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Hehua 荷花 (lotus) in Dong Gao's 董誥 album of summer flowers

© National Palace Museum, Taipei

Album leaf from “Xiahua shi zhen” 夏花十幀 (Ten leaves of summer blossoms) by Dong Gao 董誥 (1740-1818)

Inscription on the right: A poem by Qianlong Emperor 乾隆 (1711-1799, ruling 1735-1796)





Amongst the myriad of water blossoms, the lotus is crowned champion,

Standing clear of dirt gracefully against turquoise ripples.

Why is there only one blossom in the leaf?

’Cause a gentleman is hard to find in this world.



Fragrance lingering on the seat


The poem represents an echo of the famous essay “Ai lian shuo” 愛蓮說 (On the love of the lotus) by Zhou Dunyi 周敦颐 (1017-1073):


Among the flowers in waters and on land, on grasses and on trees, quite many of them are lovable. Tao Yuanming of the Jin [Dynasty] only loved the chrysanthemum. Since the Tang [Dynasty] of [the house of] Li, people of this world have loved the peony dearly. I only love the lotus which grows out of dirt and mud without being stained and which cleanses itself in pure ripples without deviancy. Hollow inside and straight outside, it does not spread or branch out. The fragrance gets purer as it reaches far, and gracefully it stands clear of dirt. [One] may appreciate [it] from afar but not dally with [it]. I would say the chrysanthemum is the recluse among flowers; the peony is the one of wealth and privilege among flowers; the lotus is the gentleman among flowers. Alas! The love of the chrysanthemum has been rare since Tao [Yuanming]. And who shares my love of the lotus? [As for] the love of the peony, it is suitable for the masses!

Photos taken near Luzhai 鹿寨, Guangxi. Despite Dong Gao's symbolic depiction of one lotus blossom, one can often find expanses of lotus pond.


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