Live in life, die in death. Hu Tao is a young lady who constantly walks the line between life and death. She has seen the realm of the spirits, the plague of mortality and the consequences of class and strife along Liyue’s streets, and the work of gods and the eternal. She knows her consultant is potentially an adeptus or archon, is incredibly perceptive and ingenious, and one of the richest characters we have that more closely connect the underlying themes of human mortality under a world ruled by warring divinity.
This analysis was written before the official Genshin Impact 1.3 announcement
(and as of writing, I’m unsure if she’ll definitely be in 1.3) (looks like she’s more than likely to be released on March 3rd), and before any of Hu Tao’s animations, story quests, or visibility in any official media (aside from character mentions). Additionally, it’s based on a reading of the English translation in story, ability text, and voicelines. Localizations can change characterizations heavily, so please keep this in mind with the interpretations used. Biggest thanks is to Honey Impact: Analysis is based off datamined voicelines and stories from Honey Impact. This wouldn’t be possible without Honey’s work.
To quickly preface this: the bulk of this was written before January 21st and is completely concentrated on interpretations of Hu Tao’s unconfirmed, datamined voicelines and story details. Moreso than other characters we currently have, any interpretations we have of Hu Tao are stretched and incredibly subjective. She may even change entirely upon release, especially now that we know she’s likely not going to be present in the 1.3 patch. Of official content, we only have a few “About Hu Tao…” lines and some bulletin board messages that are confirmed. Links and mirrors to texts and materials will be located in the appendix at the very bottom.
As an author’s note, I’m writing a character analysis for this Genshin Impact character because I didn’t expect to see such a profound, interesting unit in the game. Alternatively, you can read this as me projecting onto her.
Hu Tao was written with such an immense amount of love and sincerity that made me fall in love with a piece of media all over again. Hu Tao’s stories and voicelines (mostly listened to with Brianna Knickerbocker’s English acting) cemented this level of complexity that warrants further understanding, especially with many reductive takes on her (e.g. “I hate her because she wants to bury Qiqi”) that miss the mark on so many parts of her character. Some of this might be projection and extreme stretching, but that’s the beauty of being able to interpret characters––especially fun, unreleased ones. At the very least, I hope you’re able to take a look into why Hu Tao may be one of the most complex characters lore and story-wise we have coming, rivaling the likes of Childe, Zhongli, Venti, etc. –– made more interesting by how Mihoyo hasn’t really been writing their women with the same level of dimension as some of these men (though, they are archons and harbingers).
Hu Tao presents an incredible exploration into Genshin Impact’s themes of mortality with sour truths on a coming-of-age within a quickly-intensifying period of rebellion against the divine. Faced with the darkest parts of life is a young lady who stands so closely to respect the face of death, while never letting go of eccentricities and everyday acts that make our brief lives meaningful: she plants trees, writes poetry, sings (badly!) to the night, unwavering, cheeky, misunderstood more than anything else. With a laugh and so much more, this is Hu Tao.
In Liyue, many cross paths and make their living…
In Minlin, majestic stone pillars stretch unto the heavens as cradled by the archons. Forbidden to mortal steps, these pillars stand defiant against the implacable sky, flailing bridges with the broken steps telling of endless mortal aggravation. Man as man resists the earth, seeks to perch themself above the clouds, pledges allegiance to eternities that only their protectors hold.
As surrounded by fallen adepti, treacherous members of the abyss, and the grand bliss of mortal longing––you may find a mysterious lady resting on a precipice of stone, singing abandon to Celestia and the stars. All her being is dedicated to the venerable borders between life and death, or rather, existence and oblivion. The only tangible thing that tethers her then, are the junctures she transposes into poetry…
“Balance must be maintained, and yet destinies remain variable.”
