Lotus tops the Choice for Vietnams national flower

Anyone would agree that national symbols create the entity which reflects the pride and prestige of the entire nation. These identifiable features enable the country it represents to stand apart from the rest of the world. Many countries across the globe are recognized by a plant that symbolizes their geographical area. These emblems are sometimes determined by public opinion or by government officials. A nation's plant is sometimes referred to as a floral emblem.

A national flower is another important aspect that paints a beautiful portrait of the country. Some national flowers have cultural or religious roots that go back hundreds or even thousands of years and may or may not have been officially adopted. For a country as charming as Vietnam adorned with abundant gifts of nature, it is surprising to know that until present, it has not formally identified a national flower. Although, several flowers are closely tied to its history and culture .

Many agree that its national flag, anthem and recognized capitals are not enough to distinguish the country’s personality. Though undeniably, the traditional ‘Ao Dai’ silk dress is an undisputed symbol of Vietnam. As The Netherlands takes pride on the beautiful tulips that grow in their soil, Japan bowing down to the bewitching beauty of the sakura and England adoring its romantic red rose, Vietnam is now on deciding which flower should symbolize its land.

Choosing a national flower has been considered for a long time. With the country’s history associated to certain flowers like the lotus, several others have also been suggested including peach, areca, yellow apricot, rose and bamboo among others. These other species are also believed to be highly symbolic of Vietnam or meaningful to its people. If you have ever enjoyed Tet holiday in Vietnam, or even witnessed the build up to the Lunar New Year holiday, you will know how fond people are of apricot blossom branches (hoa mai in Vietnamese) and peach blossom (hoa dao). Orchids (hoa lan) are also hugely popular in Vietnam.

However, an online survey indicated that more than 40 percent of 130,000 participants prefer lotus as the national flower. Hoa mai received 33 percent of the votes, while hoa dao managed only 8 percent, just behind the bamboo flower on 9 percent. With the figures, the lotus is without doubt the strong leading contender. In fact, it is already the symbol of the national carrier, Vietnam Airlines – and the airline’s frequent flyer program is dubbed Golden Lotus Plus.

Concerns Arise over the Criteria

With a lot mixed views coming from all sides, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism decided to step in, introducing a criteria in choosing “Vietnam’s National Flower”. Details of their report listed 13 standards in order for a flower to represent the nation.

But looks like the matter is more complicated than expected. Though everyone agrees that the flower of choice should honor the Vietnamese culture and help boost the country’s profile abroad, the criteria set by the ministry seems too vague for many. In fact, the list appears too lengthy when what is only believed to be most necessary is the flower’s origin, its cultural significance, its place in the daily lives of Vietnamese and the arts as well as local people’s sentiment for the flower. It should be either sourced from Vietnam or have flourished in its soil for a very long period.

Many would also insist that the flower should be grown throughout the country and blossoms the entire year or most of it. Most importantly, it should express Vietnam’s traditional culture and symbolize the manner and aspirations of the Vietnamese people. As expected, the flower should be both “beautiful” and “fragrant”.

The Debate on Lotus

Topping the survey, lotus is an obvious favorite by the majority. For those who insist that the flower is the rightful emblem, there is no point to further prolong the selection, or worse, to debate over the issue. It is grown everywhere, it is beautiful, undeniably symbolic of Vietnam and over the past centuries, have always connected to the lives of the Vietnamese people. It clearly satisfy many standards to gain the title.

For Tran Khanh Chuong, an artist and chairman of Vietnam’s Fine Art Association, the pink lotus is the most viable choice, indicating how the flower has been popular in Vietnam since the Ly dynasty (1009-1225). He also added the strong political association of the flower since President Ho Chi Minh was born in a village called Kim Lien, which means lotus.

Needless to say, lotus has been well-rooted in the history of Vietnam. The Ly dynasty (1009 – 1225) built several structures based on the motif of lotus. The Chua Mot Cot (One Pillar Pagoda) was known as “dai hoa sen” (lotus flower platform) as its shape resembles the lotus. During the Tran Dynasty (1225 to 1400 AD), the lotus dance is considered the most important dance presented to its Royal Courts. Even a famous folk poem speaks of the lotus in its lines, "Trong dam gi dep bang sen”, which means “In the pond, the lotus is the most beautiful flower”. Today, the lotus is still frequently incorporated in Vietnamese art and is considered to represent Vietnamese women by many artists.

The lotus flower grows in muddy water and rises above the surface to bloom with remarkable beauty. At night the flower closes and sinks underwater. It rises and opens again at dawn. How it blossoms and recedes at certain times of the day makes the flower remain untouched by impurity. Thus, the lotus symbolizes the purity of heart and mind. And just like the lotus, Vietnam has a strong affinity with the water. From history to present, Vietnamese farmers working on the paddy fields while fishermen make livelihood from the rivers and streams. Vietnamese civilization sprung out of the Red River delta, where wet-rice cultivation along with fishing and rice planting was the mainstay of living.

But there are arguments why the lotus could not be officially declared as of yet . One point of discussion surrounds on the flower’s religious association. For one thing, lotus is a symbol of Buddhism and of Hinduism. Within both religious schools it is taught that the lotus flower is a symbol for awakening to the spiritual reality of life. Despite that, people like Le Van Lan, a national historian, would still prefer lotus as Vietnam’s national flower because of how it strongly reflect the Vietnamese people’s simplicity, honesty, bravery and resilience.

Another issue that is raised is how the lotus is not as common or as meaningful in Southern Vietnam as it is in the north. In response, lotus-fanatics contended the idea of favoring other options such as hoa dao or hoa mai since none of these species are also found throughout the country. The former is common in northern Vietnam while the latter flourishes in the south. But perhaps the strongest argument over choosing lotus is that it is already officially recognized as India’s national flower. Lotus has been closely identified with Indian culture since time immemorial.

As the debates heats up, many have arrived to conclude the whole exercise as being pointless. Deputy head of the MoCST’s Heritage Department, Le Minh Ly, admits on not being certain what the national flower would bring to the community or if it would help increase the country’s role on the international stage. Still, the process is underway. For now, the ministry continues to consult more experts, soliciting contributions and feedback from the public before choosing the country’s now controversial national flower.