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In June this year, Hangzhou’s West Lake in Zhejiang Province finally joined the list of World Cultural Heritage. Although West Lake had been waiting for the moment for ten years, it was already quite famous both domestically and internationally. Its lotuses inspired countless verses of poetry dating back centuries. Yang Wanli, a Song Dynasty (960-1279) poet, wrote of West Lake: “Green lotus leaves extend to the horizon, and the lotus flowers appear an unparalleled red in the sunshine.”
There are 14 lotus cultivation areas in West Lake, totaling 8.66 hectares. When water temperature rises to 25 degrees Celsius, lotuses will blossom. The plant is very sensitive to water shortages. In summer, a lotus planted in a tank will droop in three hours and wither in a day if it doesn’t receive continuous hydration. Lotuses like sunshine and need an entire day’s exposure when growing. West Lake’s quiet water and scorching sun provide an ideal growth environment for the flower. Its lotuses blossom to their fullest in July and August, at which time the West Lake Administration Committee examines the growth of the flora. When most of the water is covered by flourishing leaves, it marks the best time to admire the flower. Then, the large numbers of visitors taking photos make guards such as Wang Yu nervous. “I’m afraid someone will get pushed into the water,” Wang explains. “Some visitors argue it wouldn’t matter because there’s not much water.” The water is hidden by thick layers of lotus leaves.
West Lake lotuses are standard, featuring large green leaves, and the plants decorate the lake with red, white and pink flowers, but they’re also unique. Near the lake, their faint scent spread by heated wind can cool the stifling Hangzhou summers. Myriad light red blossoms dot the endless green leaves. Small bridges in various designs span the water. People crossing the bridges seem like they are strolling through lotus flowers.
Chinese people admire the lotus for its association with pure and noble characters in Chinese culture. West Lake’s lotuses are celebrated with many beautiful myths. One legend goes that the lotus is the incarnation of a girl named Yuji, who was a maid of Heavenly Queen Mother. Tempted by the worldly prosperity, Yuji left heaven and descended to West Lake. The beauty of West Lake made her forget to return on time. Heavenly Queen Mother found out and punished her by locking her under the mud of West Lake for eternity, never allowing her to return to heaven. Freed from heavenly dictatorship, Yuji tenaciously absorbed the essence of everything on earth and transformed into a lotus. The flower stands straight and lifts its head to display her fair face.
West Lake’s lotus pond is busiest in the morning when crowds of people line up to buy fruit and lotus leaves. Lotus seeds can be added to porridge, leaves garnish meat, and flowers season other dishes. During daytime hours, lotuses seem like celebrities on the red carpet, attracting non-stop photography. Endless streams of visitors raise their cameras and cell phones to record their beauty. Without realizing it, the photographers themselves become part of the scenery.