Skip to main content
Go to accessibility notice


    A Complete Set of Chinese Carved Root-Wood Taoist Immortals

    Unknown maker, Chinese
    19th century, Qing Dynasty
    Glass, tree root, and carved wood
    30 inches high x inches wide

    CAO GUO-JIU - ??? - The Royal Outcast
    HAN XIANG-ZI - ??? - The Flying Philosopher
    HE XIA-GU - ??? - The Self-Raising Flower
    LAN CAI-HE - ??? - The Drunk and Disorientated
    LI TIE-GUAI - ??? - The Body Snatcher
    LU DONG-BIN- ??? - The Tactical Withdrawal
    ZHANG GUO-LAO - ??? - The Stubborn Old Mule
    ZHONG LI-QUAN - ??? - The Explosive Revolutionary

    Although complete, small-scale sets of the Eight Immortals are sometimes seen in ivory or ceramics, wooden sets are rare. The large-scale set offered here is distinguished further by the unusual tree root elements, the inset glass eyes, and the robust design.

    CAO GUO-JUI (also TS'AO KUO-CHIU ), the finest dressed of the Eight Immortals, is depicted wearing formal court dress, including a Ming-style hat and boots, and carrying castanets in his right hand. These courtly accoutrements are emblematic of his having received the secret formula for refinement and having attained the status of "Perfect Man". His left hand, now empty, once carried a tablet whereupon he recorded those worthy of admission to court. The myth describes this tablet as being made of fine jade. The standing tree-root figure is attached to and raised on a free-form, inverted tree-root base.
    CAO GUO-JUI is the patron deity of actors.

    HAN XIANG-ZI (also HAN HSIANG-TSU ) is known as both the "Flying Philosopher" and as the "Happy Immortal" and depicted in this tree root set holding his magic flute in both hands as he stands beside a bird. These are visual allusions to Han's ability to tame wild beasts and make flowers bloom with his flute music, which sounds sweeter than the birds' songs. The dancing figure is attached to and raised on a free-form, inverted tree-root base.
    HAN XIANG-ZI is the patron deity of musicians.

    HE XIA-GU (also HO HSIEN-KU ), as one of the two female Immortals, is depicted as a Chinese beauty in formal Ming-style attire carrying a large magic Lotus flower, symbol of purity, perfection and self-raising. Although depicted with both feet firmly planted, she also has the ability to fly. The lotus, as a self-raising bloom, symbolizes this ability to fly. The elegant figure is attached to and raised on a free-form, inverted tree-root base.
    HE XIA-GU is the patron deity of virgins and all unmarried women.

    LAN CAI-HE (also LAN TS'AI-HO ), as the second of the two female Immortals, contrasts strongly with the classical features of HE XIA-GU. Boisterous and carefree, she is depicted here as a young maiden carrying a basket of flowers in her left hand, her right hand held high and clutching a cup of wine (now lost). Strolling, with her mouth open singing and laughing as she goes, offering flowers to those she encounters, Lan's attire is informal and disheveled. She is about to loose the slipper on her right foot as she looks one way while walking the other. The climbing figure is attached to and raised on a free-form, inverted tree-root base.
    LAN CAI-HE is the patron deity of florists and vocalists (singers).

    LI TIE-GUAI (also, LI TIEH-KUAI ), one of the most recognizable of the Immortals, carries an iron cane in his left hand, clearly identifying himself as "Iron-crutch Li". With his right foot raised and his left foot bare, his lame and impoverished state is emphasized. The figures head is tilted back as though he has lost his balance as he hobbles along on one foot. The double-gourd he carries in his right hand is actually his house. Capable of making himself very small, LI TIE-GUAI sleeps in gourd at night. In addition to the ability to shrink or enlarge his size, LI TIE-GUAI also has the ability to leave his body and float to his desired destination. After such an out-of-the-body experience, he returned to find his body gone and had to take refuge in the body of a lame beggar. The backward-leaning figure is attached to and raised on a free-form, inverted tree-root base.
    LI TIE-GUAI is the patron deity of the lame, sick and impoverished.

    LU DONG-BIN (also LU TUNG-PIN ), considered the most famous of the Immortals and one of the five founders of the Taoist Quan Zhen Sect, is depicted here wearing his unusual slanted hat, which identifies him as a scholar. Over his right shoulder, his magic sword can be seen; this is the weapon he uses to slay evil dragons and demons threatening mortals and to shave and cut his hair. In his left hand, he carries a flywhisk. The pensive figure is attached to and raised on a free-form, inverted tree-root base.
    LU DONG-BIN is also the patron deity of barbers.