MORE ABOUT HU TAO: V
Beginning of analysis
Hu Tao, titled as Fragrance in Thaw, is described in-game as the 77th Director of the Wangsheng Funeral Parlor who took over the business at a rather young age. A young adult outfitted in near-black and outfitted with plum blossoms, a symbol of the thawing winter, changing seasons, and of perseverance and hope––she carries on a sacred, centuries-old business with Consultant Zhongli and her Undertaker known as the Ferrylady. While others in Liyue seemingly write her off as an eccentric prankster (“whenever someone mentions Hu Tao, their neighbors find it extremely hard to navigate the conversation…”), underneath is a woman who happens to be simultaneously steadfast, devout, harboring the fates of the thousands in Teyvat’s richest city––a fate increasingly questioned by man and the archons themselves. Perhaps there is no individual better suited to question the purpose of our mortal presence than someone who regularly contends with death, facing the spirits and gods herself.
Message: “If any residents see a zombie child out in the middle of the night, doing stretches or gathering herbs on the mountain, please don’t be alarmed. Her name is Qiqi. She’s a student of medicine who helps out at the Bubu Pharmacy, and she’s completely harmless.”
“—Baizhu, Bubu Pharmacy”
Another Note: “Life and death are up to fate. Why delay the inevitable? Why suffer to live alongside one who should already be dead and gone? Bring Qiqi to the Wangsheng Funeral Parlor and we will provide a comprehensive, stress-free funeral service that safely and respectfully returns her to the elements. Wouldn’t that be grand?”
Reply: Please, Master Hu, no more jokes.
The talk on Hu Tao
Before Hu Tao’s story reveal, the surface level view of her was that she was a troublemaking prankster––the most hated in Liyue, at that. Presently, you can find discussion boards around Liyue that showcase her mischievous side. Despite Qiqi’s forgetfulness and general apathy, she keenly remembers her burning hatred and death wish on Hu Tao. Chongyun’s blood boils at the thought of her. The bright and excitable Xiangling turns, voice irked at her pranks. Even Zhongli with all his patience and wisdom seems to speak ill of her as he scoffs, “The young master of the funeral parlor…? Ahem, I cannot deal with that child.”
The only one who seems to be exempt from outright hate is our more detached and scorned adeptus, Xiao. “Hu Tao? Her liveliness is irritating. Fortunately, she is also humorous, so you need not worry about her growing into a boring human.” Alone, we know that a literal god-lite entity bent on massacring souls finding only her amusing of all people speaks volumes.
“Ah yes, the young lady who is now the master of the Wangsheng Funeral Parlor. If you’re asking what I think about her as a person… Well, there are all sorts of rumors about the way she works. But I think if you really want to understand someone, you need to find out what they are really after.”
Xingqiu: About Hu Tao…
Outside of her antics, the sincerest line we have on her is from Xingqiu, someone who lives a life of duality with a strong sense of justice but unstirred love for levity. He glosses over a first a direct opinion, something that could potentially be negative as well, but suggests something else. Dismissing rumors and smalltalk, he implores the Traveler to think a bit more about what Hu Tao is after.
The 77th Director of the Wangsheng Funeral Parlor, a young lady managing the parlor’s operations. Despite her position, she’s an amiable preson who puts on no airs.
Her antics are as plentiful as the stand on Yaoguang Shoal. She never ceases to shock people with her countless bizarre ideas.
Hu Tao may seem like all play and no work, spending every free moment on leisure and being widely considered a laissez-faire business owner.
We see Hu Tao as a lax, troublemaking prankster at odds with a revered position in one of Liyue’s most well-respected institutions: a goofball presiding over the sensitive extremes of death and passage––themes introduced to us as Zhongli carefully orchestrated his own false body’s parting rite. How can a total troll be Zhongli’s boss? A parlor managing rites for commonfolk (orphaned children in Liyue speak of the ferrylady in black coming for their passed mother’s body) and those for the adeptus alike that even manage to be intertwined with affairs between the Fatui (as hinted by Childe).
