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Sacred Islands Of Exotic Eastern Gods And Elixir Of The Immortals

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A 19th century ukiyo-e by Kuniyoshi depicting the ships of the great sea expedition sent around 219 BC by the first Chinese Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, to find the legendary home of the immortals, the Mount Penglai, and retrieve the elixir of immortality. (Public Domain)

Sacred Islands Of Exotic Eastern Gods And Elixir Of The Immortals

Classic works such as Odyssey by Homer, The Tempest by William Shakespeare and Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe tell about mysterious distant islands. These islands are usually exotic and inaccessible homes to treasures, spirits and immortals - providing the heroes with many strange adventures. From at least the third century BC, the Chinese culture regarded islands as sacred homes to the elixir of immortality. All these enticements then inspired a trend of voyages in search of sacred islands.

The early history of the quests in search of the sacred islands to gain immortality came to dominate imperial Chinese folklore of islands and the ocean. The narrative style of these quests first developed in the Ancient Chinese Classic of Mountains and Seas, a compilation of Chinese mythology, mythical geography and cultural account of pre-Qin China. As China’s maritime activity increased, fictions about islands of adventure gained popularity. This trend, in turn, inspired another trend of constructing artificial islands in imperial palace gardens.

Mount Penglai (Mountain of Immortals) by Tomioka Tessai (1924) (Public Domain)

Mount Penglai (Mountain of Immortals) by Tomioka Tessai (1924) (Public Domain)


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