Sunday, January 2, 2011

Eight Immortals: Zhang Guolao

Zhang Guolao, also known as Elder Zhang Guo, was a hermit who lived on Zhongtiao Mountain. He often rode on a white donkey and has been known to travel thousands of miles a day, with every rest Zhang Guolao taking he would fold his donkey up into a piece of paper and slipped it into his box. When in need of riding his donkey again he would put water on the paper to make the paper transform back into a white donkey. Zhang Guolao can be recognized by the fact he carries a peach of immortality and a phoenix feather while at times rides his donkey backwards. His talisman is a drum that can tell of future events and perform divination. Zhang Guolao is the patron of the elderly and out of the Eight Immortals it is Zhang Guolao who has the most magical ability.

In 735 AD, also known as the twenty-third year of the Kai Yuan period, Emperor Xuan Zong summoned Zhang Guolao, making him Chief of the Imperial Academy. It was later that the very Emperor tried to give Zhang Guolao some wine but was declined. Zhang Guolao stated he can only drink two pints but has a disciple that can drink ten.

Zhang Guolao’s disciple was summoned and when asked to be seated by Emperor Xuan Zong, Zhang Guolao protested that his disciple should stay standing. The disciple stayed standing and was given ten pints of wine, where Zhang Guolao said that the ten pints was his disciples limit but the disciple was given more. As a result of drinking more ten pints of wine, the head swelled and gushed out.  The disciple had transformed into a golden wine-cup to the amazement of the Emperor Xuan Zong, and upon inspection the cup could only hold ten pints of wine. Zhang Guolao was honoured and conferred the title of Master of Taoist Mysteries thanks to this.

Zhang Guolao is also known for his love of wine and winemaking, to which he has been known to make wine made from herbs and shrubs with other members of the Eight Immortals known to drink it. It is said that the wine Zhang Guolao makes has healing properties. Zhang Guolao is also known to go without food for days, surviving only on a few sips of wine.

Emperors of the Tang dynasty often invited Zhang Guolao to court but always declined. Empress Wu once asked and Zhang Guolao agreed, upon reaching the gates of a temple Zhang Guolao suddenly died with his body seen decomposing but was later seen alive and well. Zhang Guolao actually fell ill between 742 to 746AD and died, upon having his tomb opened by disciples Zhang Guolao’s body was empty.

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