Thursday, July 4, 2019

The Remarkable Tale Of The Generous Shepherd, Bu Shi



Bu Shi was said to have been a man from Henan who lived during the 2nd and 1st century BCE, coming to prominence during the reign of Emperor Wu (r. 141-87 BCE). Bu Shi was a curious character—his life story often seemed more fairytale than reality, or perhaps his tale was embellished or invented to become an ideal example of a model citizen. Yet, the Grand Historian Sima Qian (c. 145-90 BCE), a contemporary of Bu Shi, presented the man in his Records of the Grand Historian as not a mythological, literary, or propagandic figure, but as a real and historical person. On the other hand, of the 130 lengthy and often overlapping chapters of Sima Qian’s history, the mysterious figure of Bu Shi was only mentioned in chapter 30, which was devoted to discussing (often with criticism) Emperor Wu’s currencies, economy and government monopolies. As such, it is tempting to think of the generous and selfless Bu Shi as a foil against the growing tyranny of Emperor Wu and his greedy ministers. Nevertheless, it must be stressed again that Sima Qian (Emperor Wu’s Grand Historian and palace secretary) described Bu Shi as a real historical figure who lived during his own lifetime. Furthermore, as Bu Shi reportedly ascended to great political heights in the empire, he would have been an awkward character to invent or embellish. Here, therefore, we will simply record the remarkable story of Bu Shi, and leave readers to assess for themselves the historical authenticity of the person whom Sima Qian documented.


The Life of Bu Shi

Bu Shi was said to have come from a family of farmers in Henan. His parents died of unknown causes, and Bu Shi became the head of the family. Although the family lands and wealth fell into Bu Shi’s hands, he relinquished control of everything except a flock of 100 sheep to a younger brother. Bu Shi, now voluntarily destitute, herded his sheep over to a mountain, where he presumably lived in the wild, or in some makeshift hut. Despite giving away his inherited wealth and withdrawing to the mountainside, Bu Shi in no way lived an idle life—he devoted himself to expertly caring for and expanding his flock. Through his tenacity the sheep flourished, which, in turn, made the business-savvy Bu Shi an extremely wealthy man. Before long, Bu Shi had raised enough money to buy new land and build a house. All the while, his flock continued to grow, and, in ten years time, the sheep in his pastures expanded from the original one hundred to over a thousand strong.

While Bu Shi was growing his flock and wealth in exponential leaps and bounds, his younger brother was simultaneously running their ancestral farm into bankruptcy. Whenever his brother’s finances were about to collapse, Bu Shi would always send over a donation to keep the old family farmstead afloat. These events presumably took place during the 120s BCE, for Emperor Wu, by this point in the story, was sending his generals on frequent invasions of Xiongnu territory. These war efforts were drying up the empire’s coffers, and the emperor’s ministers were launching all sorts of fundraising schemes to replenish the treasury.  In response to the empire’s needs, the generous and selfless Bu Shi sent a letter to the capital in which he offered half of his wealth to the government for use in defending the borders. As to his reasoning, Bu Shi patriotically claimed, “In my humble opinion, every worthy man should be willing to fight to the death to defend the borders, and every person with wealth ought to contribute to the expense” (Sima Qian, Shi Ji 30). According to Sima Qian, the emperor’s advisors were not sure of what to do with the offer—it was reportedly lost in the bureaucracy, and years later the donation was declined.

Although the central government refused to accept Bu Shi’s money, the shepherd still wanted to contribute to the empire’s defense. Around 121 BCE, when the Hunye king surrendered to the Han, Bu Shi made another donation (this time successfully) of 200,000 ‘cash’ coins to the governor of Henan. The central government learned of this and reportedly sent him back more than half of his donation. Yet, the stubborn Bu Shi re-donated the returned money once more to the government. In response to this generosity, Emperor Wu reportedly invited Bu Shi to become a palace attendant, gave him some land, and had the tales of Bu Shi’s charity (and subsequent rewards) disseminated throughout the empire.

When Bu Shi arrived in the capital city, wearing a simple robe and straw sandals, there was only one job he would accept—shepherd for the emperor’s sheep in Shanglin Park. He worked a year in that position, greatly impressing the emperor by increasing the flock’s numbers and plumpness. Yet, the emperor and the ministers were more interested in Bu Shi’s logistical and planning skills than his talent for shepherding. He was given a position as a magistrate of Goushi, then of Chenggao, and, finally, he was appointed as the tutor of Emperor Wu’s son, Liu Hong, the king of Qi.