Hu Tao is a young lady who constantly walks the line between life and death. She has seen the realm of the spirits, the plague of mortality and the consequences of class and strife along Liyue’s streets, and the work of gods and the eternal. She knows her consultant is potentially an adeptus or archon, is incredibly perceptive and ingenious, and one of the richest characters we have that more closely connect the underlying themes of human mortality under a world ruled by warring divinity. Enkindled closely with her character are symbolisms of plum blossoms that tell of the transitoriness of life as envoy of winter and harbinger of spring; butterflies that are culturally closely interlinked with souls and the cyclic nature of life (as with their own cycle)––along with moments of transformation and resurrection; and the flames she forges itself that perfectly embodies not just warmth and radiance, but the fervor of spirituality and eternal life. With it, solemnity, gratitude, and memory of war and spirits. The plum blossom, butterfly, and flames are crucial visual elements that are most prominently showcased in her abilities.
Some bits on her 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 associated with immortality and long life.
- Also, together it literally means walnut, hence her nickname.
“Live in life, die in death. Follow your heart, do what you can.” Hu Tao’s character dwells on this seemingly simple worldview imparted to her by her grandfather, and the ways she bestows this upon others in both in her role as the Wangsheng Funeral Parlor’s Director through ceremony and rites of parting and as a poet and friend. Rejecting the rigidity of work and tradition for frivolity whenever possible, dealing with the most disturbing of human condition in favor of hope to living, and a kit that revolves around her rejecting the ends of human mortality and a Vision imparted for her own questioning of spirits for a person who shaped her deeply… there’s few that are quite as distressingly, authentically raw as Hu Tao. Death is never a simplistic thing; even for those who make peace with it for people every day, deeper questions lie beneath…
Wangsheng Funeral Parlor’s Significance
To set ample context for Hu Tao, we need to discuss her place of affiliation, the Wangsheng Funeral Parlor. Insignia carved in proudly onto Hu Tao’s hat, the institution is literally translated as the “Hall of Rebirth” and has been around for centuries, highly revered by both gods and mortals alike without regard to class (“Regardless of their social standing and level of wealth, all who depart deserve a ceremony that would do them honor. This is the Wangsheng Funeral Parlor’s client service philosophy”).
- Centuries-old institution that the Hu family runs, managing funeral rites for mortal men, adepti, and even gods in the world’s richest nation, even Morax concerns himself with its operations
- Services people without regard to class, concerning themselves with their dignity and peace through rigid rules
- Current known members are Director Hu Tao, Ferrylady, and Zhongli as a consultant
- Ties with the Liyue underground, maintaining relations with the Fatui and even dealing with assassination/hired killings
- Highly-respected but feared institution; Liyue citizens see it as scary and difficult work, especially as they perform operations into the night
Parting is given utmost reverence in Liyue: we see this with the region’s story arc and introduction of Consultancy Zhongli’s wisdom being around the painstakingly precise and measured means of granting Rex Lapis a proper rite, and with side characters such as Childish Jiang and his parents’ gravestones given utmost care by the Millelith. Death is at every end. (Unless it’s an orchestrated death, surprise.) While Teyvat seems to be in a relative time of peace compared to the bloody Archon Wars or rumored fall of Khaenri’ah that had taken place ~500 years before the game’s timeline, we still see many markers of death and suffering across these first two regions. Wangsheng deals with all of these, providing mortals with a sense of dignity and immortalizing the gods. Teyvat’s richest region unexempt from the coils of life.
