Zhang Lu's painting of Zhang Guolao, early 16th century
|Literal meaning||Old Zhang Guo|
|Vietnamese||Trương Quả Lão|
Zhang Guolao (Chinese: 張果老) is one of the Eight Immortals. Among the Eight Immortals, Zhang Guolao, Zhongli Quan, and Lü Yan were real historical figures; the rest exist only in legend. His existence is said to have begun around the middle or end of the 7th century AD, and ended approximately in the middle of the 8th. The epithet "Lao" added at the end of his name means "old".
Elder Zhang Guo was a Taoist fangshi (方士 "occultist-alchemist") who lived as a hermit in the Zhongtiao Shan in Heng Prefecture (恒州 Héngzhōu) during the Tang Dynasty. By the time of Empress Wu, he claimed to be several hundred years old. A strong believer in the magic of necromancy, he also declared that he had been Grand Minister to the Emperor Yao during a previous incarnation. Zhang Guo Lao also had a love for wine and winemaking. He was known to make liquor from herbs and shrubs as a hobby. Other members of the Eight Immortals drank his wine, which they believed to have healing or medicinal properties. He was also known to be a master of Taoist breath or qigong and could go without food for days, surviving on only a few sips of wine.
He was the most eccentric of the Eight Immortals, seen clearly in the kung fu style dedicated to his memory. The style includes moves such as delivering a kick during a back flip or bending so far back that your shoulders touch the ground. He was known to be quite entertaining, often making himself invisible, drinking water from the petals of poisonous flowers, snatching birds in flight from the sky, as well as wilting flowers simply by pointing in their direction.
Depiction in art and culture
Zhang Kuo Lao appears frequently in Chinese paintings and sculpture, either with the Eight Immortals or alone, and, like the other immortals, can be seen in many different common artistic mediums and everyday objects. He may be depicted standing or seated, but is typically shown riding his white mule, usually seated facing backwards. His emblem is a Yü Ku, or fish drum, which is a tube-shaped bamboo drum with two iron rods or mallets that he carries with him, or carrying a phoenix feather or a peach, representing immortality. Since he represents old age, in the Taoist Feng Shui tradition a picture or statue of Zhang Kuo can be placed in the home or bedroom of an elderly person to help bring them a long life and a good, natural death. A picture of him on his mule offering a descendant to a newly wed couple can also be found in Daoist nuptial chapels.
In the television show Jackie Chan Adventures, Guo was shown to be the Immortal who sealed away Po Kong, The Mountain Demon. Later his drumsticks are revealed to have absorbed some of the demon's chi, and become the target of Drago, son of the fire demon Shendu.
Zhang Guo Lao was known for wandering between the Fen River and Chin territories during his lifetime and was known to travel at least a thousand li per day upon a white donkey or mule. When his journey was finished, he folded his mule up and placed it in his pocket or a small box. When he wished to use the mule again, he poured water on it from his mouth and the mule regained its form.
Emperors of the T'ang dynasty (T'ai Tsung and Kao Tsung) often invited Zhang Guo Lao to court, but he always declined these invitations. Once, when asked by Empress Wu, he finally agreed to leave his hermitage. As he reached the gate of the Temple of the Jealous Woman, he died suddenly. His body was seen decomposing and being consumed by worms, but he was later seen, alive and well, on the mountains of Heng Chou in P'ing-yang Fu.
In the twenty-third year (AD 735) of the reign-period K'ai Yüan of the Emperor Hsüan Tsung of the Tang Dynasty, Zhang Guo Lao was called to Lo-yang in Honan, and elected chief of the Imperial Academy, with the honorable title of "Very Perspicacious Teacher". At this time, the famous Taoist Yeh Fa-shan was in great favor at Court, thanks to his skill in necromancy. When asked who this Zhang Guo Lao was, the magician replied, "I know, but if I were to tell your Majesty, I should fall dead at your feet, so I dare not speak unless your Majesty will promise that you will go with bare feet and bare head to ask Zhang Guo Lao to forgive you, in which case I should immediately revive."
Hsüan Tsung having promised, Fa-shan then said: "Zhang Guo Lao is a white spiritual bat which came out of primeval chaos." Zhang Guo Lao was believed by some to be able to transform himself into a bat, another symbol of permanence. After giving this information, Fa-shan immediately dropped dead at the Emperor's feet. Hsüan Tsung, with bald head and feet, went to Zhang Guo Lao as he had promised. After begging him for forgiveness for his indiscretion, Zhang Guo Lao then sprinkled water on Fa-shan's face and he revived. Soon after during the period AD 742-746, Zhang Guo Lao fell ill and returned to die in the Heng Chou Mountains. When his disciples opened his tomb, they found it empty.
Media related to Zhang Guo Lao at Wikimedia Commons
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