“We believe that we invent symbols. The truth is that they invent us.” – Gene Wolfe
A symbol can be described as something that represents a quality, idea or relationship. For people, symbols are used to encapsulate beliefs, culture and human virtues.
The lotus is an aquatic perennial plant that exists in many of the peat swamp forests that cover much of southern Vietnam. The lotus flower itself lies beneath the surface of the water at night time and then blooms into a magnificent flower in the day. The strikingly water-repellent leaf surface has inspired the term ‘lotus effect’, which describes how the flowers lie is the muddy water for most of the night but still remain pure due to their self-cleaning capacity.
The Vietnamese people see the lotus as a representation of their culture. Although they have been faced with many difficulties, Vietnamese people still remain pure and positive inside their souls, just as the lotus lies in the murky depths but flowers with such beauty.
The idea of the lotus can be seen in the Vietnam war. From 1945-1989 the Vietnamese battled for their independence, against many an opponent. Over 3 million people were left dead, infrastructure was crushed and international relationships destroyed, but despite all this the Vietnamese fought off their invaders and managed to create a unified Vietnam. Just like the lotus, the people of Vietnam lived in the murky depths of war for many decades but were able to emerge from the dark still pure of heart.
There are many Vietnamese poems that mention the lotus, saying that it symbolises purity, optimism, good luck and long life.