The Eight Immortals Cross the Sea

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

A statue of the Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea in the village plaza in Xiasha Village, Shenzhen

It is likely that each of the Eight Immortals was originally part of a separate tradition. At some point, however, they were brought into the group we now know, and as a result, some stories were told of them in various groupings--and even all together.

One such story is the well-known "The Eight Immortals Cross the Sea."

After a party called the "Peach of Immortality Gathering," hosted by the Queen Mother, the Eight were making their way home--full, and perhaps a bit tipsy--and decided to take a detour to visit the Eastern Sea.

Each crossed the sea using his or her own peculiar vehicle. Lu Dongbin surfed on his sword; Li Tieguai rode his crutch; Han Xiangzi rode in his/her flower basket, and He Xiangu on a lotus; Lan Caihe rode his Jade Board and Cao Guojiu his bamboo container; Zhongli Quan rode on a banana leaf; and Zhang Guolao naturally rode his folding donkey.

The light of their presence, however, disturbed the Crown Prince, son of the Dragon King. Seeing the beauty of He Xiangu, he kidnapped her. After Lu Dongbin failed in a solo attempt to save her, the other six--disguised as fish--entered the palace to effect her escape. As the Dragon King's troops began to lose the battle that ensued, he called a halt and proposed a peace banquet with the Eight Immortals.

Alas, it was a trap! An octopus sprayed ink to enshroud the Eight in darkness, but Zhang Guolao's donkey led them out. Though Lu Dongbin vowed revenge, the others convinced him to move along peacefully, and their happy crossing of the sea continued.

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