The Daoist immortal Han Xiangzi, painted by Liu Jun, Ming dynasty
Han Xiangzi, courtesy name Qingfu or Beizhu, is a Chinese mythological figure and one of the Eight Immortals in the Taoist pantheon. He studied Taoist magical arts under the tutelage of Lü Dongbin, another of the Eight Immortals. Han Xiangzi is often depicted carrying a dizi (Chinese flute), so he is also regarded as the patron deity of flutists. He is also believed to be the composer of the Taoist musical piece Tian Hua Yin (天花引).
It is not known if Han Xiangzi existed historically. However, he is believed to be Han Xiang, a grandnephew of Han Yu, a prominent politician, poet and Confucian scholar who lived in the Tang dynasty. There are at least three different accounts about Han Xiang and Han Yu's grandnephew.
Han Yu once dedicated three poems to his grandnephew, Han Xiang, whose courtesy name was "Qingfu". The three poems are Zuo Qian Zhi Languan Shi Zhisun Xiang (左遷至藍關示侄孫湘), and the two-part poem Su Zeng Jiang Kou Shi Zhisun Xiang (宿曾江口示侄孫湘). In 819, during the reign of Emperor Xianzong of Tang, the emperor arranged a grand ceremony for an alleged Buddhist relic to be escorted to the imperial palace in Chang'an and encouraged the people to worship the relic and donate to Buddhist monasteries. Han Yu wrote a memorial to Emperor Xianzong to advise him against doing so, and drew on the example of Emperor Wu of Liang and Hou Jing to caution the emperor. Emperor Xianzong was furious and wanted to execute Han Yu, but eventually pardoned him, demoted him, and sent him out of Chang'an to serve as the Prefect of Chao Prefecture (潮州; present-day Chaozhou, Guangdong). Along the way, Han Yu passed by Lan Pass (藍關; in present-day Lantian County, Xi'an, Shaanxi), where Han Xiang came to join him on his journey. Han Yu wrote the poem Zuo Qian Zhi Languan Shi Zhisun Xiang and dedicated it to Han Xiang.
The historical text New Book of Tang mentioned that Han Yu had a grandnephew, Han Xiang, whose courtesy name was "Beizhu". Han Xiang served as a da li cheng (大理丞), an official in the Ministry of Justice, under the Tang government.
In the miscellany Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang, Han Yu had an unnamed grandnephew who lived in the Huai River region. He instructed his grandnephew to study Confucian classics in a school, but his grandnephew showed no interest in his studies and bullied his classmates. Han Yu then arranged for his grandnephew to study in a Buddhist school, but the abbot complained that he was defiant and reckless. Han Yu then brought his grandnephew home and scolded him for not spending his time productively. However, his grandnephew claimed that he had the special ability to change the colour of peony flowers, and demonstrated it in front of him. Han Yu was greatly surprised. His grandnephew then returned to the Huai River region and led the rest of his life as a simple commoner.
According to 17th Century novel Han Xianzi Quanzhuan 韓湘子全傳 (The Story of Han Xiangzi: The Alchemical Adventures of a Daoist Immortal), Han Xiangzi was a son of Han Hui, the elder brother of Han Yu (a famous statesman and poet from Tang Dynasty). After the death of Han Hui and his wife, Xiangzi was raised in Han Yu’s household, as if he was Han Yu’s son. Han Yu had great expectations of his nephew unfortunately the later had no intention of entering government service. Instead he liked to cultivate himself according to Taoism doctrine.
Han Yu then married his nephew to Lin Luying, the daughter of scholar Lin, in hope that Xiangzi would forget his pursuit on Taoism and have more interest in worldly matter. However Han Xiangzi never impregnated his wife and several years later he ran from home to join Lü Dongbin and Zhongli Quan. As Han Xiangzi successfully becoming immortal, he returned to earth to deliver his uncle, his aunt and his wife (so they could become immortals too). After several failed attempts to break Han Yu’s Confucian obstinacy, Xiangzi finally deliver him after saving his uncle’s live from snowstorm at Languan (Blue Pass). Later he did the same to his aunt and wife.
There are similar story of Han Xiangzi’s origin in other accounts such as The Eight Immortals Depart and Travel to the East (八仙出處東遊記; bā xiān chū chù dōng yoú jì)  and "The Eight Immortals Achieving the Tao" (八仙得道 Baxian Dedao). However, the Dongyouji’s and Baxian Dedao’s version are shorter and didn’t mention Han Xiangzi’s marriage.
