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The Making of an Immortal: the Exaltation of Ho Chih-Chang

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An unusual case of a Chinese "immortal" (hsien) was the T'ang dynasty statesman Ho Chih-chang (659-744). During his life, Ho displayed little interest in religion until a late-life ordination as a Taoist priest. During the Sung dynasty, however, he was gradually elevated to "immortality" in a series of hagiographical tales. In the 10th-century T'ai-p'ing kuang-chi, Ho appears as a character who learns humility. In the 11 th-century Kao-tao chuan, he appears as a character who yields to the Taoist ideals of restraint and orderly progress. In the 13th-century Chia-ting Ch'ih-ch'eng chih, Ho appears as a master of pharmika who ascends to heaven after a life of several centuries. In that text, the figure of Ho no longer has moral significance: he represents a romantic ideal of "the immortal," but no longer serves as a meaningful spiritual exemplar. In fact, in that text he ceases to function as a representative of Taoist values, for Taoists always aspire to a moral and spiritual elevation, a personal perfection for which the concept of "immortality" serves as a potent metaphor. I suggest that the compilers of such texts appropriated honored historical figures like Ho in an effort to persuade sceptical members of the Chinese elite that "immortality" was a valid and respectable ideal.

Affiliations: 1: Bradley University Department of Religious Studies 1501 West Bradley Ave Peoria, Illinois 61625, USA


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