Cao Guojiu, Immortal

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on February 6, 2017.)

A bas relief of Cao Guojiu with castanets
at the Tianhou Palace in Chiwan, Shenzhen

Cao Guojiu, one of the "Eight Immortals," may have been an historical figure named Cao Yi. Though his designation Guojiu is sometimes translated "Imperial Uncle," it is more likely that--if anything--he was "Imperial Brother-in-Law" to the Song Dynasty Emperor Yingzong.

His story goes like this: Once a member of the emperor's court (and thus often shown in official robes), he bore the curse of many families: the presence of a badly-behaved little brother. This youth, named Cao Jingzhi, used his connections at court to bully others and engage in corruption. Cao Yi tried continually to persuade his brother to follow the path of proper conduct, but to no avail.

At last, unable to take the shame anymore, Cao Yi left court and went to the mountains to practice as a recluse. There he was found by two other immortals, Han Xiangzi and Lu Dongbin. When they asked him what he was doing, he replied, "I am studying the Way."

"What way is that," they asked, "and where is it?"

When he pointed to the sky in reply, they asked further, "Where is the sky?"--and he pointed to his heart.

The two seniors smiled and observed, "The heart is the sky, and the sky is the Way; you truly understand the origin of things." They schooled him, and he attained immortality.

Later, the group of then-seven immortals wanted to increase their number to a nice round eight, and appointed Cao Guojhiu to the vacancy.

He is sometimes seen with the tablet of his court appointment, or with castanets, as he is also the patron deity of actors and the theater.

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