Han Xiangzi, Immortal

(This article was published in the Shenzhen Daily on January 16, 2017.)

A bas relief of Han Xiangzi at the Tianhou Palace in Chiwan, Shenzhen

The next member of the Eight Immortals we'll meet is Han Xiangzi, who is often seen with a flute. He may have been the great-nephew of the Tang Dynasty poet Han Yu. The uncle's influence on Chinese literature has been compared to that of Dante, Shakespeare, and Goethe in Italian, English, and German literature.

Han Xiangzi, however, seemed to produce poetry from a different sphere...

As the story goes, Han Xiangzi was the student of his uncle, but excelled him in almost every way, especially in performing feats of wonder. Once, taking a flower pot with just a little soil in it, he drew forth some plants the flowers of which were inscribed with this verse in gold:
The clouds hide the Qinling Mountains; where then can you live?
There is deep snow on Languan Pass; your horse refuses to move on.
When the uncle asked the verse's meaning, the boy answered enigmatically, "You shall see."

Years later, Han Yu offended Emperor Xianzong and was banished to Chaozhou. As he reached the afore-named pass, there was indeed too much snow, and his horse was unable to move forward. As he despaired, Han Xiangzi appeared and magically cleared the path!

He also gave his uncle a prescription to keep him healthy in the damp climate of the south, and prophesied that he would return to the capital--which he did.

Though the story is filled with supernatural elements, Han Yu did leave a famous poem, "For My Nephew Xiang on My Demotion and Arrival at Languan Pass," which contains lines similar to those in the miracle story. Which came first is a matter of some conjecture!

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