images: Heaven, Earth, and Beyond: Prints and Illustrations of Confucian, Buddhist, and Taoist Figures
Selection: Introduction
Selection: Legends of Buddhas and Deities
Selection: The Mysterious Path to Immortality
Selection: Surpassing the Ordinary and Transforming into a Sages
Selection: Home
Title: The Mysterious Path to Immortality

The Daoist religion pursues immortality, and encourages people to become immortals by following the "path" and achieving "Dao". Beginning since the Wei and Jin dynasties (265-420 CE), Daoism and the legends of deities and immortals have become deeply intertwined. People believe that through using methods like alchemy, guiding the flow of "qi" through the body, regulation of breathing, mediation, and accumulating virtue by performing good deeds, they can reach immortality. On view in this section are many of these stories accompanied by illustrations, such as Chuci ("Songs of Chu"), Lisaotu ("Illustrations of Encountering Sorrow"), Xianfo qizong ("Adventures of the Deities"), Liexian Jiupai ("Drinking Menus of Eminent of Daotist Saints"), and Xinjuan xianyuan jishi ("Chronicles of Faeries"). These creative and imaginative imageries are both lifelike and animated.      

Laozi:  the Supreme Lord (New window)  

Laozi:  the Supreme Lord
Sancai Tuhui (Assembled Illustrations of the Three Realms of Heaven, Earth and Man)
Written by Wang Qi (1529-1612)
Ming imprint of the 37th year the Wanli reign (1609) with handwritten supplements
28.5 x 31cm
Donated by the Ministry of National Defense


Laozi, whose name was Lier and style name was Poyang, and also called Laodan, was a philosopher in the late of Spring and Autumn Period. He was the founder of Daoism school, where he is called "The Supreme Lord", and is regarded as the father of religious Daoism. He was the author of Daodejing. According to the "Sancai Tuhui", he started to reincarnate since the Three Sovereigns period. It is said that he was born from his mother's armpit under a plum tree, with an appearance of an immortal. When King Wen of Zhou was still the Xipo feudal prince, Laozi was offered a position as a librarian in the royal library. In the time of King Wu, he was the manager of decrees and relics and later he retired as a hermit in the time of King Zhou. It is said that after retired, when Laozi was going to leave through the Hangu Gate by a cattle wagon, the guard saw a purple cloud came from the east, and he knew a sage was going to pass there. He met Laozi and asked him to write a book, the famous Daodejing.

Zhang Daoling (New window)  

Zhang Daoling
Xianfo qizong (Adventures of the Deities)
Written by Hong Yingming, Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
Reprint by Yuedantang of Wujin in the Republic era (1912 to date)

Zhang Daoling from the Easter Han dynasty was also called Zhang ling, who is the founder of the Daoist sect Tienshidao. People called him Daoist Master Zhang. It is said that he has already mastered Laozi' s Daodejing when he was seven. Later, he became a distinguished student in the five canons, pills refining technique, and ancient magic. Many people came and studied with him. His life was full of legends and miracles. This painting describes that Master Zhang has an awe-inspiring appearance from "Xianfo qizong" by Hong Yingming.
Xu Zhenjun (New window)  

Xu Zhenjun
Xinjuan xiuxiang liexienzhuan (Re-engraved Embroidered Eminent Daoist Saints)
Edited by Hong Zicheng, Ming dynasty (1368-1644)
Qing Imprint of the Zaizitang Printhouse in the 13th year of the Daoguang reign (1833)


Xu Zhengjun, whose real name was Xu Xun (239-374CE), was a famous Daoist priest in the Easter Jin dynasty. It is said that he lived for 135 years. He studied religious Daoism from Wu Meng, and was called Xu Jingyang for governing the Jingyang prefecture. He was honored as "Genuine Person with Godly Power and a Merciful Heart who Understand the Ultimate Dao" by Emperor Huizong of the Song dynasty, so people call him "Genuine Person Xu". Stories of him are very brilliant and he is also one of the four great guardians in religious Daoism. It is said that his mother, in a full-moon night, dreamt of a legendary creature "Fenghuang" with a pearl in her hand, and then the pearl was swallowed by her and then Xu was born. He mastered history and canons, especially knowledge of immortality. He also helped people killing a giant snake and other evil creatures. It is said that he forged an iron columns and chains to conquer an evil dragon. His Daoist magic was distinguished, it is said that at 135, he ascended to immortality with dozens of immortals attending him. This painting depicts that he holds a banana leaf with a tiger beside, which is related a legend about healing a tiger's throat soar.

Nüwa (New window)   Nüwa
Tienwentu (Illustrations of Heavenly Questions)
Illustrated by Xiao Yuncong (1596-1673)
Imprint of the Qing dynasty (1644-1912)

That Nüwa patched the sky and molded human is one of the remote Chinese myths. It circulated widely as folk literature before the Warring States period. In the picture of Lisaotu ("Illustrations of Encountering Sorrow"), Nüwa is depicted as a goddess with a snake body and a human head. It can transform into seventy different forms in a day. Sometimes Nüwa and Fuxi together are called "the Two Emperors". Fuxi was described as having a body of dragon and holding the sun in his hand, and Nüwa holding the moon. The folk calls her Empress Nüwa, and regarded her as the founder of marriage and the inventor of reed pipes.  The story of Nüwa's moulding human and patching sky is told in Taipingyulan and Huainanzi. This painting is from "Tienwentu (Illustrations of Heavenly Questions)", depicting the scenes of Nüwa entwining on a pillar with her snake body and patching the sky with the five-color stones in her hand. This scene is adopted from the chapter of “Heavenly Questions" in Quyuan's Li-Sao("Encountering Sorrow" ).

