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An ancient and legendary tale of romance is given a new setting and still provides enthralling viewing for a modern audience.
In a manner of speaking, it is not of this world. Fittingly for a legend, it is not constrained by the normal forces of gravity, nor will it be impeded by the weather. The alluring tale is portrayed in what seems like slow motion.
Ode to the Goddess of the Luo River, a signature work by Cao Zhi, the son of Cao Cao, a warlord of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220), tells of a son’s enchantment with the Goddess of the Luo River. She is believed to be the daughter of emperor Fuxi of prehistoric legend, who became a nymph after drowning in the river, a tributary of the mighty Yellow River.
Her story has inspired countless contemporary artists, who have portrayed the goddess of peerless beauty through various art forms, such as movies and dance dramas.
On 12 June the Goddess of the Luo River came alive in a video distributed by Henan TV Station on the social media platform Sina Weibo. It has been viewed millions of times.
But the reason the video, which is titled Rhapsody on the Luo River Goddess, created such an impression and has generated such a wave of publicity is that it was shot underwater.
He Haohao plays the role of goddess. She masters not only her art but the technique of holding her breath as her lungs struggle to carry out their function. All this is done with the most serene expression.
The tale captures the enchanting appeal of that ancient Chinese goddess, whom Cao Zhi said was “as elegant as a startled swan goose and as supple as a swimming dragon”.
He Haohao said she read a number of books about ancient Chinese goddesses and was inspired by flying fairies portrayed in the mural paintings of the Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang city, Gansu province.
To control buoyancy she wears specially adapted weights of about 10 kilograms to help her stay submerged. She also tied fishing lines to her costumes to prevent the material from becoming entangled under water.
Without the use of breathing apparatus, she took a large gulp of air before entering the water.
“It took the team about 20 seconds to fix my long robes in the water, which are made of silky cloth. The longest piece of cloth is about six metres. Then I danced in the water and held my breath for another 20 to 40 seconds. We repeated that process many times.”
The 30-year-old, who was born and raised in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, learned to swim at the age of six and, when she turned eight, began training to become a synchronised swimmer. She has won national swimming awards and was selected to join in the provincial synchronised swimming team at 18.
Though she later decided to quit her athletic career and graduated from Guangzhou University with a major in journalism, she has never stopped pushing boundaries underwater.
Previously published on Chinadaily.com.cn