Time to stir up some Hu Tao love once again – in case you forgot how wonderful of a character she is. I wrote a Hu Tao writeup for a competition a few days ago that I wanted to share here! 🙂 (this time it’s not 10,000 words do not worry)
Hu Tao is one of the most well-developed, complex characters we have in Genshin that also exists relatively ‘contained’ in the story and I will not stop writing about her. Note that I know a ton of people here love Rie Takahashi’s interpretation of Hu Tao, but I’m biased towards the English characterization of her (using CN source material everywhere else, please don’t roast) which is a lot more solemn/serious. There’s some serious Hu Tao mischaracterization and reduction of her personality, so I hope this writeup helps put things into perspective.
“Life leads unto death, and death unto new life — why, then, should death be taboo?”
Eccentric yet reverent, the 77th Director of the Wangsheng Funeral Parlor stands at the border between life and death –– and it is precisely because of this does she understand that in a cyclic world, we must draw wonder. Underneath her whimsy, Hu Tao is a reverent funeral director, influential poet, and spirit soother carrying the rituals that had once cleansed the karmic evils of Liyue’s fallen gods.
APPEARANCE: The Equinox Flower, Butterflies, and Old Hu
A young lady outfitted in the Wangsheng Funeral Parlor attire with sanguine eyes in the shape of flowers, with a blazing spirit by her in combat.
Hu Tao wears her ‘Harmony Hexagram Hat‘, originally owned by her late grandfather. Adorned with a talisman bearing the insignia of the Wangsheng Funeral Parlor and red plum blossoms (Prunus mume; one of the most popular flora in Chinese culture), symbolic of life’s impermanence and revolutionary struggle as it characteristically signals the transition of winter towards summer. The pink/red plum blossoms are most often used during the Chinese New Year, where perseverance is celebrated while death and negativity are taboo, ironic.
“This hat is magical, upholding good and repelling evil, and is a bringer of peace!” Incredibly protective and attached, in truth, Hu Tao had spent an entire night and day fashioning the 75th’s hat to fit her head. Its plum blossoms and branches tucked to the side had been carefully plucked from a plum tree that Hu Tao had tended herself in careful process: plant, pluck, air-dry, paint, lacquer, outline, sun-dry (for three days) –– as regimented as the rituals she performs in her day-to-day job.
On the back of Hu Tao’s coat are the silhouettes of an equinox flower (Lycoris radiata) and butterfly.
Equinox flowers are often used in funerals in Japanese culture, and are taken as ‘flowers of hell’ in Chinese Buddhism – in both cultures, they’re rumored to hail from the underworld as they bloom around the roads of hell, guiding mortal men towards reincarnation in the endless cycle of death and rebirth. In practice, equinox bulbs are incredibly poisonous. Before cremation was widespread, these flowers were planted in graveyards as a deterrent to wild animals who feasted in corpses. 📷
The butterfly is a near-universal metaphor for reincarnation, life-and-death, courage, and immortality – a carrier of the human’s self and soul. When associated with plum blossoms, this visage of longevity is furthered. Culturally, butterflies are messengers, epitomic of eternal life. Other cultures take them as the spirits of passed relatives and loved ones.
In Taoism, the famous parable Zhuangzi’s Butterfly Dream grapples with the dichotomy of the self and ego, bodily immortality and spiritual enlightenment. In the parable, a man dreams of himself a butterfly, waking up without knowing whether he had dreamed he was a butterfly or a butterfly now dreaming of himself as a man – such is the Transformation of Things. Itself a contradiction and transformative paradox, when is one dreaming and when is one awake? These larger themes play into Genshin Impact’s motifs of dreams and truth, expressed down to the details of Hu Tao’s funerary attire.
PERSONALITY: Beyond whimsy and wisdom
“Ta da ta da, you’ve been pranked!”
From Qiqi’s misinformed (yet justifiable) disdain (“punch-able face”), Xiangling’s annoyance at her antics, to all of Liyue’s rumors and fears about her name and Wangsheng’s dealings… how could one ever expect a seemingly lackadaisical, chaotic prankster be the one carrying Liyue’s funeral affairs?
On the surface, Hu Tao is a prankster and free spirit with antics spread all over Liyue (and its message boards) that have earned her a level of derision and annoyance from the town (“Whenever someone mentions Hu Tao, their neighbors find it extremely hard to navigate the conversation.“). She brings buckets filled of water to bathe stone statues at the very front of Liyue’s Ministry of Civil Affairs to the confusion of crowds, only to disappear as suddenly as she arrives to the disappointment of the millelith. She plays four-player card games by herself for hours and stalks through the mountains with any ounce of time she gets. She teases, perfectly content with weird looks and distrust from her own employees – as if fully aware of how her unique personality is immensely jarring.
