the left with Zhang Guolao, Zhongli Quan, Lü Dongbin, and He Xian’gu (the only female immortal in the group). Confusingly, the (later) handwritten labels attached to the top of the textile misidentify many of these figures, whose individual stories are provided below.
Han Xiangzi (韓湘子), also called Philosopher Han, is said to have been the nephew of the famous ninth-century poet Han Yü (韓瑜). He is the patron of musicians and carries a flute, which is said to have the magical power of calming wild animals.
Cao Gaojiu (曹國舅) is shown with castanets, which reference the ‘passport’ that allowed him access to the imperial palace, a privilege that he held in life since he was the brother-in-law of the tenth-century Emperor Renzong. Due to his elevated status, Cao is always depicted wearing court attire. He is revered as the patron of actors.
Lan Caihe (藍菜和), the patron of florists and gardeners, carries a basket with flowers reminding people of the brevity of life. Lan’s gender is uncertain since s/he is sometimes depicted as a young girl or boy.
Li Tieguai (李鐵拐) can easily be identified by his iron crutch. He is said to have mastered the magic of temporarily letting his soul leave his body. Once while his soul was away, someone saw Li’s seemingly lifeless body and had it cremated. When Li’s soul returned, his body was gone and so his soul chose instead to reanimate the body of a lame beggar. Li is often shown wearing a double gourd in which he carries medicine. He is the patron of the weak and sick.
Although not technically one of the Eight Immortals, the God of Longevity Shoulao (壽老) is usually depicted as a bearded old gentleman with an elongated bald head surrounded by auspicious motifs such as deer, cranes, bats, peaches, and lingzhi mushrooms. He is featured in the center of this textile in a walled garden wearing a rode emblazoned with stylized shou (longevity) characters and holding a peach of immortality. The deer to his right is shown eating a magic mushroom.
Zhang Guolao (張果老), the patron of painters and calligraphers, is shown carrying a long slender percussion instrument (a “fish-drum”) with two sticks, which is said to cure illness. Often Zhang is shown riding a magical white mule, which he could miraculously shrink and put in his pocket. When needed again, he would take the mule out and sprinkle water on it, whereupon it would grow back to full size.
Zhongli Quan (鐘離權) was a general said to live during the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE). After being defeated by the Tibetan army, he escaped into the mountains. There, he met a hermit who taught him about alchemy before sending him back to the world to do good using a magical fan that could turn stones into gold and bring the dead back to life. Zhongli used the fan to help many people who were in distress. He is usually depicted with a feathered fan and a peach and accompanied by a crane. He is said to have been the teacher of Lü Dongbin.
Lü Dongbin (呂洞賓) was a Tang poet and the patriarch of the Complete Perfection school (Quanzhen 全真) of Daoism. He is said to protect scholars and warriors and is usually depicted with a sword to dispel evil spirits.
He Xian’gu (何仙姑) is the only female in the group of eight immortals. She lived in the seventh century and is said to have become immortal after consuming a peach of immortality. She is often shown holding a lotus flower, a symbol of purity, and a sheng (a wind instrument with vertical pipes) and is sometimes accompanied by a phoenix.