Hebo(New window)   Hebo
Lisaotu (Illustrations of Encountering Sorrow)
Illustrated by Xiao Yuncong (1596-1673)
Imprint of the 2nd year of the Shuanzhi reign (1645), Qing dynasty
Donated by Shen Zhongtao (1892-1981)

Hebo is the god of the Yellow River, and the god of river can also be called by the same name. It is said that Hebo has a human head and a fish body, but sometimes it was also described as having a human head and either a snake body or the body of a bird. Turtles in the river are his messengers. "Hebo's marriage" is a well-known story describing a custom of sacrificing a young girl to the God of River. In this story Hebo is described as a handsome and romantic man. "Jiuge" in Chuci (Songs of Chu) is a collection of poems praising gods from Heaven and Earth, humans, and ghosts, but Hebo is also mentioned. In this poem, Hebo falls in love with the Goddess from the river Lo and records the scenes of their travels. The illustration is from "Jiugetu" in " Lisaotu", which depicts Hebo rides on dragons and turtles, and is going back to his palace.

The Lord of the Clouds (Yun Zhongjun) (New window)   The Lord of the Clouds (Yun Zhongjun)
Chenzhangho xiuxiang chuci (Chen Zhangho's Embroidered Portraits of the Songs of Chu)
Illustrated by Chen Hongshou (1598-1652)
Imprint of the 11th year of the Congzhen reign (1638), Ming dynasty
Donated by Shen Zhongtao

Yun Zhongjun is the lord of clouds and also called Fenglong, or Pingi in mythology. In "Jiuge" of Chuci, there is a poem named Yun Zhongjun, which is for rituals praying to the lord of cloud. He is described as wearing the cloths of the emperor and looks very attractive. Yun Zhung-chun rides on a dragon wagon and travels to all over the world; he can go over a thousand miles in a second. This painting is from the "Chenzhangho xiuxiang chuci" and Chen Zhangho is actually Chen Hongshou, also called "Laolian (Old Lotus)". He was a painter in the late Ming and the early Qing period, who has outstanding contributions to the history of Chinese woodcut. In this woodcut Yun Zhungjun is depicted as daring and energetic, concentrated on seeing forward. In addition, in folklore, he is said to be a young and attractive goddess who is the wife of the god of the sun; and that's why the sun always comes with clouds.

Daoist Priest of Zichuan (New window)  

Daoist Priest of Zichuan
Sanshisan Jianketu (Portraits of Thirty-three Swordsmen)
Illustrated by Ren Xong, Qing dynasty (1644-1912)
Qing imprint of the 6th year of the Xianfeng Reign (1856)


This woodcut is from the "Sanshisan Jianketu" by the famous painter Ren Xong in the Qing dynasty, portraying the characters from the stories in "Jianxiazhuan (Tales of Celebrated Swordsmen)". The story of "Daoist Priest of Zichuan" is a romance about an intellectual Jiang Lianfu and a gorgeous swordswoman immortal. In the story, the swordswoman already has a boyfriend, who is another swordsman immortal. But she still falls in love with Mr. Jiang, and so the swordsman comes to kill him. A Daoist Priest of Zichuan knows this and comes to transform the swordsman immortal into a skeleton, and then transform him again into water. The author wanted to express that even as immortals, they still cannot escape complicated romance. The Daoist priest in the painting is relaxed and confident, his supernatural power and martial art are superb. 

Qingao (New window)  

Liehxian Jiupai (Drinking Menus of Eminent of Daotist Saints)
Illustrated by Ren Xong, Qing dynasty
Carved by Cai Rongzhuang, Qing dynasty (1644-1912)
Qing imprint of the 6th year of the Xianfeng reign (1856), Qing dynasty


Immortal Qingao has such name because of his superb skill in play guqin (a Chinese instrument). He followed the Daoist ways of Juanzi and Pengzu, and travelled near Jizhou and Zhoujun in Hobei County for over two hundred years. One day, he promised his student to catch a young dragon in the Cho River. At the time promised, he rode on a red carp and came out from the water, and then he sat back in temple. Many people witnessed this event and later he went back into the water after a month. In Daoist story, immortals often attended by beasts and other creatures, meaning that they can go wherever they want, and be one with Heaven. This painting was in "Liehxian Jiupai" in which Qingao is depicted as riding on a fish in water freely.

Jiangfei Ernü (Two Faeries) (New window)  

Jiangfei Ernü (Two Faeries)
Xinjuan xianyuan jishi (Chronicles of Faeries)
Written by Yang Erzeng (17th cent.)
Imprint of the 30th year of the Wanli reign (1602) by the Caoxuanju Printhouse of the Yang family of Qiantang

This painting is from "Xinjuan xianyuan jishi". The main character is Zheng Jiaofu, who met two immortal women Jiang and Fei near a river by chance. They expressed their admiration to each other, and asked for jade pendants as gifts. The story is simple and the scene is graceful; especially the touching scene in which they sings the local songs from Chu to each other. And the ending is also mystical and intensely interesting.








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