On the other hand, Childe reveals a darker side to Wangsheng’s dealings. In the “An Organization Known as Wangsheng” quest line, he discusses the more sensitive nature of the Funeral Parlor that links Zhongli to the Fatui. Bringing up hired killers, Childe admits that the organization doesn’t “ostensibly” dabble in it, suggesting the darker roots to the Parlor. These deeper networks aren’t just constrained to shadier Fatui diplomacy or assassinations for mora and special clientele. When Hu Tao is questioned about the adeptus Yaksha Xiao, she attempts to dismiss it, “What would I know of the adepti? That kind of stuff is top secret!” as we know the Parlor also deals with parting rites of not only commonfolk, but archons and adepti alike, maintaining at least some attempt at confidentiality. With the care put forth in each ceremony, veiled histories stretching centuries, vast networks that span across regions for the sake of the living and the dead, and enough responsibility for a defected archon to run on random archaeological trips in the name of service to the Parlor (and the fact that you can consult the Parlor for services outside of funeral rites themselves) attests to the immensity of operating the parlor in the world’s richest city. Hu Tao is a young lady facing a heavy organization and all its secrets, even going to complain about the complexity of their business and express disappointment at how others treat the Parlor, “If you ask me, there’s nothing hard or scary about working at Wangsheng Funeral Parlor, it’s just a pain is all. It’s a shame – others see us going out to work at night and just don’t understand – and that’s what scares them. *sigh* You all just don’t understand!” – one of her only voicelines where she breaks from a restrained, light delivery to the point of exasperation. Death, despite its commonality in Liyue Harbour’s street, is still a feared and scary topic: it’s hard to find respite in it, which Wangsheng must champion and soothe people with. Again, death is always at every end, but it’s no surprise that managing and directing the entirety of the Parlor’s operations (and being raised to do so) has taken a heavy toll on Hu Tao while also misleading the friends and people she wishes to make in the city.
A short aside on reading Hu Tao’s age: this is up to interpretation (and looks like it will always be ambiguous) but we know that Hu Tao first performed a funeral rite the year she became a teenager at thirteen––including that of her grandfather’s when attaining her vision. After her grandfather’s passing, another Funeral Director took on tenure as the 76th, and it was later passed down to her after a few years (“I’m Wangsheng Funeral Parlor’s 77th Funeral Director, my grandfather was the 75th. First thing I took over was funeral affairs. Haha, surprising huh? And just like that, it’s already been a few years… Time really does go by so quickly.”) I’d presume that after training in her teen years, she took on the role, then several years passed since then. She’s close to young adult/late teen characters like Keqing, Xiangling, and Xingqiu (referred to as a ‘young man’; contrast to Childe’s ‘young adult’ description). I doubt the 76th took on a very short role, tacking on a few years before the story since Hu Tao was instituted as the 77th, putting her around age 20. Feel free to read it as whatever makes sense to you, since it’s not really relevant aside from knowing that a 76th Director took lead (and is presumably not dead) and that it’s been a few years since Hu Tao filled in her present role.
The 77th Director of the Wangsheng Funeral Parlor. She took over the business at a rather young age.
On the 75th, her Vision story, and the flame of the living
Hu Tao’s in-game description interestingly highlights her age; she’s by no means a teenager, but we can tell that the tenure of a Funeral Parlor Director is long, arduous, and perhaps a role taken on until death. We see this most prominently through Hu Tao’s relationship with her grandfather, the 75th Director. Her vision story and the birth of her abilities begin with this close relationship. Let’s begin with a recall of it, since it’s her most important story.
Fondly called “Old Hu”, Hu Tao’s grandfather himself had wished for her to conduct his grand funeral before passing to an unnamed illness. At only age thirteen, Hu Tao arranged a perfect, grand ceremony for her grandfather. Immediately after the rite, she grabbed a traveler’s bag, departing the harbour at the dead of night. Only accompanied with a few rations, water, and light sources, she treaded towards the deserted, evergray skies of Wuwang Hill where the “border” resides. Separating life and death, secrets that have been managed by Wangsheng Funeral Parlor for generations, legends say that souls of past relatives and the spirits of those with unfulfilled aspirations linger. Hu Tao believes this line to be a chance to see her grandfather once more before he departed the mortal realm forever.
It took her two whole days to reach the line at Wuwang, restless and desperate, she was unable to find her grandfather amidst the innumerable spirits. None of them resembled Old Hu. She waited for a whole day until collapsing and falling asleep of sheer exhaustion, awakened to the constant grey of night, overbearing dew, and heavy mist that fogged the borders. Surrounding her were spirits, clapping and laughing, almost mocking her: “Silly girl, why would Old Hu be here of all places? What were you thinking, looking for your relatives here?”
