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Pa-hsien

Pa-hsien (Chin., ‘eight immortals’). Taoist figures (‘perfected persons’, chen jen) associated symbolically with good fortune. They are also associated with the ‘eight conditions of life’: youth, age, poverty, wealth, high rank, hoi polloi (general population), feminine, masculine. They are frequently portrayed in art and literature: (i) Li Tʾieh-kuai (also known as Ti Kuaili), Li with the iron crutch, a bad-tempered eccentric who nevertheless carries a gourd containing magic and healing potions; (ii) Chang Kuo-lao, a historical figure of the Tʾang dynasty, but better known through legends; his symbol is a fish drum; (iii) Tsʾao Kuo-chiu (d. 1097 CE), usually symbolized through a pair of castanets; (iv) Han Hsiang-tzu, the epitome of the peaceful mountain-dweller, the patron of music, portrayed with a flute, flowers, and a peach; (v) Lü Tung-pen (b. 798 CE), who received from a fire dragon a sword which enabled him to hide from death; (vi) Ho Hsien-ku, the only female immortal (but see vii); (vii) Lan Tsʾai-ho appears in rags, with a boot on only one foot, carrying a basket of flowers: he is a type of ‘holy fool’; he is sometimes portrayed with female features; (viii) Chung-li Chʾüan (also Han Chung-li), a stout man with only wisps of remaining hair, but with a beard reaching his waist; his symbol is a fan, indicating power to raise the dead.

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