Lán Cǎi-hé (also written as Lán Ts’ǎi-hó) 藍采和 exemplifies one of the 8 Immortals. Lán Cǎi-hé is thought to have been a real person, but one whose behavior and life-style was outside the ordinary. Lan can be portrayed as a woman or a man; Eberhard refers to her/him as an hermaphrodite.
Not much is known about Lán Cǎi-hé’s 藍采和 origin, although she may have lived during the Five Dynasties period (907-960) (Wong p. 32). She dressed in colorful rags, was often shown wearing only one shoe with the other foot bare. In the summer her garments were quilted or stuffed with cotton and wool; in the winter she had only a thin gown. Around her waist she wore a 3 inch wide sash made up of pieces of wood. She carried a basket of peaches or flowers and often wore flowers in her hair. She begged in the markets by clapping 3 foot long castanets. Sometimes she was seen with a flute.
As a holy fool, she wandered around as a street musician, chronically drunk, singing and joking with people in the markets. She gave what little money she had (after drinking her fill) to the poor. Lai in his small, but charming book The Eight Immortals, noted that Lán Cǎi-hé was a humorist who “could make people laugh till they rolled on the ground” (p. 5). Her songs, although often largely unintelligible, were about the vanity of life, and about immortality and life in the immortal lands; they also foretold the future.
She became a part of the 8 Immortals group when she met Lü Tung-pin and Chung-li Ch’uan (both a part of the 8 Immortals group) while traveling through the land of the immortals. Lü and Ch’uan were captivated by her carefree manner and beautiful voice and invited her to join them (Wong p. 32). The Land of the Dragon, Chinese Myth gives another version: she passed out drunk in a tavern in Anhui and was taken to the land of the Immortals. The only things left behind were her one shoe, robe, belt and musical instruments (p. 111). This latter version just proves that goodness and spirituality don’t have to equate to perfection or rigid social norms!
Lán Cǎi-hé 藍采和 is the patron of minstrels.
References: Eberhard; Bartholomew; Eva Wong; Land of the Dragon, Chinese Myth; T.C. Lai The Eight Immortals.