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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)


水華眾矣冠為

凈植亭亭映碧

底事幀中纔一朶,

世間君子得難

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.


Seal:

几席有餘香

Fragrance lingering on the seat


Note:

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):


水陸草木之花,可愛者甚蕃。晉陶淵明獨愛菊。自李唐來,世人盛愛牡丹。予獨愛蓮之出淤泥而不染,濯清漣而不妖,中通外直,不蔓不枝,香遠益清,亭亭淨植,可遠觀而不可褻玩焉。予謂菊,花之隱逸者也;牡丹,花之富貴者也;蓮,花之君子者也。噫!菊之愛,陶後鮮有聞。蓮之愛,同予者何人?牡丹之愛,宜乎衆矣!

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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