Hu Tao continued to wait for her grandfather, the few rations she brought with her slipping away. Despite her perseverance amidst the endless litany of souls, her grandfather didn’t appear. Instead, a little old woman came to Hu Tao, now exhausted and famished. With a smile, she directed Hu Tao: “Look at your stubbornness, you’re exactly like Old Hu. It’s a shame, but none of the Wangsheng Funeral Parlour Directors would ever linger here. You come from a family of plain speakers, so let me return the favor.. Go back. Go back to where you came from,” before she passed over the border and like all the other souls, grew infinitesimally smaller until withering away. Only then did Hu Tao have a revelation. Her grandfather was gone because he had passed over as soon as he’d arrived, seamlessly treading onto the place beyond, “to the place where he was bound.” Open and honest without any regret, there was no point in framing his departure in regretful terms. And with a smile, she trudged back home. Her grandfather’s words rung in her ears, “Live in life, die in death. Follow your heart, do what you can.”
When she arrived back at the harbour at noon, climbing over a wall and heading to her room, she found a Pyro Vision amidst what she expected to be her depleted belongings. Hu Tao had no idea when it arrived. “As one of the few living that had dared to visit the border, perhaps Hu Tao’s actions had moved some unknown god. Perhaps this then constituted a heavenly gift… the ultimate recognition of her strength.“
Live in life, die in death. Granddaughter like grandfather, Hu Tao bears these words closely, her soul clinging unto them closely. At the very core, the carefree nature she has at the surface is because she’s witnessed death so closely––this is her means of treasuring life. Hu Tao faced the spirit realm head-on, risked her well-being to wait days for her grandfather to show out of intense love, resolute and unwavering until witnessing an old woman’s spirit passing and recalling her grandfather’s words. Also worth noting is that the hat she presently wears is her grandfather’s, passed down to her and adjusted (by her herself, with plum blossoms she plucked and planted and tended herself). When questioned about the clearly-modified and unique hat, she jokes: “this hat is magical, upholding good and repelling evil, and is a bringer of peace!” –– while behind the Wangsheng insignia is a girl tenderly holding onto this physical remnant from her grandfather, deliberately keeping it pristine and clean no matter the storm. At thirteen, she was full of love and longing for a grandfather that had shaped her and ingrained in her philosophies that she lives to the fullest, only once she had known them to be fully true. At thirteen, she grasped this precious facet of life that others take decades––or their whole lives––to come to a conclusion to.
“Balance must be maintained, and yet destinies remain variable. Death has its own rules, and yet is still hard to predict. Remember –– no matter where, no matter when, no matter what the reason –– one should never poke fun at death. Only once you know and respect death can you truly understand the value of life.”
Hu Tao’s attitude towards death can’t be understood without cognizance to the kind of love and sincerity she has put forth both in her practice from a young age to the relationships she has built with her grandfather and clients. Listening to her voicelines and reading her stories, much talk of client philosophies and responsibilities come up; Hu Tao sets the standards of respect each and every client and event must be deliberately given (again, enough to cause a cultural rift in Liyue); and to Hu Tao, death is an absolute. Living in close proximity with death has given her the most genuine, pure understanding of life’s value.
While others in Liyue dream of and deal with issues of cash, class, and power, Hu Tao’s only concern is to live a life of meaning and purpose for this inevitable, unpredictable fate we all meet. She even remains apathetic at her vision (“Vision… Vision…? Oh, this thing? Yeah, whatever…”) and remains distasteful of fighting (“Fighting’s a pain for me. For me, it’s not an objective as much as a means to an end”). Her apathy towards her vision could potentially be read as a refusal of dependence towards it (lining up neatly with her attitude towards fighting), or simply a sensitivity at its origins. Losing a grandfather whose legacy you’re actively carrying on and moved you to go seek him out in the realm of spirits is a thing that sticks with you forever––it’s clear how important her grandfather was to her. She shows a more a clearcut resolve towards what’s more important to her: living a life that matters to her––one of poetry, people, connection, space. We’ll go onto her attitude towards play in the next section, but something interesting to center around is a deeper reading about why her character plays so well into Genshin Impact’s larger themes, fitting in a new perspective to the cast we have currently.