Han Xiangzi’s Prophecy
This story was recorded in both Dongyouji (Journey to the East) and Han Xianzi Quanzhuan.
It was said that after achieving his immortality Han Xiangzi went to his uncle’s birthday. Han Yu once again tried to convince his nephew to abandon his pursuit of Taoism. In response, Xiangzi said that their paths were different. Before leaving, Xiangzi put some earth in a flower-pot and forthwith there came forth a bouquet of perfect peonies. On the petals of these flowers, written in gold, were two verses:
“Clouds shroud Qin Peak, where is my abode?
Snow is piled on Languan (Blue Pass), and my horse will not push on”
Many years later Emperor Xianzong of Tang was offended by Han Yu's criticism of Buddhism. Thus he was demoted from his position in government and banished to Chaozhou. On his way to Chaozhou, Han Yu's journey was blocked due to heavy snowfall on Languan (Blue Pass). At this point he remembered his nephew’s prophecy and cried. Suddenly Han Xiangzi appeared before him, swept away the snow and opened a road for him. Realizing his past mistakes, Han Yu finally converted to Taoism.
Han Xiangzi and the Dragon Girl (Longnu)
The love story between Han Xiangzi and Dragon Girl (Longnu) is a famous folktale in China  and has been adapted to many television series as well as opera. It was said that one day Han Xiangzi visited the East Sea and played his flute on the shore. The 7th daughter of the Dragon King was curious to the beautiful melody and emerged from the sea. She transformed herself into a silver eel, then danced in front of the immortal boy. Upon realizing that Han Xiangzi had noticed her, the Dragon Girl transformed herself into her true shape and thus they became lovers.
One day an old woman appeared in front of Han Xiangzi. She informed him that the Dragon King had locked away her daughter at the bottom of the ocean, because he forbade her relationship with Xiangzi. The old lady then took a magical golden bamboo (or Azure Deep Sea jade in another version ) from her bag and handed it over to Xiangzi. Actually this was a memento from the Dragon Girl for him. With a broken heart, Han Xiangzi turned the golden bamboo into a magical flute and carried it wherever he went.
The Dragon Girl has appeared in several of the television series depicting the Eight Immortals, such as: Dongyouji-Legend of the Eight Immortals (portrayed by Yvonne Lim), Eight Avatar (portrayed by Jia Qing) and Penglai Baxian (portrayed by Li Qian)
- Dongyouji (Legend of Eight Immortals), played by Jerry Chang.
- Eight avatar, played by Roger Kwok.
- Penglai Baxian, played by Xu Haiqiao
- "Zuo Qian Zhi Languan Shi Zhisun Xiang" 左遷至藍關示侄孫湘. Chinese Wikisource.
- Xin Tang Shu 新唐書 [New Book of Tang]. Volume 73. Table 13.
- (韓愈侍郎有疏從子侄自江淮來，年甚少，韓令學院中伴子弟，子弟悉為淩辱。韓知之，遂為街西假僧院令讀書，經旬，寺主綱復訴其狂率。韓遽令歸，且責曰：「市肆賤類營衣食，尚有一事長處。汝所為如此，竟作何物？」侄拜謝，徐曰：「某有一藝，恨叔不知。」因指階前牡丹曰：「叔要此花青、紫、黃、赤，唯命也。」韓大奇之，遂給所須試之。乃豎箔曲尺遮牡丹叢，不令人窺。掘窠四面，深及其根，寬容入座。唯賫紫礦、輕粉、朱紅，旦暮治其根。幾七日，乃填坑，白其叔曰：「恨校遲一月。」時冬初也。牡丹本紫，及花發，色白紅歷綠，每朵有一聯詩，字色紫，分明乃是韓出官時詩。一韻曰「雲橫秦嶺家何在，雪擁藍關馬不前」十四字，韓大驚異。侄且辭歸江淮，竟不願仕。) Youyang Zazu ch. 19.
- The Story of Han Xiangzi: The Alchemical Adventures of a Daoist Immortal Translated by Philip Clart
- 東遊記 : 湘子造酒開花. open-lit.com.
- 第九十五回 攻異端文公黜道教 降霖雨湘子顯神通. open-lit.com.
- Dongyouji ch.31 (In Chinese)
- Encyclopedia of Chinese Pantheon p.93
- Father Axel (2016) The Eight Immortals: Taoist Tales of Liberation. Ch.7