The national flower of Việt Nam is the lotus. On my trip to Hanoi the first weekend in January there was lotus imagery everywhere. But what special meaning does the lotus hold for the Vietnamese?
What can be more beautiful than the lotus in the pond?
Green leaves, white flowers, yellow stamen.
Yellow stamen, white flowers, green leaves.
Though close to the stinking mud, it does not smell of its odor.Vietnamese folk poem
The lotus flower is revered throughout Asia. In Buddhist symbolism, the lotus flower represents purity floating above the murky waters of attachment and desire.
A common Vietnamese maxim is “from the dirtiest water comes the purest flower.” This symbol is dear to Vietnamese cultural identity. There’s a deep resilience in the idea that it’s not in spite of their difficulties but through their difficulties that they’ll reach a higher place.
“From the dirtiest water comes the purest flower” is somewhere between maxims like “strength through adversity” and “beauty from pain.” However, there is a moral component to it as well. The Lotus is still rising away from individual attachment and desire.
This moral component is made more evident in the Vietnamese epic poem the Tale of Kiều. The female protagonist, Kiều, suffers immensely as she repeatedly makes decisions that harm her as an individual but benefit her family and society. The tales exemplifies a core moral distinction between individualist societies, like the United States, and collectivist societies, like Việt Nam.
The Ho Chi Minh Museum in Hanoi features a display shaped like a lotus flower lifting up out of dirty water.
The flower features cultural artifacts and artwork. The dirty water features the nation’s past conflicts with the Chinese, the French, and the United States.