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Anqi Sheng: The Enigmatic Immortal of Taoist Mythology

Myths and Legends Surrounding Anqi Sheng.

Anqi Sheng (安期生) is a mysterious and legendary figure in Chinese mythology and Taoist tradition, believed to be an immortal adept who lived during the Warring States period (475-221 BCE). Often associated with supernatural abilities, the pursuit of immortality, and the practice of alchemy, Anqi Sheng’s legend has captivated and inspired generations of scholars, artists, and the general public. This article delves into the life and legacy of Anqi Sheng, exploring his origins, myths surrounding his life, and the influence he has had on Chinese culture and beyond.

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Origins of Anqi Sheng

Anqi Sheng’s origins are shrouded in mystery, with very few historical sources providing concrete information about his life. Some scholars suggest that he was a historical figure who lived during the Warring States period, while others argue that he is a purely mythological character. There are also some who believe that he may have been an amalgamation of several different historical figures or mythological characters.

One of the earliest accounts of Anqi Sheng can be found in the “Lüshi Chunqiu” (呂氏春秋), a Chinese historical text that was compiled in the early Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE) [1]. According to the text, Anqi Sheng was a recluse who lived in the mountains and possessed extraordinary abilities, such as the power to control the weather and make himself invisible.

Another notable account comes from the “Liezi” (列子), a Taoist text believed to have been written during the Han dynasty [2]. In this text, Anqi Sheng is portrayed as a wise and immortal sage who has lived for over a thousand years. The text also attributes various supernatural abilities to Anqi Sheng, including the power to change his appearance at will and to traverse vast distances in an instant.

Myths and Legends

Many myths and legends have been attributed to Anqi Sheng throughout Chinese history. Some of the most famous accounts are as follows:

Encounter with Huangdi: One popular legend claims that Anqi Sheng encountered the Yellow Emperor, Huangdi (黃帝), who was also in search of immortality. Anqi Sheng taught Huangdi the secrets of alchemy, which helped him to extend his life by several centuries [3].

Journey to the East Sea and Mount Penglai: Another legend tells of Anqi Sheng’s journey to the East Sea, where he discovered the elixir of immortality [4]. In some versions of this story, his search for the elixir also led him to Mount Penglai (蓬莱山), a mythical paradise inhabited by immortals. He shared this elixir with a number of people, including the legendary archer Yi (羿) and the sage Pengzu (彭祖), allowing them to live for hundreds of years.

Meeting with Confucius: According to some legends, Anqi Sheng met with the famous philosopher Confucius (孔子) and engaged in a philosophical debate. Confucius was reportedly so impressed by Anqi Sheng’s wisdom that he abandoned his pursuit of a political career and chose to follow the path of Daoism instead [5].

Invisibility: One of the most intriguing abilities attributed to Anqi Sheng is his power to become invisible. This skill is said to have allowed him to eavesdrop on conversations and gather information without being detected. Some stories even claim that he could make others invisible as well [6].

The Quest for Immortality

Anqi Sheng’s search for immortality is one of the most prominent aspects of his legend. In ancient Chinese culture, immortality was often seen as the ultimate goal for Daoist practitioners, who sought to escape the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth by attaining spiritual enlightenment and transcending the physical world. Anqi Sheng’s quest for immortality has been a source of inspiration for many Daoist practitioners throughout history.

The legend of Anqi Sheng’s journey to the East Sea and Mount Penglai, and his discovery of the elixir of immortality, may be an extrapolation or synthesis of various stories and legends related to his pursuit of immortality [4]. It is likely that this tale has been passed down through generations via oral traditions and has been integrated into various accounts and interpretations of his life.

Throughout Chinese history, the concept of immortality has been closely associated with the idea of magical elixirs and substances believed to grant eternal life. Many of these elixirs were thought to be found in remote, inaccessible places, such as the East Sea or Mount Penglai, which is a recurring theme in Chinese mythology.

The legend of Anqi Sheng’s journey to the East Sea and Mount Penglai, and his discovery of the elixir of immortality, could be an allegorical representation of his pursuit of Daoist wisdom and practices. This story might have been intended to convey the idea that spiritual enlightenment and the attainment of immortality can only be achieved through diligent practice, self-cultivation, and the pursuit of wisdom.

Influence on Chinese Culture and Beyond

Anqi Sheng’s legend has had a profound impact on Chinese culture, particularly in the areas of literature, art, and Daoist philosophy. His story has inspired countless works of fiction, poetry, and art, which often depict him as a wise and enigmatic figure who possesses supernatural powers and the secret to immortality.

In Daoist philosophy, Anqi Sheng is seen as a symbol of the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment and the quest for immortality. His story serves as a reminder of the importance of self-cultivation, discipline, and the pursuit of wisdom in the path toward spiritual transcendence.

Anqi Sheng’s legend has also transcended the boundaries of Chinese culture and has been embraced by other East Asian traditions. His story has been adapted and reinterpreted in various forms, including Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese folklore and literature.


[1] Lüshi Chunqiu (呂氏春秋), a Chinese historical text compiled in the early Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE).

[2] Liezi (列子), a Daoist text believed to have been written during the Han dynasty.

[3] Various Chinese folklore and oral traditions regarding Anqi Sheng’s encounter with Huangdi (Yellow Emperor).

[4] Oral traditions and folklore related to Anqi Sheng’s journey to the East Sea, Mount Penglai, and his discovery of the elixir of immortality.

[5] Accounts of Anqi Sheng’s meeting with Confucius found in various Chinese historical texts and folklore.

[6] Stories and legends about Anqi Sheng’s power of invisibility found in Chinese folklore and oral traditions.

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