Lan Caihe, Immortal

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on February 20, 2017.)

A bas relief of Lan Caihe holding a tool for
collecting plants; Tianhou Palace, Chiwan, Shenzhen

Last time, I mentioned that He Xiangu was the only one of the Eight Immortals who was "unambiguously a woman." Lan Caihe may also look like a woman, but his/her gender is rather fluid: he/she may also appear as a young boy. (To simplify matters, we will use the male pronoun.)

Even when seen as male, he is effeminate. He carries a basket of flowers, and may also have jade castanets or, rarely, a tool for collecting flowers and grasses.

Traveling around with one shoe off and one on, he represents the lunatic, the madman, or the fool, an archetype in many cultures that is considered to have a special connection to the gods.

Lan Caihe wanted to collect every flower and grass in the world. But there were some rare flowers he could not find, and when he was told they were on Hua Shan, he went there immediately.

Taking a rest, he saw two rabbits carrying red flowers run into a cave. Entering, he found a garden teeming with flowers--including the ones he sought. From a beautiful flower basket in one corner, an old woman appeared. "This is my garden," she said. "I wish I could make the whole world look like this!" She then told Lan Caihe to take the basket and use it wisely--and disappeared.

Using the basket, Lan Caihe performed many feats to help the people. In one case, a wicked landowner had kidnapped a florist's daughter to force her into concubinage. Using flower magic, Lan Caihe convinced the landlord to exchange the girl for a beautiful woman he had conjured from a seed. As soon as the victim was safely away, the "dream girl" turned into a ragged bamboo pillow!

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