In living life without regrets, she heeds her grandfather’s words delicately as she balances the rigorous and processional in her duties at the Parlour with an uncompromising view of gaiety and whimsy every other second. These extremes are difficult to maintain in Teyvat; work is shown to be an end and complete focus for many other characters such that they have few other identity markers to go with them. Even moreso than Mondstadt, Liyue as an economic powerhouse is culturally rigorous with tradition and routine as manifested in the attitudes we see in the Qixing (Keqing, Ningguang, and even half-Qilin Ganyu must bend to this life to maintain power and order amongst the city). Death and spirituality is also a traumatizing, haunting, and sensitive thing. We see this in Chongyun who hasn’t seen a single spirit himself that Hu Tao loves pranking (“But whenever I see that cheeky smile…” from Chongyun’s About Hu Tao), and Xiao who walks amongst souls tirelessly and with clear trauma… that Hu Tao has no problem playing around with (“Fortunately, she is also humorous…” from Xiao’s About Hu Tao), stopping to maintain distance in conversation when she feels it’s not her right to disclose anything.
“It is here that heart and soul are as one like clouds. Death is a constant for all among the multitudes that sit beneath the heavens.”
Human Mortality and Divine Goals
This duality is hard. How easy it must be to fall into either extreme can’t be understated, yet Hu Tao clings so truly to these words––knowing it only to be true when she saw it in practice with the acceptance of her grandfather’s soul passing herself. These words aren’t humored blindly.
Questioning and rebelling against divinity are central plot points in Genshin Impact. We see this most prominently in Liyue when Zhongli willingly gives up his gnosis for an amicable exchange with the Tsaritsa, planning a rebellion against the gods to presumably retaliate against Celestia. The Traveler of course, as an otherworldly outlander without need for a Vision to channel powers to, and has directly been intervening and witnessing the capture of the gnoses, is another central figure. What we know is that it takes archons, beings who have divinity and otherworldly abilities themselves, to question notions of godhood and heroism in Teyvat. These beings have ruined civilizations and cast mortal men into the throes of war under the guise of saving them not without cataclysmic loss. In the grand scheme of things, the lives of NPCs like Ying’er to playable characters like Hu Tao and Keqing are no different in the lossy timeline of Teyvat––until the tides turn today.
These points are crucial to establish because we see that with Hu Tao’s intellect, she’s understood that there must be some degree to which spirituality and mortality are customs for the sake of customs. They, like anything else, could be bent if man truly dares to question them. Treading to Wuwang Hill and likely being willing to die while waiting to see her grandfather until an old spirit intervened, she knew this fully. For someone who has been studying traditions and arrangements so early on and masterfully executing them, Hu Tao’s love for her grandfather in both 1.) the desire to see him pass and 2.) the desire to ensure that there is a place for him exemplifies how she knows the cultural, historical importance of processions––but demands to see truth for herself, stepping directly into the barriers of the spirits. She’s called stubborn by the spirits in this act that moved the gods enough to bestow upon her a Pyro Vision; to see someone once more before mortal soul succumbs to nothingness as someone of her background means a questioning of the gods.
At least she came to the conclusion: her grandfather’s absence was due to him having passed over the border as soon as he’d arrived, the place where he was bound. He had been open and honest in life, leaving behind no regrets, so was it right for his departure to be framed in regretful terms?
