The legend of the Eight Deities probably began in the Tang Dynasty (one of the most prosperous periods in Chinese history - 618AD to 907AD). It varied in different Dynasties. The characters, according to the post-Ming Dynasty version, are Zhong Hanli, Zhang Guolao, Han Xiangzi, Tie Guaili, Cao Guojiu, Lu Dongbin, Lan Caihe, and He Xiangu. They are each very different in appearance. Cao Guojiu is the relative of an Emperor; Tie Guaili is lame leaning on a stick like a beggar; He Xiangu is a young and attractive woman; Zhang Guolao looks very healthy in his old age and often rides backward on a donkey. Han Xiangzi is the nephew of Han Yu, a famous writer during the Tang Dynasty and is fond of playing the flute; Zhong Hanli is always swinging a palm-leaf fan with his hand.
Each of them holds a certain appearance and style, which is a traditional art theme for the artists’ imagination. There is an idiom called “the Eight Deities crossing the sea, each one showing his or her special divine power”, and the “Eight Drunken Boxing Deities” in Chinese martial arts. Mr. Li Hongzhi has also mentioned Zhang Guolao, Lu Dongbin and the Eight Deities in his lectures. “The other day I mentioned that Zhang Guolao rode backward on a donkey, but people might not have understood what this meant. He discovered that going forward is moving backward, and that humankind has been moving further away from the characteristic of the universe." (From “Mind-Intent” in Chapter 9 of Zhuan Falun)
The title of the painting is “The Eight Deities In a Drunken State”. Why are the eight Deities drunk? The inscription beside the title reads, “The longevity peaches of the Heavenly Empress ripe, she opens the door and throws her birthday party. Those deities are fond of good wine, and have fallen drunk next to the Yao Pond.” [Yao Pond is the location near which the Heavenly Empress holds her parties.] They are drunk because they have been to the Longevity Peach party organized by the Heavenly Empress at the Yao Pond. Longevity peaches only flower once every three thousand years and therefore only bear fruit once every three thousand years. The fruit is very precious. Of course, the wine offered by the Heavenly Empress is priceless, top-quality wine of more than three thousand years. But to those who are fond of drinking, there is nothing else in the world that compares! That's why the experienced and knowledgeable eight Deities are lying drunk next to the Yao Pond. Look, how the wine jug has tumbled! Some are unable to support themselves, some are in a state of drunken euphoria, and some are drunk but still want another bowl.
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