By 114 BCE, Bu Shi was reportedly promoted from tutor to the position of prime minister of Qi. In 112 BCE, when another wave of rebellions and war broke out, Bu Shi received a new promotion when he sent the emperor a letter, reportedly stating, “I beg that my sons and I be allowed to join the men of Qi who are skilled in naval warfare to go and die in battle” (Sima Qian, Shi Ji 30). Once again, Emperor Wu published an edict, citing the words and actions of Bu Shi for propaganda purposes. In addition to public praise, the emperor reportedly awarded Bu Shi with gold, land, and the noble title of marquis. A short while later, he was also promoted to imperial secretary. Bu Shi, however, was reportedly removed from the post of imperial secretary in 110 BCE after criticizing the emperor’s economic and tax policies. He was instead named Grand Tutor to the heir apparent. Unfortunately, the account of Bu Shi’s life ends here. Presumably, this means he outlived Sima Qian, who died around 90 BCE, and that Bu Shi caused no scandals or made any more edict-worthy donations for the rest of his life.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Picture Attribution: ("Qing Court Version" of Along the River During the Qingming Festival, by the Painting Academy of the Qing court, c. 18th century, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

Sources:
  • The Records of the Grand Historian (Shi ji 30) by Sima Qian, translated by Burton Watson (pages 72-83 of his translation). New York: Columbia University Press, 1993. 
  • http://www.chinaknowledge.de/History/Han/personsbushi.html 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Wudi-emperor-of-Han-dynasty

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Bishop Denewlf—From The Pigpen To The Pulpit



Denewlf was a contemporary of King Alfred the Great of Wessex (r. 879-899) and lived in an undisclosed forested region of Alfred’s kingdom. Although Denewlf was an incredibly bright fellow, he was far removed from any government or ecclesiastical officials who might recognize his potential. He came from a poor family and unfortunately had no access to education. Making do with what he had, Denewlf devoted himself to a herd of pigs and lived as a swineherd in his wooded homeland.

The life of Denewlf the Swineherd changed forever when he had a chance encounter with King Alfred the Great sometime between 871 and 878. As the story goes, Alfred and his forces entered the stretch of forest where Denewlf lived at a time when Viking raiders were making one of their many incursions into the territory of Wessex. While the king and his thanes were hiding from, or setting up an ambush for, the troublesome Vikings, they happened to stumble across Denewlf and his pigs. The sources are not clear on when exactly the meeting took place, but two years in particular are likely candidates. In 871, Alfred lost a battle against Vikings at Wilton, near the Wylye River. After that loss, Alfred resorted to guerrilla warfare for the rest of the year, until he could arrange a peace agreement with the Vikings. Otherwise, 878 was a probable time for a chance forest encounter. In that year, the Viking warlord Guthrum invaded Wessex and caught Alfred so off guard that the king had to flee to the marshes of Somerset with a small band of loyalists. From there, Alfred resumed his guerrilla tactics and rallied his forces to eventually defeat Guthrum before the end of the year.

Whichever year, 871, 878, or somewhere in between, Alfred and his warriors eventually found themselves at wherever Denewlf lived with his animals. What exactly happened when they first met is unclear—perhaps they conversed after realizing he was not a Viking, or maybe Alfred simply commandeered the poor man’s pigs to feed the war effort. Nevertheless, whatever the route to the conclusion, Alfred and Denewlf eventually had a conversation. While the two talked, Denewlf’s natural intelligence became apparent to Alfred. The king was able to look past the lack of wealth and the absence of education to see Denewlf as a pool of unrefined and untrained potential. Alfred could sympathize with the uneducated—he himself was reportedly unable to read his native language until he was twelve, and he would not be confident in translating Latin until 887. Perhaps seeing something of himself in the swineherd, Alfred saw to it that Denewlf received tutors. Denewlf apparently made near superhuman progress in his learning and was appointed bishop of Winchester in 879. The Chronicle of Florence of Worcester summarized the tale well:

“This man, if report may be trusted, was, during the early part of his life, not only illiterate but a swineherd. King Alfred, when yielding to the fury of his enemies he had taken refuge in a forest, chanced to light upon him as he was feeding his swine. Remarking his intelligence, the king caused him to be taught learning, and when he was sufficiently instructed made him bishop of Winchester; a thing that may almost be considered miraculous” (Florence of Worcester, AD 879).