“Ugh, how can you call me a weirdo? I mean, wouldn’t you say it’s more… charmingly naive? Or… disarmingly different?”
Beyond the precocious behavior however, is a woman who abides by these rules: “live in life, die in death.” With life so fleeting and death so inevitable, why waste a single second not living it to the fullest? Hu Tao is immaculate in conduct, precise in the parlor’s rituals, and stern about death’s role in mortal life. “Only once you know and respect death can you truly understand the value of life.”
Her close proximity to death has brought her this wisdom, but it also hasn’t erased her own human fears. Along the border, Hu Tao hints at her own fears of death. “Sitting around doing nothing is a fate worse than death,” she says, rejecting fatality whilst still cautious of the end.
“Sitting around doing nothing is a fate worse than death.”
Death is one of the only constants that Hu Tao knows, yet she still tread across the spirit realm in search of her grandfather in hopes that he had somehow stepped out of the cycle.
Incredibly perceptive and skilled, Hu Tao carefully knows to lull people’s fears be it through humor or withholding enough, carefully keeping ordinary folk in the dark. Rightly praised for her wit, she has gleamed enough from Zhongli to guess of his status as adepti or Archon, and is friendly enough with Xiao to be one of the only mortals to have gained his trust.
In truth, Hu Tao is far more conscious of her image than she lets on. Normally quick to dismiss people’s fears about death as she quells them, still reveals her anxieties with the Parlor’s image (“It’s a shame — others see us going out to work at night and just don’t understand — and that’s what scares them.“) and the necessity of cremation to assuage the spirits she serves (“In such cases, cremation always lets Hu Tao find peace of mind. The more anxious she feels, the stronger the flame.”) Gatekeepers themselves are not free of their own fears.
Despite her antics, she remains wary of overstepping her boundaries with friends and acquaintances. In her misjudgment of Qiqi’s wishes, she pampers her endlessly and crosses Baizhu. With hints of her skepticism, we see bits of stubbornness shine through a girl carrying the weight of life, death, and far more knowledge than most mortals can bear. Her apathy towards her Pyro Vision received after her grandfather’s passing and disdain for combat despite trained under it questions how much of her practice is done out of obligation, rather than her own beliefs.
“Order of duality, impermanence of fate…”
Liyue’s common people remain Hu Tao’s utmost priority, managing the region’s funerary affairs, spreading comfort in verse as a poet, and in the right amount of raucous wonder. When you find her at the bridges of Huaguang Stone Forest staring down the cliffs or up at the moonlit skies, what does she truly think of life and death? What does her own wisdom bring her to question – may fate be rewritten? Is the duty entrusted of her as a Funeral Director one that will leave her with no regrets?
HISTORY: Karmic Liyue, the Rite of Homa, funerals at thirteen, and Wangsheng’s role
Understanding Hu Tao’s background means understanding the Rite of Homa: the practice of cremation pioneered by the founders of the Wangsheng Funeral Parlor. In the ancient days of warring gods, their fallen corpses produced evil miasmas, product of ill karma, contained in them the dreams and delusions of passed gods. From the struggles of divinity were the lost lives of common citizens, be it gods they believed in or gods that were never theirs.
Then, a merciful doctor cleansed all that is impure with a ritual of fire. Impurities rose with the flames unto the high heavens, turning despair and misfortune into ashen butterflies, respite from the calamities of this world. With the doctor himself reduced into the shape of a lovely butterfly as they had passed, a more peaceful world has erased most of these rituals. What remains then are the descendants with fire in their hearts, feeling the flicker when faced with darkness.
“Only an unbound flame can purity this world.”
Prodigious and eccentric, Hu Tao’s nature has been apparent from birth. Already combing through classics while doing handstands at three, and cutting classes to fall asleep in coffins at age six.
Moving in to the Funeral Parlor at age eight, she began her training, though met with much anxiety from the other undertakers. To their surprise, the then-future director’s debut at thirteen was conducted with immaculate precision and objectivity.
This reverence (and later on, partial skepticism) at life’s cycles earned her the favor of the gods at thirteen. Old Hu, the 75th Director and Hu Tao’s grandfather, had passed and tasked the thirteen-year-old with his own funeral arrangements who had executed the grand funeral flawlessly to the approval of all the other Parlor workers. After the day had ceded, the young Hu Tao trekked to the border at Wuwang Hill in hopes of seeing her grandfather’s spirit before crossing unto the other world forever. Only after days of ceaseless waiting against innumerable spirits did an old ghost urge her to go back: as with every mortal rite she conducts, we are bound to the afterlife. Why bear any regrets? Treading back, she found a Pyro Vision in her once-empty backpack. Carrying strength in no remorse, “follow your heart, do what you can.”
