The real mystery of the cover of the "Blue Lotus"

Much has been written about the cover Hergé drew in 1936 for The Blue Lotus... On the occasion of International Chinese Language Day on 20th April 2023, we take a closer look at it.
Hergé imagined it would be the cover of the fifth story of The Adventures of Tintin: The Blue Lotus, where the reporter with a quiff breaks up an international opium gang trading in China.
His drawing, 35cm square, in Indian ink, watercolour and gouache, entirely in colour, is stunningly beautiful. It shows Tintin and Snowy hiding in a Ming vase, while a dragon, hunter of evil spirits, protects them. Their looks are intense and the colours stop the time.
© Hergé / Tintinimaginatio - 2023
The cartoonist was very proud of the result, especially as The Blue Lotus is a special adventure. Between great adventure, exoticism, echoes of international politics and homage to the Chinese graphic tradition, The Blue Lotus is an essential milestone in Hergé's work and in Tintin's career. After this adventure, both of them never looked at the world as they did before... It is also a true ode to friendship because it features Chang, the only real character to be integrated into the adventures of his young hero - his friend, an encounter that marked him for life.
But Casterman (the historical publisher of The Adventures of Tintin) rejected the drawing because of the cost of production. Hergé then redid the work, simplified, in line, with Indian ink, before marking his colour indications on tracing paper, which finally gave the version we know so well. The cover originally planned was lost…
But it is now being brought to light again through the NFT Tintin Collection project.

What is behind the cover of The Blue Lotus?

Looking at it more closely, we wondered what the five calligraphic images, (three in Indian ink and two in pencil), on the cover meant?
We set out on a quest to find their meaning and for this there is nobody better to ask than TCHANG YIFEI Fifi, daughter of Hergé's great friend, Chang Chong-chen.
First of all, TCHANG YIFEI Fifi reminds us that this is a cover project. This clarification gives meaning to her second remark: these pictograms probably have no meaning as a title. For that matter, they don't make sense as a sentence, and some of them aren't even Chinese words. Let's explain…
The daughter of the famous sculptor, thinks that Hergé's aim was probably to give an exotic dimension to the drawing and show that the story takes place in China. Literally, this means nothing because among the five drawings only three exist and yet they don't even go together...
  • the first one in Indian ink: fish. Let us note a lack of line since "fish" in Chinese is written "魚". Indeed, on this drawing a line is missing on the lower part. We will therefore say that the fish has an incomplete tail;
  • the second in Indian ink does not exist in Chinese;
  • the third in Indian ink: pointed;
  • the first in pencil does not exist in Chinese;
  • the second in pencil: soldier.
  • © Hergé / Tintinimaginatio - 2023
    TCHANG YIFEI Fifi admits that her father had told her about this Hergé cover "Oh he's a great draughtsman, he draws but he doesn't write in a calligraphic manner".
    She also notes that it is a language of pictograms. Pictograms are drawn signs. They are special in that they are closely related to the reality they represent, unlike ideograms, which also refer to an idea, but without their drawing trying to represent the extralinguistic reality. Therefore, TCHANG YIFEI Fifi, in relation to the cover, points out that the first word in Indian ink, "fish", is a strong pictogram, with the shape of a head, a tail, and even scales.
    In Chinese, there are also ideophonograms, where the choice of composition is determined by phonetics.
    ...Phonetics? Here's a good lead!
    If we go back to the cover, when reading the ideograms from top to bottom in Mandarin, the sound of this reading could be "Blue Lotus" (Long -tiew). This opens up the debate: perhaps Hergé used the sound of the words rather than their calligraphy. But it remains forever a mystery...
    Focus on the NFT Tintin Collection project
    Tintinimaginatio, in partnership with artèQ, has launched the first two Tintin NFTs.

    Two NFTs for a single work:
  • The first ("collectible"), the Blue Lotus NFT - a limited edition of 1777 copies in Ethereum.
  • The second ("utility"), the NFT Blue Lotus certificate, which is delivered with the purchase of the print (high fidelity printing), available as a limited edition of 777 copies.

  • These two NFTs will soon be part of a series entitled "Hergé's Missing Works", the aim of which is to bring together and make people (re)discover works that are missing from the Hergé Museum’s collection. And the opportunities offered by Web 3.0 will allow us to deepen and widely disseminate their knowledge.

    For more information, visit
    1 review
    or to write a review.
    27/04/2023 23:56 PM
    The picture is strong : it shows Tintin in a position never seen before (and after), looking like he is afraid of the dragon.
    In a metaphorical way, it could mean that, as an european, he is not feeling cumfortable with the oriental secrets.
    By the way, LONG means dragon in chinese, this signifies Herge played with words, an hability everyone knows he possessed, but in Chinese. Pure Genius.
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