Bishop Denewlf of Winchester ruled his bishopric for around three decades and outlived the king who raised him from the pigpen to the pulpit. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Bishop Denewlf died in 909.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Picture Attribution: (painting by Eugène Burnand (1850-1921).

Sources:
  • The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle translated by Benjamin Thorpe in 1861 and republished by Cambridge University Press, 2012.
  • Asser’s Life of King Alfred and Other Contemporary Sources translated, introduced and denoted by Simon Keynes and Michael Lapidge. New York: Penguin Classics, 2004. 
  • The Chronicle of Florence of Worcester translated by Thomas Forester. London: Petter and Galpin, originally published 1854.  

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Sad Death And Miraculous Sendoff Of King Kenelm Of Mercia



King Cenwulf of Mercia was said to have begun his reign around 795 or 796, and ruled until the time of his death, which was dated to 819 by most medieval sources, including the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Florence of Worcester (d. 1118) and Henry of Huntingdon (d. approx. 1160), but has since been pushed back to 821 in more modern estimates. Upon King Cenwulf’s death, he left a young son named Kenelm as his heir, a boy reportedly only seven years of age. Unfortunately, the child-king would not have a long or prosperous reign—he mysteriously disappeared mere months after his ascendance to the throne and never returned.

As the boy’s disappearance dragged on, many began to expect the worst. Tragically, the worries of the Mercians turned out to be well founded. After an unknown amount of time, a wanderer found the remains of a young boy in the woods of Clent, and they were soon identified as those of the missing king. Numerous miraculous tales sprung up about how the remains were found. According to Florence of Worcester, the body was discovered after “heaven revealed it by the testimony of a column of light” and “from it a milk-white dove soared to heaven on golden wings” (Chronicle of Florence of Worcester, AD 819). A vastly different tale was recorded in the Golden Legend (Volume IV, c. 1275), in which a similar white dove visited the Papal States and delivered a gold-lettered message to the pope, which supposedly read “In Clent in Cowbage, Kenelm, king born, Lieth under a thorn, his head off shorn” (Golden Legend Volume IV, Life of S. Kenelm). The odd tale continued with the pope delivering the message to his English bishops, who were allegedly able to follow a white cow to the site of the body. Whatever the manner of discovery, the young king’s remains were indeed found, and many believed that divine intervention played a role in the recovery process.

When the remains were located, the head reportedly was visible on the surface, but the rest of the body was buried under the earth. The flesh (or perhaps the bone) of the child-king’s head was reportedly “pure and milk-white as it was at his birth” (Chronicle of Florence of Worcester, AD 819). In the process of recovering the rest of the body, a large hole was excavated. According to the tale in the Golden Legend, the void in the earth filled like a well, and many medieval locals believed that the water collected there had healing properties.

 Although the boy-king’s body was discovered, the cause of his death remained a mystery. The suspicious disappearance, and the separation of the head from the rest of the remains (and perhaps cut marks) led many to believe that foul play was involved. Despite the reality that “heaven alone was witness” to the circumstances of Kenelm’s death (Chronicle of Florence of Worcester, AD 819), the people of Mercia began searching for murderers and assassins who might have wished the boy-king harm. Interestingly, the blame (rightly or wrongly) fell on the regent ruler of Mercia, Ascebert, and Kenelm’s older sister, Quendryth, who were accused of covertly assassinating the king for their own gain. Possibly benefiting from these rumors was a certain Ceolwulf, who became the king of Mercia in 821. Yet, King Ceolwulf I of Mercia soon ran afoul of his people and was deposed in 823.

