Peaches of Immortality

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Chinese - Ceramic teapot in the form of two peaches - a symbol of immortality (or a wish for long life). Yixing- [I-hsing]-ware, with blue-brown glazing.

In Chinese mythology, Peaches of Immortality[1] (Chinese: 仙桃; pinyin: xiāntáo; Cantonese Yale: sīn tòuh or Chinese: 蟠桃; pinyin: pántáo; Cantonese Yale: pùhn tòuh) are consumed by the immortals due to their mystic virtue of conferring longevity on all who eat them. Peaches symbolizing immortality (or the wish for a long and healthy life) are a common symbol in Chinese art, appearing in depictions or descriptions in a number of fables, paintings, and other forms of art, often in association with thematically similar iconography, such as certain deities or immortals or other symbols of longevity, such as deer or cranes.

Peach Banquets[edit]

Silk tapestry of Dongfang Shuo stealing a peach of immortality, Ming dynasty (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The Jade Emperor and his wife Xi Wangmu (Queen Mother of the West) ensured the deities' everlasting existence by feasting them with the peaches of immortality. The immortals residing in the palace of Xi Wangmu were said to celebrate an extravagant banquet called the "Feast of Peaches" (Chinese: 蟠桃會; pinyin: Pántáo Huì; Cantonese Yale: pùhn tòuh wúih, or Chinese: 蟠桃勝會; pinyin: Pántáo Shènghuì; Cantonese Yale: pùhn tòuh sing wúih), celebrated on earth in honor (birthday) of Xi Wangmu on the 3rd day of the 3rd moon month. The immortals waited six thousand years before gathering for this magnificent feast; the peach tree put forth leaves once every thousand years and it required another three thousand years for the fruit to ripen. Statues depicting Xi Wangmu's attendants often held three peaches. And the Eight Immortals crossing the seas to attend the banquet is a popular subject in paintings.

Both the Stories of the Emperor Wu and Research into Nature wrote about an imaginary meeting between the Emperor Wu of Han and the Queen Mother of the West offering the Peach to him.[2]

Journey to the West[edit]

It is a major item featured within the popular fantasy novel Journey to the West. The first time in which these immortal peaches were seen had been within heaven when Sun Wukong had been stationed as the Protector of the Peaches. As the Protector, Sun quickly realized the legendary effects of the immortal peaches if they were to be consumed – over 3,000 years of life after the consumption of a single peach – and acted quickly as to consume one. However, he ended up running into many fragments of trouble such as a certain queen that was planning on holding a peach banquet for many members of Heaven. He manages to make himself very small and hide within a sacred peach. Later on within the series, he would have another chance to eat an immortal fruit – in which would be his second time. A certain 1,000-foot-tall (300 m) tree was stationed behind a monastery run by a Taoist master and his disciples- in which the master had been gone. The tree bore 30 of the legendary Man-fruit(fruits that looked just like a new born, complete with sense organs) once every 10,000 years. The man-fruits would grant 360 years of life to one who merely smelled them and 47,000 years of life to one who consumed them. After this point within the novel, these Immortal Peaches would never be seen again.[3]

Others[edit]

Members of the Eight Immortals and the Old Man of the South Pole[4] (a longevity deity) are sometimes depicted carrying a Peach of Immortality.

Because of the stories, peach is a common decoration (the fruit or an image thereof) on traditional birthday cakes and pastries in China.[5]

Another peach-related folktale from East Asia is the Momotarō.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ also translated as the Immortal Peaches and Magical Peaches
  2. ^ Michael Loewe (31 December 1994). Ways to paradise: the Chinese quest for immortality. SMC Pub. p. 95. ISBN 978-957-638-183-6. Retrieved 28 June 2011. 
  3. ^ Anthony C. Yu (1984). Journey to the West. University of Chicago Press. p. 74. ISBN 978-0-226-97153-7. 
  4. ^ Patricia Bjaaland Welch (2008). Chinese art: a guide to motifs and visual imagery. Tuttle Publishing. p. 159. ISBN 978-0-8048-3864-1. Retrieved 28 June 2011. [Shouxing] commonly holds a giant peach of immortality in his right hand and a walking stick with attached gourd (holding special life-giving elixir) in his left. 
  5. ^ Frederick J. Simoons (1998). Plants of life, plants of death. Univ of Wisconsin Press. p. 268. ISBN 978-0-299-15904-7. Retrieved 28 June 2011.