Biographies of Immortals


Book Details

Author  Lionel Giles
Publisher  El Paso Norte Press
Publication Date   February 5, 2010
Pages  358


This special edition brings together three classic works by Western scholars of ancient Chinese texts. The men were family friends and colleagues, and were all living in Shanghai during the late 19th century. Much of their combined transcription became shaped into the book we know today as the "Tao Te Ching."

"China and the Manchus" by Herbert Giles is a series of legends and recollections from ancient China, ordered by chronology. Herbert Giles is also known for creating the first Chinese-English Dictionary and helping to develop the system of Chinese translation now known as the "Wade-Giles Romanization System."

"Leaves from My Chinese Scrapbook" by Frederic Balfour is a collection of stories, legends and anecdotes by a British expatriate scholar, who was working for local Chinese newspapers such as "Celestial Empire" and contributing travel articles to "Harpers Magazine". Many of these stories are taken from the source scrolls Balfour used to write the ground-breaking "Taoist Texts" in 1884.

"Biographies of Immortals" by Lionel Giles is the first partial Western translation of the ancient Chinese book of "Liexian Zhuan," containing mythic heroes from Chinese history, including the "8 Immortals of China." Lionel Giles, the son of Herbert Giles, is also known for his original translation of Sun Tzu's "The Art of War" as well as "The Analects" of Confucius.

Excerpt from "Biographies of Immortals: Legends of China - Special Edition".
Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Lao Tzu was a native of Ch'en.

His surname was Li (Plum), his personal name was Erh and his "style" was Po-yang. His mother gave birth to him while leaning against a plum tree. He was able to speak as soon as he was born, and pointing to the plum tree said: "I take my surname from this tree." Though born in the Yin period, he became Palace Secretary under the Chou dynasty. He made a practice of nourishing his vital essence, his great aim being to absorb strength without dissipating any. In due course he was made Custodian of the Archives, a post which he held for more than eighty years--the Shih Chi says, for over two hundred years. His contemporaries called him the Noble Recluse, and his posthumous title was Tan (Flat-eared). When , Confucius came to Chou and visited Lao Tzu, he recognized him as an inspired sage and took him as his Master.

Later on, when the virtue of Chou had fallen into decay, he mounted a chariot drawn by a black ox and departed for the land of Ta Ch'in. When he passed through the Western Barrier, the Warden of the Pass, Yin Hsi, received him with honor, knowing that he was a saintly man, and persuaded him to write a treatise, which was no other than the Tao Te Ching in two parts, one roll to each.

Confucius paid a visit to the Chou State in order to question Lao Tzu on matters of ceremonial. The latter replied, saying: “Those about whom you speak are men whose bones have all turned to dust, and whose words alone survive. Now, when the princely man finds his opportunity, he rides in a State chariot; if he fails to find his opportunity, he goes on foot in humble guise. I have heard it said that a clever merchant, though possessed of great hoards of wealth, will act as though his coffers were empty; and that the princely man, though of perfect moral excellence, maintains the air of a simpleton. Abandon your arrogant ways and countless desires, your suave demeanor and unbridled ambition, for they do not promote your welfare. That is all I have to say to you."

Confucius went away, and said to his disciples: "I understand how birds can fly, how fishes can swim, and how four-footed beasts can run. Those that run can be snared, those that swim may be caught with hook and line, those that fly may be shot with arrows. But when it Comes to the dragon, I am unable to conceive how he can soar into the sky riding upon the wind and clouds. To-day I have seen Lao Tzu, and can only liken him to a dragon."

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