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Lotus Flower & He Xiangu

Aggiornamento: 19 feb 2021

Di Rachele Rosina

The Lotus Flower is a plant common all over China. It belongs to the the Nymphaeceae and in China is called lian hua 莲花 or he hua 荷花.

Every part of this plant is used in China: roots, seeds and fruits are eaten, while the yellow stems and its stalk are dried and used in medicine. Moreover, leaves are often used by grocers to pack their products. It is especially for its beauty, its extensive presence in the ponds and lakes all over the Country, and because of it practical use that the flower became a popular motive in the Chinese tradition.

Moreover, because of its ability to grow from mud and not being defiled, it became an important symbol in Buddhism and Confucianism. in Buddhism, it represents the purity of the spirit, which through meditation and following the dharma, can reach enlightenment and float above the earthly filth. In confucianism, it represents the values of the junzi, the gentlemen, as described in Zhou Dun-yi’s essay ‘On Loving the Lotus’:

爱莲说 – 周敦颐



Among the flowers of water, land, herb and wood, many are loveable. During the Jin, Tao Yuan-ming loved only the chrysanthemum. Since the Tang, people have greatly loved the peony. I love only the lotus, because it rises from the mud but is not stained. It is bathed by clear waves, but is not seductive. Inside, it is open; outside, it is straight. It neither sprawls nor branches. The farther away one is, the purer is its fragrance. Upright and elegant, it establishes itself cleanly. It can be beheld at a distance but cannot be toyed with. I say the chrysanthemum is the recluse among flowers, the peony is the wealthy among flowers, and the lotus is the noble person among flowers. Aye, the love for the chrysanthemum is seldom heard of after Tao. As for the love for the lotus, is there anyone like me? Ah, but love for the peony is popular among the people. (Translation by Bing Song for Huffigpost)

Curtesy of The British Museum

The lotus flower is also the symbol of He Xiangu 何仙姑, one of the eight immortals of the Daoist pantheon. She is the only female among the immortals, and she is believed to have lived during the Tang Dynasty. According to the legend, she was the daughter of a shopkeeper in Hunan. One day, at the age of 14 or 15, a divine figure appeared in her dreams and told her that eating powdered mother-of-pearl would have transformed her in an immortal. She did, and she became ethereal, wondering on the hills for centuries. Another legend tells that she was also invited by Xiwang Mu, the Queen Mother of the West, to her sumptuous banquet, where she ate a peach of immortality.

She is usually depicted as a young girl, holding a lotus flower, as you can see in the dish hold at the British Museum. Here the lotus, borrowing from the Buddhism tradition, is symbol of purity and wisdom.

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