Eight Immortals
Chinese - The Eight Immortals - Walters 3535.jpg
The Eight Immortals (Walters Art Museum)
Literal meaningeight xian

The Eight Immortals (Chinese: 八仙) are a group of legendary xian ("immortals") in Chinese mythology. Each immortal's power can be transferred to a vessel (法器) that can bestow life or destroy evil. Together, these eight vessels are called the "Covert Eight Immortals" (暗八仙). Most of them are said to have been born in the Tang or Song Dynasty. They are revered by the Taoists and are also a popular element in secular Chinese culture. They are said to live on a group of five islands in the Bohai Sea, which includes Mount Penglai.

The Immortals are:

In literature before the 1970s, they were sometimes translated as the Eight Genies. First described in the Yuan Dynasty, they were probably named after the Eight Immortal Scholars of the Han.

In art

The tradition of depicting humans who have become immortals is an ancient practice in Chinese art, and when religious Taoism gained popularity, it quickly picked up this tradition with its own immortals.[citation needed] While cults dedicated to various Taoist immortals date back to the Han dynasty, the popular and well-known Eight Immortals first appeared in the Jin dynasty. The art of the Jin tombs of the 12th and 13th centuries depicts a group of eight Taoist immortals in wall murals and sculptures. They officially became known as the Eight Immortals in the writings and works of art of the Taoist group known as the Complete Realization (Quanshen). The most famous art depiction of the Eight Immortals from this period is a mural of them in the Eternal Joy Temple (Yongle Gong) at Ruicheng.

The Eight Immortals are considered to be signs of prosperity and longevity, so they are popular themes in ancient and medieval art. They were frequent adornments on celadon vases. They were also common in sculptures owned by the nobility. Their most common appearance, however, was in paintings.[citation needed] Many silk paintings, wall murals, and wood block prints remain of the Eight Immortals. They were often depicted either together in one group, or alone to give more homage to that specific immortal.

An interesting feature of early Eight Immortal artwork is that they are often accompanied by jade hand maidens, commonly depicted servants of the higher ranked deities, or other images showing great spiritual power. This shows that early on, the Eight Immortals quickly became eminent figures of the Taoist religion and had great importance.[citation needed] We can see this importance is only heightened in the Ming and Qing dynasties. During these dynasties, the Eight Immortals were very frequently associated with other prominent spiritual deities in artwork. There are numerous paintings with them and the Three Stars (the gods of longevity, prosperity, and good fortune) together. Also, other deities of importance, such as the Queen Mother of the West, are commonly seen in the company of the Eight Immortals.

The artwork of the Eight Immortals is not limited to paintings or other visual arts. They are quite prominent in written works too. Authors and playwrights wrote numerous stories and plays on the Eight Immortals. One famous story that has been rewritten many times and turned into several plays (the most famous written by Mu Zhiyuan in the Yuan Dynasty) is The Yellow-Millet Dream, which is the story of how Lǚ Dòngbīn met Zhongli Quan and began his path to immortality.[6]

In literature

The Eight Immortals crossing the sea, from Myths and Legends of China.[7] Clockwise in the boat starting from the stern: He Xian'gu, Han Xiang Zi, Lan Caihe, Li Tieguai, Lü Dongbin, Zhongli Quan, Cao Guojiu and outside the boat is Zhang Guo Lao.
The Eight Immortals crossing the sea, from Myths and Legends of China.[7] Clockwise in the boat starting from the stern: He Xian'gu, Han Xiang Zi, Lan Caihe, Li Tieguai, Lü Dongbin, Zhongli Quan, Cao Guojiu and outside the boat is Zhang Guo Lao.

The Immortals are the subject of many artistic creations, such as paintings and sculptures. Examples of writings about them include:

In qigong and martial arts

Furthermore, they have been linked to the initial development of qigong exercises such as the Eight Piece Brocade.[8] There are some Chinese martial arts styles named after them, which use fighting techniques that are attributed to the characteristics of each immortal.[9] Some drunken boxing styles make extensive use of the Eight Immortals archetypes for conditioning, qigong/meditation and combat training.[10] One subsection of BaYingQuan drunken fist training includes methodologies for each of the eight immortals.


Established in the Song Dynasty, the Xi'an temple Eight Immortals Palace (八仙宮), formerly Eight Immortals Nunnery (八仙庵), is where statues of the Immortals can be found in the Hall of Eight Immortals (八仙殿). There are many other shrines dedicated to them throughout China and Taiwan. In Singapore, the Xian'gu Temple (仙姑殿) is dedicated to the Immortal Lady He from the group as its focus of devotion.