As for the late Kenelm, the miraculous tales surrounding the discovery of his remains dramatically transformed his legacy. What could have been a gloomy story of a murdered child evolved into a legend of miracles and divine favor. He was soon recognized as a saint and became a highly venerated figure whose saintly feast day and pilgrimage sites were honored by countless medieval Christians.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (scene from A Chronicle of England, illustrated by James William Edmund Doyle (1822–1892), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

Sources:
  • The Chronicle of Florence of Worcester translated by Thomas Forester. London: Petter and Galpin, originally published 1854.
  • The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle translated by Benjamin Thorpe in 1861 and republished by Cambridge University Press, 2012. 
  • https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/basis/goldenlegend/GoldenLegend-Volume4.asp#Kenelm
  • https://archive.org/details/chroniclehenryh00foregoog/page/n179 
  • https://www.britannica.com/biography/Cenwulf
  • https://www.ancient.eu/Kingdom_of_Mercia/  
     
     

Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Magical Rise And Fall Of The Magician Luan Da



Luan Da was reportedly a tall, handsome man, who presented himself with grandiose flair and steadfast confidence. He had a reputation for being a man of wisdom, not only in strategy and engineering, but also in knowledge of magic and all things supernatural. The charismatic Luan Da lived in a perfect age for someone of his talents, for Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty (c. 141-87 BCE) spent decades trying to discover the secrets of immortality with a sense of desperation unseen since the days of Shihuangdi (r. 221-210 BCE), the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty.

Luan Da first made a name for himself in the kingdom of Jiaodong, where he became a palace attendant of Emperor Wu’s half-brother, King Kang (r. 150/148-122/120 BCE). The magician eventually was rewarded with the title of “master of magical arts” in that kingdom and gained great respect among the members of the royal family, especially with the childless queen of Jiaodong, who presumably hoped the magician could help her give birth to a son. Nevertheless, when King Kang died, the queen still had not produced an heir, so noble titles were instead bequeathed to two sons born to King Kang’s concubines.

 Interestingly, instead of joining the courts of the new kings, Luan Da seemed to follow the widowed queen for several years after King Kang’s death. He may have also traveled to the domain of the queen’s brother, the marquis of Lecheng. Whatever the case, Luan Da would soon be moving away from the courts of petty kings and lords to begin a remarkable rise to great power and influence in the imperial capital.

 While Luan Da was in Jiaodong, a talented illusionist named Shaoweng had enthralled Emperor Wu with magical performances, especially by performing a trick where he seemingly conjured up the ghost of the emperor’s deceased concubine. Yet, Shaoweng made a fatal mistake in one of his performances—during a show where the magician found a mysterious note in a sacrificed ox’s stomach, the emperor realized with outrage that the handwriting on the note was that of Shaoweng. Realizing that the magician had fed the note to the ox before the fraudulent performance, the emperor immediately sent Shaoweng off to the executioners. Although the magician was indeed killed, Emperor Wu remained unwavering in his belief of magic and supernatural paths to immortality.

With the emperor’s favorite magician now dead, but his interest in magic in no way sated, it was the perfect environment for Luan Da to be introduced to the imperial court. With good reference from the former queen of Jiaodong and the marquis of Lecheng, Luan Da strolled into the capital city with his usual grandiosity and charisma. Before long, the smooth-talking and mystically-alluring magician had the emperor totally mesmerized.

Luan Da claimed to have great magical powers, and the way he said he obtained these skills was the stuff of Emperor Wu’s dreams. The magician told the emperor that he had studied under several immortals, although they apparently cut him off from their teachings because he was not of noble blood. In addition to being an acquaintance of immortals, Luan Da claimed that he had knowledge of an elixir of immortality—something that Emperor Wu was desperate to obtain. The magician also touted that he had knowledge of other supernatural talents, such as conjuring ghosts and using alchemy to create gold.

Although both the magician and the emperor wanted their partnership to go forward, the two men were cautious at first; Emperor Wu because he had recently dealt with a fraudulent magician, and Luan Da because the emperor had just executed someone in the magical line of work. The emperor and the magician both made demands of the other.  Emperor Wu wanted to see the prospective magician perform a feat of magic. Luan Da, however, wanted to be given certain protections, including a marriage to a woman of the imperial family, before he used any of the abilities taught to him by the immortals. Emperor Wu, as emperors usually do, got his way, and Luan Da was promised nothing until he could prove that he could really perform magic.

Emperor Wu’s challenge to Luan Da was something straight out of the world of Harry Potter—wizard’s chess. Sima Qian (c. 145-90 BCE), a Grand Historian and palace secretary to Emperor Wu, wrote, “In order to test Luan Da, the emperor instructed him to give a minor display of his magical powers by making some chessmen fight. When the board was set up, the chessmen were seen to rush against each other of their own accord” (Shi Ji 28). The emperor, who apparently thought it was authentic magic, eagerly brought Luan Da into his inner circle and began raining gifts and titles down on the magician.

