Chinese has a long tradition of picking the lotus seeds, apparently for a healthy recipe. This tradition has involved into a culture, which has hatched many symbolic chicks. Lotus is grown mostly in the southern part of China, or the “watery region,” where the girls are said to be "watery" ("水灵" literally, watery [or juicy] and spirit-like or spirit-ful ["quick-witted"]). Remember to praise a girl who has a fine skin with this phrase which pronounces as "shuiling"(/swei/falling-rising tone and /liŋ/rising tone). For the image-loving ancient scholars, the girls in bright colors amid the green leaves and pinkish white flowers provide a palateful sight, and it is not surprising to for them to write songs. However, the most famous song is definitely a folk song in Han Dynasty’s Music Bureau Poems.
Lovely is the Southern River where lotus flowers grow,
How densely the leaves huddle one to another,
And there are fishes playing in the water under.
Fishes playing to the east of the leaves,
Fishes playing to the west;
Fishes playing to the south of the leaves,
Fishes playing to the north too.
Lotus Flower Basin
WANG Wei (701-761 Tang Dynasty)
They go with the sun to harvest lotus seeds
On the long shoal and come home at nightfall.
Punting your pole gentle,
Or the splash will wet the pink lotus skirt.
This is of course not at all an erotic poem, but we can safely call it a genre poem. Well, in that case, some erotic innuendo is inevitable. In fact, picking up lotus seeds has always been the play among girls. In Chinese pronunciation, there are many words referring to "lotus," but only "lian" (莲) is always played on the pun with another word 怜 (compassion) or even 恋 (attachment, lingering affection). When a lotus root is cut, there will be "threads" 丝 connecting, which in turn gives to an idiom 藕断丝连 (lotus root cut thread connected), and in the idiom, "threads" is a pun on "thoughts" 思 (missing or thinking of someone). There is never too much love association with lotus in traditional Chinese culture. The lotus seed is written as 莲子, which can be a pun to imply “compassion for you,” or 莲心 (lotus heart) which can be a pun to imply “pity for my heart.” Lotus seed contains a bitter “core,” which provides a ready metaphor for bittersweet love, especially for unrequited love or unfulfilled love (as a concubine’s). In this sense, picking lotus seed-pods can always be understood as a metaphor for love-making, or an act to show the readiness to be in love. To get wet is therefore something like the broken pitcher in western arts. Refer to Jean-Baptiste Greuze’s painting.
法国画家格鲁兹(1725-1805)暗示失贞的《破壶》The Broken Pitcher (1763)
For a more folk song style poem, let us read another Tang poet Wang Changling.
Song of Picking Lotus Seeds
[Tang Dynasty] Wang Changling (698-756)
Wu girls, Yue beauties, and concubines from Chu kings,
All eager to play the boats and wet their clothes.
They come through the opening to the welcoming flowers,
And return by the river-dock upon the moon’s goodbyes.
Note: Wu is the area around Suzhou, and Yue is the area around Hangzhou, two places traditionally reputed for beauties in the Southern Yangtze area (江南 River south), while Chu refers to the area around Dongting Lake in Hubei Province, a fertile land in the mid-stream of The Yangtze (The Long River).
Silk skirt with lotus-leave patterns of a pure color and good cut,
Lotus flowers bloom on both sides of the picker’s face.
Randomly, they enter the pond and disappear from sight,
Only their singing tells that there are souls coming out.
The (perhaps imposed) self-awareness of the lotus-seed-picking girl is explicitly rendered in Li Bai’s (Li Po) poem “Song of a Yue Girl.”
Girls picking lotus-seed on Yeruo Lake,
They oar back into the flowers, laughing,
When seeing strangers on the bank.
They do not come out, faking abashment.