From the Kangxi period (1662-1722 Qing dynasty), ceramics were frequently decorated with peaches representing long life and immortality and flying bats, with a few rare ceramics with bats being released from a gourd held by the immortal Li Tieh-Kuai symbolizing long life. The most popular decoration on ceramics from the Ming dynasty up until present times is the five blessings of longevity, health, morality, virtue and natural death referred to as “Wu-fu” with five flying bats.
In the paper written by Patrick de Vries on Daoist Symbols of Immortality and Longevity on Late Ming dynasty Porcelain, he mentions on page 19 the immortal Li Tieh-Kuai carrying a gourd from which bats fly.
I mention this in this article because it is generally not known that bats in Daoist mythology were released from a gourd by the immortal Li Tieguai, this immortal is more commonly known to hold and dispense medicines from the gourd.
Porcelain with a scene depicting bats being released from a gourd is quite rare. The vase pictured on the left is 41cm in height, it shows clearly bats, which are more well defined than those seen on the bowl on our website which is only 10 cm in height. This vase which was sold at auction by a famous auction house is stated to be a gift to royalty, so is of imperial quality.
The “Eight Immortals” is thought to have cropped up during the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) when a group of figures. some who actually lived and others from Chinese myth were given the title of celestial beings with superhuman powers.
The Eight Immortals In Taoism
Lü Dongbin, (Lu Tung Pin)
- An historical figure who was a scholar and poet who lived during the Tang Dynasty, he is depicted with a fly whisk and his demon-slaying sword (magic sword). He is the patron deity for those who are highly literate.
- A mythological figure, he is often represented with a bare stomach and carrying a fan that resurrects the dead; and can transform stones into precious metals. He is usually shown with a long beard reaching to his naval and drinking wine. He became immortalized during the Han Dynasty, and in turn brought the aforementioned Lü Dongbin to immortality.
Cao Guo Jiu
- patron of the theatre and actors, also believed to be an historical figure. He was a member of the royal family during the Song Dynasty, he is seen dressed in official clothing, carrying the insignia of his office in the form of a jade tablet or castanets.
He Xian Gu
- In the shape of a young woman and was once seduced by Lü Dongbin. She is thought to be the daughter of He Tai and is seen carrying either a ladle or a lotus flower which is thought to improve physical health and mental well being.
Han Xiang Zi
- Whose name translates as “Philosopher Han Xiang”, also thought to be an historical person who lived during the Tang Dynasty, supposedly the nephew of the famous Tang writer and Confucian Han Yu (768–824), Han Xiang is usually seen carrying a flute and is the patron deity of musicians.
Zhang Guo Lao
- Also an historical figure, he was a Taoist hermit living in the mountains of east central China between the 7th and 8th century. He is usually seen carrying a drum and depicted as an old man riding a donkey, sometimes backwards – which he apparently folded up like a piece of paper upon reaching his destination. He is regarded the patron of wine and the good life as well as the protector of children.
Lan Cai He
- Depicted in both male or female form, carrying a basket of fruit or flowers, and sometimes a flute. This deity symbolizes a carefree life free of the responsibilities and cares of ordinary life.
- Perhaps the most ancient of the eight immortals was also referred to as Iron Crutch Li, has carries an iron crutch and a gourd from which bats fly or to dispense medicine. He is thought to be ill tempered but also shows benevolence and is the patron deity to those who are needy or sick.
Li Tieguai supposedly lived at the turn of the sixth to the seventh century AD, and attained the Dao, or The Way, at an early age. One day, Li Tieguai was about to attend a meeting with the Master Lao Tze, in order to be instructed in Daoist teachings.
Before leaving he told his apprentice Li Qing to wait seven days for his soul to return, if he didn’t return within this time he was instructed to cremate his body. The inevitable happened – the disciple did cremate his master’s body, but he did so early, on the sixth day, because he had to rush home to help his mother who had fallen ill. When Li’s spirit returned on the seventh day, he was understandably distraught at failing to find his body, and had no other choice but to enter the corpse of a beggar who had just starved to death, thus taking on the shape of a crippled man with an iron crutch.