The lotus is one of the most important flowers in Chinese culture. It has been the subject of numerous art creations such as poems, paintings and ceramics.
The Lotus in Taoism and Buddhism
The lotus is a sacred symbol in both Taoism and Buddhism. In Taoism, the lotus blossom is the holy flower and the lotus root is the source of divine power. Nezha, also called Third Lotus Prince, is a Taoist god whose body is solely constructed from lotus roots, giving him god-like powers without the restraint of a human body.
In Buddhism, the lotus is the symbol of Buddha, as they often appear sitting or standing on a lotus throne. It is also one of the eight auspicious symbols of Buddhism (Bajixiang), representing the purity of souls.
Lotus Homophones in Chinese Culture
The Chinese language employs a large number of words that sound linguistically similar when spoken, yet are associated with different concepts and meanings. These are known as homophones.
The lotus represents gentlemen of integrity, who live an upright, noble and uncorrupted life. Zhou Dunyi, a famous philosopher and poet from the Song Dynasty, wrote a poem about his love of the lotus, admiring the quality of a pure lotus flower blooming out of the mud and dirty water.
Lotus flowers and scrolls are very common elements in Chinese ceramics. The word for lotus in Mandarin (‘lian’) is a homophone of the Mandarin word for being incorruptible (‘qing lian’). The Emperor would reward an officer with a type of bottle vase called Shangping (which literally means “the rewarded bottle”), painted with lotus flowers and lotus scrolls to commend their upright career.
The lotus flower has a secondary pronunciation in Mandarin (‘hé’) which is also the homophone of peace and harmony (‘hé xié); this coincides with the main philosophy of Confucius and Chinese culture.
The lotus is a symbol of beauty and love. An abundance of poems compared beautiful women or even handsome men to the lotus.
The pattern of two lotus flowers on one stalk is used in wedding ceremonies and bridal chambers as a metaphor of the love between the couple. The lotus root in Mandarin (‘ou’) is a homophone for the word partner (‘pei ou’). Lotus seeds represent fertility, making the lotus the symbol of a big and happy family.