Zhang Sanfeng was a semi-mythical Chinese Taoist priest who is believed by some to have achieved immortality, said variously to date from either the late Song Dynasty, Yuan Dynasty or Ming Dynasty. His name is said to have been Zhang Junbao before he became a Taoist.
Zhang was indifferent to fame and wealth. After declining official position and dispatching his property to his clan, he traveled around China to live the life of an ascetic. Zhang spent several years at Hua Mountain before settling in Wu Tang Mountain.
Much of the written material about him is mythical, contradictory, or otherwise suspect. For instance, he is reported by different people to have been born either in 960, 1247, or in 1279. He has at times been described as being seven-feet tall, with the bones of a crane and the posture of a pine tree, having whiskers shaped like a spear, and being able to cover 1000 li in a day (roughly 580 km or 350 miles). He is reputed to have worn a straw hat, and is usually depicted with one slung on his back, but two villages are reported in the 19th century Wu-yang Gazeteer to have believed that his hat was actually a cymbal, which only residents of the villages (famous for manufacturing cymbals) had permission to sound upon meeting him.
Some sources record two Chinese emperors sending missions to Zhang Sanfeng to ask for his advice, although neither mission is reported to have found him.
Owing to his legendary status, his name frequently appears in Chinese novels and Wuxia films of swordsmen as a spiritual teacher and master of martial arts.
Today, Chinese readers and general public are most acquainted with Jin Yong's version of Zhang Sanfeng, thanks to the popularity of his Wuxia novels. In his book The Heavenly Sword and Dragon Saber, Zhang Sanfeng was a former Shaolin disciple in the late Song Dynasty, and born on April 9, 1247 at midnight (Day 9 of month 3 in Chinese calendar). He later left Shaolin Temple and established the Taoist monasteries in Wudang Mountains. In the book he had seven disciples, and was alive until the late Yuan Dynasty. According to many regional gazettes, Zhang Sanfeng was seen at the end year of tianshun reign (1457-1464), having lived for more than 200 years.