    ZHANG GUO-LAO (also CHANG KUO-LAO ) is depicted here without his primary companion and symbol, his donkey. Instead, he carries a bamboo tube that contains a pair of drumstick in his right hand and a small paper scroll in his left (now lost). This paper scroll is actually Zhang's magic donkey, which can be rolled up at night and revived with a drop of water in the morning. The original black belt at Origami, Zhang is also an inventive and creative fellow. He did drop dead once, but refused to accept this state and got up to carry on with life. The venerable figure is attached to and raised on a free-form, inverted tree-root base.
    ZHANG GUO-LAO is the patron deity of the elderly.

    ZHONG LI-QUAN (also CHUNG-LI CHUAN ) is depicted with a long, flowing beard that covers his round belly, which is often the most recognizable emblem of this Immortal. Considered the Chief of the Immortals, Zhong brandishes a fan in his raised right hand, emblem of his military training and abilities, and raises his right leg, as though jumping for joy. In his out-stretched left hand, he holds a peach, a primary Chinese symbol of immortality closely associated with Zhong. Also an alchemist, Zhang inadvertently discovered the Elixir of Life after an explosion in his laboratory. The jumping figure is attached to and raised on a free-form, inverted tree-root base.
    As Chief of the Immortals, ZHONG LI-QUAN is patron deity to all.

    These popular Eight Immortals constitute the second tier of the Chinese Pantheon, with the Three Star Gods as the primary tier. Even so, the Eight Immortals enjoy strong devotion from Taoists, as well as many Buddhists. The earthy quality of these unearthly Immortals, like the implements they carry, represent the daily experiences and concerns of the average human, and hence their great popularity.

    Tree root art, which utilizes the natural beauty of root-wood with only minimal human manipulation, has been a distinctly Chinese art-form for centuries. Sometimes referred to as "the most oriental of all art forms", tree root art is also very rare. Large projects, like these Eight Immortals, are especially rare due to the difficulty in finding, digging up, and crafting of so many matched pieces. And though there are unifying design elements in the set, each of the Immortals' character and attributes are clearly delineated.

    The types of wood used in the construction of this set appear to be Hau-li-mu (Chinese Rosewood) roots and carved You-mu (Chinese Teak).

    Christie's, New York (1987)

    Exhibited at the Benton Company Offices on the 32nd Floor of the Trammell Crow Center from 1987 until 1999.

    Exhibited in the Executive Area, Suite 700 of 2100 McKinney

    Condition Report*: All figures with signs of age and wear, including: minor repairs and small chips; partial loss of nose on LI TIE-GUAI figure; loss of implement, probably a cup, and partial loss of bird beak on LAN CAI-HE figure; and loss of tablet implement and partial loss of bird beak on CAO GUO-JUI figure.
    *Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Some condition issues may not be noted in the condition report but are apparent in the provided photos which are considered part of the condition report. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. Heritage does not guarantee the condition of frames and shall not be liable for any damage/scratches to frames, glass/acrylic coverings, original boxes, display accessories, or art that has slipped in frames. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    October, 2007
    13th Saturday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 1
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 4,511

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    19.5% of the successful bid (minimum $9) per lot.

    Shipping, Taxes, Terms and Bidding
    This item cannot be shipped using standard methods. Please contact us for more information. Sales Tax information

    Important information concerning Sales Tax and Resale Certificates. Learn More

    Terms and Conditions  |  Bidding Guidelines and Bid Increments |  Glossary of Terms

    Sold on Oct 13, 2007 for: Sign-in or Join (free & quick)
    Track Item

    Heritage membership

    Join Now - It's Free

    1. Past Auction Values (prices, photos, full descriptions, etc.)
    2. Bid online
    3. Free Collector newsletter
    4. Want List with instant e-mail notifications
    5. Reduced auction commissions when you resell your
    Consign now
    • Cash Advances
    • More Bidders
    • Trusted Experts
    • Over 200,000 Satisfied Consignors Since 1976
    Consign to the 2022 May 17 Silver & Vertu Signature® Auction .

    Learn about consigning with us

    In my estimation Taylor exemplified professionalism and in that respect clearly added value to Heritage Auctions as their representative.
    Robert B.,
    Philadelphia, PA
    View More Testimonials receives more traffic than any other auction house website. (Source:

    Video tutorial

    Getting the most out of search