“Balance must be maintained, and yet destinies remain variable.”
In the present day, Hu Tao’s influence comes from her ordered work at Wangsheng Funeral Parlor, and also her work as an esteemed poet with verse spread all over Liyue.
As the Director of the Funeral Parlor that had gone through seventy-seven generations, Hu Tao’s role is no easy feat. Rumored to have dealings with the Fatui and darker business in Liyue’s underworld along with storied histories and rituals, Wangsheng’s role and significance can’t be understated. Under her careful watch, the business’ operations have grown (cheeky marketing tactics aside) with a solid reputation. Hu Tao had also instituted the practice of inviting consultants and lecturers for her undertakers, meeting Zhongli, filling in a sort of grandfatherly-figure gap where Old Hu once was for the girl. Entrusted with the responsibilities of this realm and the next, Wangsheng succeeds not only in their work as psychopomps of Liyue, but also safeguarding the truth of this world. Hu Tao’s influence has also influenced people to be less averse to death with “ceremonies conducted so tactfully that quite a few superstitious people in Liyue have changed their attitudes towards funerals.”
As an influential poet, Hu Tao writes playful verses in her freetime (and on occasion, with Xingqiu) – garnering most of her reputation. Her Hilitune (based off of a grim Chinese children’s tune) is sung from as far as Qingce Village. We even meet the spirit of Dusky Ming near Wangshu Inn humming it away.
Wangsheng’s ultimate responsibility is to guard the border between life and death. To this end, Hu Tao reveals she’s stricter than others before her, yet discerns the difference between order and fate carefully. Hu Tao is presumed to understand Teyvat’s cyclical nature as a whole (as in the Prayers items), daring to reject it herself. After all, why do the ghosts of mortals still linger? Is mortal will enough to latch onto a world, defiant of its laws, out of sheer will? It’s in the same place that she received her Vision and accepted life’s meaning does she hold on to her duty –– and in this place will she too, pass one day…
There is nothing special about the border between life and death. It’s just that nobody knows about it.
TRIVIA: Lost poetics and some speculation
- Details about Hu Tao’s name:
- Hu (胡 surname), hu– is also present in “butterfly” (hudie 蝴蝶)
- Tao (桃) means peach/long life, “the way of nature and/or the way in which to one’s life”. In China, peaches are symbolically associated with immortality and long life.
- Her constellation, Papilio Charontis is a reference to butterflies, likely the extinct brush-footed Jupitellia charon and Greek mythology’s Charon, ferrymen that carried souls of the newly-deceased across the river Styx which runs through the border of the living and the dead. The Ferrylady Parlor Worker cements this connection further, as the Charon was the ferryman of the dead.
- In Chinese, Hu Tao’s constellations read as a poem discussing how butterflies guide people towards the afterlife. It references equinox flowers (present in her coat), burnt into incense to turn into threads for the butterflies of the underworld, even directly using her banner name, ‘Moment of Bloom‘.
- In Chinese, her ‘About Ningguang’ Voiceline also reads as a poem, adjectives used in a more poetic manner––sooo much better than her English voiceline!
- It goes like: “Tianquan Ningguang, extremely wealthy / a bright and clever gaze / whose beauty makes the plum and apricot blossoms seem ugly / all-seeing and all-hearing / understanding and doing everything properly”
- [THEORY] ‘Someone’s Poetry’ in Lingju Pass (and across the other signboards in Liyue) can potentially be read as Hu Tao’s: it’s careful in praising life’s divine cycle, close to Hu Tao’s personal ideals. In the game so far, this is one of the only mentors of a Creator (related to the Creator, Sustainer [of Heavenly Principles], and Destroyer in Hinduism; this triad is prominent all over the game).“There is a divine order to the world, for every mortal the end must come. Noble or evil, rich or poor, the creator shows favor to none. The cycle of life and death transcends in a boundless universe beyond. Thus we exalt the divine, and praise this rule with song.”
- [THEORY] Hu Tao’s Constellation 6, Butterfly’s Embrace, lets her cheat death. Her Character Demo lines also seem to question life’s duality (“order of duality, impermanence of fate…”) as her Vision story does. Similarly, she questions the unity between yin and yang present in Chongyun (“Positive energies and unity between yin and yang… Who knew such people existed in this world.”), another sign of confusion at what is supposed to be set order. For someone fearful of the end yet forceful in guarding the border, what could it mean when her skills let her reject the cycle? When she’s constantly hesitant? When she wonders if any of the past Directors have managed the same?
Hope you enjoyed reading! 🙂 If you want even more on Hu Tao, might I direct you to the 10,000 word monster on my profile?