Luan Da would become the most rewarded magician in Emperor Wu’s reign. He indeed was allowed to marry a woman of the imperial family—to Emperor Wu’s own daughter, Princess Wei, no less. He was also raised to the nobility by being named Marquis of Letong. Along with his prestigious marriage and his noble title, Luan Da was also given various other auspicious titles such as General of the First Profits, General of the Heavenly Man, General of the Earthly Man, General of the Great Way, and General of the Heavenly Way. These titles were apparently handed out in rapid fashion. Sima Qian wrote, “In no more than a few months from the time he was granted an audience with the emperor, Luan Da bore at his girdle six seals, those of his five generalships and his marquisate, and his honour awed the empire” (Shi Ji 28). The magician, of course, also obtained great tangible wealth with his titles, including a magnificent mansion, several ornate carriages, a thousand servants, and a huge treasure of gold.

Although Luan Da was living the good life, he was also facing increasing pressure. As a performer, he was expected to constantly show new kinds of magic, and, as an occult researcher, the emperor expected him to be making groundbreaking discoveries about immortals and immortality. Luan Da, however, had seemingly hit his limit with levitation tricks and ghost séances. With expectations rising and results dwindling, Luan Da decided it was time to take a sabbatical and left the capital city indefinitely.

As a pretense for his departure from the city, Luan Da claimed that he was leaving to meet with the immortals—after all, now that he was a nobleman with marriage ties to the imperial family, the immortals would surely divulge to him the highest levels of their magical knowledge. Yet, by then, the emperor was becoming suspicious. Luan Da was indeed allowed to journey off in search of the immortals, but Emperor Wu secretly sent spies to keep a watch on the magician’s every move. Those spies eventually brought Luan Da’s magical career to an end. Sima Qian wrote, “They reported that Luan Da had in fact met with no spiritual beings at all, and that the story of his going to visit his teacher was all nonsense. Since it seemed that Luan Da’s magical powers were exhausted, and since his claims in most cases were not borne out by the facts, the emperor had him executed” (Shi Ji 28). Sima Qian claimed that Luan Da was executed around the time of Emperor Wu’s campaign against Southern Yue, placing his death around 112 or 111 BCE.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Picture Attribution: (“Four Generals of Zhongxing” by Southern Song Dynasty artist Liu Songnian (1174–1224), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

Sources:

  • The Records of the Grand Historian (Shi ji) by Sima Qian, translated by Burton Watson. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

The Curious Tale Of Li Shaojun



Emperor Wu of Han (r. 141-87 BCE) was reportedly a very spiritual person who believed in all sorts of immortals, fairies and supernatural beings. As such, magicians, mystics and other claimants of otherworldly knowledge were prevalent in the emperor’s court. The fates of these men varied; some were granted great power and privilege, while others were quickly executed for fraud—and, of course, several met both fates, achieving remarkable influence before being later executed after one misstep. Yet, there were some magicians who won their renown in the imperial court and lived to enjoy their fame. Of this special group, one incredibly mysterious man stood high above his peers and even earned respect from some of his skeptical critics.

Sometime in the 130s BCE, perhaps around 133 BCE, a curious figure named Li Shaojun strolled into the life of Emperor Wu. The man was an elderly traveling magician and occult wiseman who roamed from region to region, performing all sorts of seemingly-magical deeds in exchange for shelter and sustenance from his patrons. Li Shaojun had no family, and, as far as anyone could tell, he had no ancestral ties to any region. Even his age was unknown—when asked, Li Shaojun always claimed he was seventy, but he had been making that same exact assertion for many years.

Although Li Shaojun ranked as one of the most believable magicians of Emperor Wu’s reign, he was not one for gaudy visual effects. He did not conjure ghosts, or cause inanimate objects to levitate, or do other such tangible displays of magic. Instead, Li Shaojun was more of a psychological magician, who astounded his audiences with knowledge about all sorts of information, both mundane and supernatural.

