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Culture Folk-custom

Lotus --- A Symbol of Tranquility

The lotus, whose fragrant flowers and large leaves grace so many ponds, is connected with religion, art and poetry in China.

Its white or pink blossom has been used in Buddhism from ancient times as the symbol of peace and tranquility.

Most of the Buddhist statues in the Chinese temples are seated on lotus thrones. Lotus blossom patterns decorate ancient Chinese architecture and the lotus is a common theme of traditional Chinese painting.

The lotus has been extolled by poets and other admirers of its beauty. Zhou Dunyi, a man of letters of the Song Dynasty, wrote that the lotus grew out of ooze but remained spotlessly pure. The flowers were beautiful but never coquettish. The fragrance of its blossom spread far and wide though it always stood still and erect.

In Beijing, the Summer Palace, Purple Bamboo Park and Beihai Park are the best places to enjoy the lotus. Sometimes, people can find twin flowers which are considered a propitious sign by many people on one stalk.

Apart from its value as an ornamental plant, the lotus is a delicious food. Its seeds and root can be cooked into tasty dishes or used as ingredients in other traditional Chinese recipes. Even the leaves can be used: To cover boiling rice porridge with a clean lotus leaf for a few minutes, when the porridge turns green it is done-a delicious lotus porridge.

Every part of the lotus from roots to leaves to flowers, is used in traditional Chinese medicine. In the Compendium of Materia Medica, the famous biologist Li Shizhen of the Ming Dynasty prescribed the stamens of lotus blossoms as a tonic to nourish the skin and hair, and the plumules-rudimentary budsof the lotus seeds to reduce high blood pressure.

Lotus seeds have exceptional vitality. A Song Dynasty herbal medicine book says that lotus seeds eaten and then excreted by wild geese could sprout even after several years and those brought into mountain caves by birds could remain alive as long as some three hundred years.

Early in this century, scientists unearthed some lotus seeds from a peat layer at Liaoning Province's Pulandian Conty. Analysis showed that the seeds were more than 150 years old.

The Beijing Botanical Garden planted some of these seeds in 1953 and they blossomed in 1955. The leaves and flowers are quite similar to those of the local lotus.