Chinese Urban Legends: Stay away from the Lotus Pond

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The following article is the second part of an on-going series based on Chinese urban legends. The first part is available on #Medium, in which I discussed the Mongolian Death Worm from ancient Chinese legend. You can find out more in the link below:

With respect to the story of Lotus Pond, this urban legend involves love, romance, and the issue of deception. Much like other legends from ancient China or other parts of the world, love and deception have proven to be a common motif in these existing stories. For instance, the legend of the "White Lady", some iterations of this Germanic narrative involve dying from a broken heart.

Depiction of the "White Lady": a Germanic urban legend which dates back to the 19th century.

The Legend of Lotus Pond:

For the transcription of the legend narrative, I will provide my own interpretation of its content. Keeping that in mind, urban legends are often subject to subtle changes in order to fit a specific context. Considering this legend (as far as folklorists know) dates back at least a few hundred years, that will be important for context:

Many years ago there was a young couple who were madly in love. In order to confess and prove their love to one another, they decided to run away together- and meet by the lotus pond. All was going well, and the couple declared their love once they met at the agreed location. The young man left early, claiming he had some business to take care of and that he would meet the girl in the morning. According to their plan, the next morning they would run away together and this would be forever.

On her way back to her village, the young woman realized what the boy’s business really was. Deep within the forest, she saw him with another girl. Upset, betrayed, and completely heart-broken, the girl ran back towards the lotus pond, jumping in, and drowning herself in the process. According to legend, the area of lotus pond has since become a haunted location. If you find yourself alone at night, travelling towards the pond, you best be careful. Legends say, if you wander too close to the water itself, the heart-broken young girl will drag you to a watery grave.

Credit: Anne Stokes.

In terms of the lotus pond legend, the issue of an angry spirit dragging travelers to a watery grave reminds me of mermaid legends. For instance, mermaids are said to seduce sailors with their beautiful singing voices, which allows the sailors to enter a state of vulnerability. Consequently, the mythical creature will then lure sailors into the water- devouring them in the process.

Possible Interpretation of this story:

During my final semester of my English degree (late 2019), I took a course based on Middle English romances. Not surprisingly, medieval romances were written for reasons such as entertainment, satire, reflecting society's values, and much more. With respect to the legend of the lotus pond, this likely dates back to the middle ages in China. Keeping that in mind, medieval romances such as Sir Orfeo (a personal favourite of mine) informs readers of what a husband should be. Of course, that statement is quite vague in nature- but keep in mind this was written in the 1300s.

So, what is the big "take-away" from the legend of lotus pond? Well, one interpretation could be defiance. I'm not just referring to betrayal and defiance within one's relationship, but the issue of defiance within society. More specifically, popular literature and stories of the last 500 to 700 years often involved the concept of "star crossed lovers". Although the aforementioned term was coined by Shakespearean scholars, the motif itself came much before Shakespeare's own time frame (1564-1616).

Looking at the above image, Disney's The Proud Family depicts the famous balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet (c. 1596).

During the middle ages, a common narrative motif was the issue of defying one's family and society in the process. For instance, it's possible (although we don't necessarily have a way of knowing for sure, and that's what makes folklore fascinating), the young man and woman went against their parent's wishes, and this is why they planned to run away together. However, this proves to be interesting because the legend narrative takes a different turn. Instead of presenting a "happy ending", much like medieval romances, the legend of lotus pond involves deception of one's significant other- as well as death. Nevertheless, the issue of deception refers to breaking someone's heart- another common motif in legends from the middle ages.

What are your thoughts?

Thank you,


(c) The Modernist Son, 2020-


Levenson (ed.), Jill L. (2000). Romeo and Juliet, The Oxford Shakespeare (Oxford World's Classics). Oxford: Oxford University Press. page 142

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