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Synopsis

Myths and Legends of China

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Ts’ao Kuo-chiu was connected with the imperial family of the Sungs, and is shown with the tablet of admission to Court in his hand. He became one of the Eight Immortals because the other seven, who occupied seven of the eight grottos of the Upper Spheres, wished to see the eighth inhabited, and nominated him because “his disposition resembled that of a genie.” The legend relates that the Empress Ts’ao, wife of the Emperor Jên Tsung (A.D. 1023–64), had two younger brothers. The elder of the two, Ching-hsiu, did not concern himself with the affairs of State; the younger, Ching-chih, was notorious for his misbehaviour. In spite of all warnings he refused to reform, and being at last guilty of homicide was condemned to death. His brother, ashamed at what had occurred, went and hid in the mountains, where he clothed his head and body with wild plants, resolved to lead the life of a hermit. One day Han Chung-li and Lü Tung-pin found him in his retreat, and asked him what he was doing. “I am engaged in studying the Way,” he replied. “What way, and where is it?” they asked. He pointed to the sky. “Where is the sky?” they went on. He pointed to his heart. The two visitors smiled and said: “The heart is the sky, and the sky is the Way; you understand the origin of things.” They then gave him a recipe for perfection, to enable him to take his place among the Perfect Ones. In a few days only he had reached this much-sought-after condition.

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