Depictions in popular culture

Statue of the Eight Immortals in Penglai City, Shandong
Statue of the Eight Immortals in Penglai City, Shandong

Diorama at Haw Par Villa, Singapore, depicting the battle between the Eight Immortals and the forces of the Dragon King of the East Sea.

In modern China, the Eight Immortals are still a popular theme in artwork. Paintings, pottery, and statues are still common in households across China and are even gaining some popularity worldwide.

Several movies about the Eight Immortals have been produced in China in recent years[citation needed].

In Jackie Chan's films Drunken Master and Drunken Master II, there are eight "drunken" Chinese martial arts forms that are said to be originated from the Eight Immortals. At first, the protagonist did not want to learn the Immortal Lady He form because he saw it as feminine, but he eventually created his own version of it.

The 1998–99 Singaporean television series Legend of the Eight Immortals was based on stories of the Eight Immortals and adapted from the novel Dong You Ji.

The Eight Immortals play an important part in the plot of the video game Fear Effect 2.

In the Andy Seto graphic novel series Saint Legend, the Eight Immortals reappear to protect the Buddhist faith from evil spirits set on destroying it.

In the X-Men comic book, the Eight Immortals appear to protect China along with the Collective Man when the mutant Xorn caused a massacre in one small village.

In the Immortal Iron Fist comic book, there are seven supreme kung fu practitioners, called the Seven Immortal Weapons. They each hail from other-dimensional cities and must fight for their city's chance to appear on Earth. Aside from being named the "Immortal" Weapons, the most overt reference to the Eight Immortals is that one Immortal Weapon, Fat Cobra, hails from and represents a city called "Peng Lai Island".

In the roleplaying game Feng Shui, the Eight Immortals appear in the sourcebook Thorns of the Lotus.

The Eight Immortals played a role in the animated show Jackie Chan Adventures. In the show, the Immortals were said to be the ones who defeated the Eight Demon Sorcerers and sealed them away in the netherworld using items that symbolized their powers. They then crafted the Pan'ku box as a key to opening the portals that lead into the demons' prison. Later on in the series, the items the Immortals used to seal away the demons the first time are revealed to have absorbed some of the demons' chi and become the targets of Drago, the son of Shendu (one of the Demon Sorcerers), to enhance his own powers.

In The Forbidden Kingdom, Jackie Chan plays the character Lu Yan, who is supposed to be one of the Eight Immortals, as revealed by the director in the movie's special feature, The Monkey King and The Eight Immortals.

In the Tales of the Dragon expansion for Age of Mythology, the Eight Immortals are hero units for the Chinese.

In The Iron Druid Chronicles, Zhang Guolao joins the party journeying to Asgard to slay Thor in vengeance for the Norse gods crimes. Zhang Guolao's grudge stems from Thor killing his donkey in a trick.

Asian-American death metal band Ripped to Shreds' second album, 亂 (Luan) (2020), features a song about the Eight Immortals called "Eight Immortals Feast"


  1. ^ Ho, Kwok Man (1990). The Eight Immortals of Taoism: Legends and Fables of Popular Taoism. Translated and edited by Joanne O'Brien. New York: Penguin Books. p. 1. ISBN 9780452010703.
  2. ^ "Li T'ieh-kuai". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Retrieved 26 October 2008.
  3. ^ National Geographic Society (U.S.). National Geographic Essential Visual History of World Mythology. National Geographic Books, 2008. Page 340.
  4. ^ Dorothy Perkins. Encyclopedia of China: History and Culture. Page 140.
  5. ^ Valery M. Garrett. A Collector's Guide to Chinese Dress Accessories. Times Books International, 1997. Page 32.
  6. ^ Little, Stephen (2000). Taoism and the Arts of China. The Art Institute of Chicago. pp. 313, 319–334. ISBN 978-0520227842.
  7. ^ Werner, E. T. C. (1922). Myths & Legends of China. New York: George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd. Retrieved 2007-03-14. (Project Gutenberg eText 15250)
  8. ^ Olson, Stuart Alve (2002). Qigong Teachings of a Taoist Immortal: The Eight Essential Exercises of Master Li Ching-Yun. Bear & Company. ISBN 0-89281-945-6.
  9. ^ Leung, TingAlve (July 2000). The Drunkard Kung Fu and Its Application. Leung Ting Co. ISBN 962-7284-08-4.
  10. ^ "Drunken Eight Immortals Internal Kung Fu". www.drunkenyoga.net.

Further reading