The Grand Historian and magician skeptic, Sima Qian (c. 145-90 BCE), recorded several feats supposedly done by Li Shaojun. One time, when the magician was being hosted by Marquis Tian Fen of Wuan (died approximately 131-130 BCE), the sly showman amazed the crowd by speaking reminiscently about one of the partygoer’s long-dead grandfathers. Sima Qian wrote, “he told one of the guests, an old man of over ninety, that he had gone with the man’s grandfather to such and such a place to practice archery. The old man had in fact, when he was a child, accompanied his grandfather, remembered visiting the place that Li Shaojun mentioned. With this the whole party was struck with amazement” (Shi Ji 28).

The magician brought his talent for knowing random facts about obscure objects and people to the imperial palace and used it to astound Emperor Wu. According to Sima Qian, when Li Shaojun first appeared in the imperial court, Emperor Wu tested the magician by bringing in an old, dusty bronze vessel. The emperor then asked the famous wiseman to identify it. Without pause, Li Shaojun matter-of-factly explained to the emperor that the item in question dated from the reign of Duke Huan of Qi, specifically the duke’s tenth year of rule (c. 676 BCE). Sima Qian described the scene, “When the inscription on the vessel was deciphered, it was found that it had in fact belonged to Duke Huan of Qi. Everyone in the palace was filled with astonishment and decided that Li Shaojun must be a spirit who had lived hundreds of years” (Shi Ji 28).

In addition to his specific knowledge of bygone people and archaic objects, Li Shaojun also had a reputation for being something of a prophet. In regards to many of the other prediction-based magicians, Sima Qian often bluntly accused them of fraud, or at least hinted that they were being manipulative. Yet, in the case of Li Shaojun, Sima Qian simply wrote that he “was clever at making pronouncements that were later found to have been curiously apt” (Shi Ji 28).

When Emperor Wu and Li Shaojun had become close friends, the magician reportedly began to teach the emperor about a peculiar six-step path to immortality. Step one, curiously enough, was to offer sacrifice to a fireplace until spirits came to inhabit it. With a holy fireplace in possession, you could proceed to step two—use the blessed fireplace to magically turn cinnabar into gold. After obtaining the miraculous cinnabar-gold, the third step was to have the magical metal crafted into a cup and plate. The fourth step, Li Shajun continued, was to regularly dine off of the magical tableware. This would allegedly give the emperor a prolonged lifespan, yet not immortality. Once the emperor felt his life was lengthened, he could embark on the fifth step, which was to travel to the Gulf of Bohai to search for a mythical island called Penglai.

According to popular legend, Penglai and other mythical islands in Bohai could be seen from a distance, but never reached—they were either floating in the sky or submerged under water, and if anyone ever did sail close to one of these otherworldly islands, sudden winds would blow the seekers off course. Yet, according to Li Shaojun, the emperor could reach the magical island of Penglai after having lengthened his life by eating and drinking from the cinnabar-gold plate and cup. The sixth and final step to immortality, which could be completed after reaching Penglai, was to enlist the help of the magical islanders to correctly complete a set of mystical ceremonies known as the Feng and Shan Sacrifices. With this completed, Li Shaojun promised, the emperor could become immortal.

Ironically, Li Shaojun reportedly died not long after he divulged his knowledge of immortality to Emperor Wu. Yet, the magician had such an aura of genuineness that his death did not disrupt Emperor Wu’s faith in Li Shaojun’s teachings. Sima Qian wrote, “The emperor, however, believed that he was not really dead but had transformed himself into a spirit, and he ordered Kuan Shu, a clerk from Huangchui, to carry on the magical arts which Li Shaojun had taught” (Shi Ji 28).

Emperor Wu, as may be expected, never was able to turn cinnabar into gold in his fireplace. Yet, he skipped ahead a few steps and launched numerous expeditions to find the magical island of Penglai—a goal, like the cinnabar-gold, that he was not able to achieve. In 110 BCE, however, Emperor Wu did claim to pull off his own version of the Feng and Shan sacrifices and, around 109 BCE, he had a magician named Gongsun Qing in his palace who claimed to have grown a so-called fungus of immortality. Nevertheless, no magician or magical fungi was able to stop Emperor Wu from aging—he died in 87 BCE.

Written by C. Keith Hansley.

Picture Attribution: (Album of the Yongzheng Emperor in Costumes (this time dressed as a Daoist magician), by anonymous court artists, Yongzheng period (1723—35), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

Sources:
  • The Records of the Grand Historian (Shi ji 28) by Sima Qian, translated by Burton Watson (pages 25-26 of his translation). New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.