Liu Hai (劉海) is a member of the infamous 8 immortals.
And he is one of the favorite characters among them as he is widely seen as an embodiment of the god of wealth (cai shen).
Because the 8 immortals is part of methodology, many people don’t realize that the character was actually based on a real person who lived during the tenth century.
His name in recorded history was Liu HaiChan (劉海蟾) and his adventures also led to him being bestowed various honorable titles.
Legend of Liu Hai
Liu was a capable man who served as prime minister for the King of Yan during the time of the 5 dynasties.
At the peak of his prowess and influence, a taoist monk named Zheng Yangzi (正陽子) paid him a visit with the intention of being a helpful messenger. It was believed in some circles that Zheng was actually Quan Zhongli (an immortal) in disguise. As they engaged in casual chit-chat, Zheng asked for 10 eggs and 10 gold coins to perform a demonstration. He then proceeded to stack the eggs and coins precariously on top of one another in an impossible balancing act. Amused by this display, Liu commented that the eggs are bound to fall and crack. With missing a beat, Zheng replied that Liu’s position was in reality even more dangerous. This simple yet profound remark opened Liu’s eyes and he suddenly discovered a different purpose in life. He then resigned from his government post and started to relentlessly pursue the teachings of Taoism. He eventually became an immortal under guidance of Lu Dongbin (an immortal).
He then went on the various adventures as one of the 8 immortals which included Quan and Lu.
While Liu Hai is mostly recognized as a member of the group, he is individually also recognized as a manifestation of Cai Shen (财神).
The main story that led to this linkage was about him and the 3-legged frog.
The setting was in an old village that was vibrant with people going about their daily activities. Liu Hai was spotted by the villagers playing and teasing a giant from with 3 legs using a string of coins. Curious about the scene, villagers gathered around to figure out what this man was doing. Liu then commanded the frog to give the villagers money. It then started to spit out gold nuggets from it’s mouth which Liu distributed to the people. This event repeated itself in a few places and Liu was seen as a god of wealth.
This is why whenever Liu Hai is depicted in paintings without the entourage of the immortals, he is usually accompanied by the money frog.
Some paintings would have him baiting the frog with a string of coins. Some would have him hold the frog in one hand like a pet. Some even depicts hims as a playful child playing with the frog.
It’s probably no coincidence that in his name Liu HaiChan (劉海蟾), Chan (蟾) is literally translated as toad.