Hu Tao’s Divine Insight
We see that Hu Tao was satiated only once she had understood this herself, with the pressing of a few kind spirits. This shouldn’t be simplified to a “positive” view on death; she’s very much godfearing and taking power over its finale with her lackadaisical attitude towards living. When she talks about Chongyun, an exorcist with “congenital positivity” that instantly wades away any evil spirits, “Positive energies and unity between yin and yang… Who knew such people existed in this world.” Hu Tao’s surprise at Chongyun’s abilities (and likely an anchoring point that makes her enjoy messing around with him) stems from confusion at such a simplistic, yin and yang-style divide that emanates from positivity. She’s used to death being this deep, complex thing––acceptance doesn’t come at a completely fatalistic view of life, it’s more of deep cognizance of one inevitability, and her enviable, erratic restraint and resistance against all expectations otherwise. Against divinity, this is her absolution: an acceptance of the cursory lives of men against the realms of eternity, and a source of deference to human mortality (“Death is a constant for all among the multitudes that sit beneath the heavens“, Feelings About Ascension: Conclusion). Note the sit beneath the heavens line. Even as she dwells between archons, adepti, and man… her end state to her, is the only constant––but the variable of living and all its enigmatic toils is hers, and hers alone. The next thing she offers aside from her own personal ultimatum is excellence, responsibility, and loyalty towards every other mortal man in Liyue and beyond (“We are entrusted by the people to loyally see out their wishes.”); she lives these words not solely for herself, but perhaps in broad, open confidence so that everyone else in Liyue can share it, too…
Genshin Impact heavily draws from themes of Gnosticism, a ‘heretical’ movement of the early Christian Church. Within Gnosticism, it’s believed that esoteric knowledge (where gnosis is the Greek noun for “knowledge” or “awareness“) that contains insight towards humanity’s real nature is the key to unlocking divinity, providing a “divine spark within humanity from the constraints of earthly existence.” The basic tenet of Gnosticism is to unlock the gnosis, a self-awareness intuitively attained yet obscured for man to intricately understand “who they were, how they came to be here, where they came from, and how they could return” that will then liberate man –– the most essential part of salvation. Divinity is locked within human beings, and this divinity is only returned to higher realms when this knowledge of the divine is obtained.
For an archon who once bore his own Gnosis and saw Teyvat for thousands of centuries to closely concern himself with Wangsheng Funeral Parlor and its practices solely for tradition and the adepti’s sake makes sense, but what if Morax were looking more closely since all the Parlor Directors are the humans with the closest answers about divinity and the gods? What insights on the divine does Hu Tao bear, and what more will she learn as she takes on her role for the decades to come? What makes her grandfather’s spirit worthy of passing over to the cosmos immediately and other spirits not?
“We are entrusted by the people to loyally see out their wishes. Wangsheng Funeral Parlour is special, in that it carries a dual responsibility, to those both of this realm, and the next.”
Something to Share
While Hu Tao loves leisure and time with her friends, it’s also to read into her clear fear of irritating people to a degree––showing a sense of maturity and restrain like how Venti approaches his pranks. While teasingly recalling how Xinagling gets easily scared, she talks about how she “gotta keep it in check though, in case Guoba ends up toasting me instead,” or the Qixing’s uptightness drawing her to mess with them while pondering on whether Keqing would knock (bonk!) her on the head with a sword. Like how it’s reductive to put her off as a prankster, it’s moreso incorrect to think that she has no restraint. After all, wading through the duality of life and death is exhausting: she carries the edge of death nearly every day, putting emphasis on “balance”, almost as if desperately clinging onto the little moments she has with herself and with friends, commonly ending up misunderstood despite bearing genuine intentions. If Hu Tao had long been raised with family in the Funeral Parlour business and performed rites as soon as she hit her teenage years, a lifelong devotion to mastering the procession of your own future funeral would draw anyone to sacrilege; while she seems content with her grandfather’s conclusion, it feels like her attitude towards passing exists in the god-fearing sense. That is, there’s a degree to which this innocence and bizarre curiosities are driven by fear. Of all adepti and men, who can stand completely emotionless at the thought of incoming oblivion? Her humanity is a treasure and shrewdness unquestionable; her complexity near-puzzling to others of the harbour.
Hu Tao’s relationship with death is refreshingly human, living at its mortal extremes. When this relationship is situated with the love she has for her grandfather, we see her veneration for the dead but her physical longing for any affects (her hat that she’s excessively overprotective of), something far from unfamiliar from how we relate to death in-person… that also hints of a skewed relationship against divinity and normal ideas of who deserves mortality and who doesn’t. Remember–-she balances these personal contentions and feelings about death with the heavy weight of running an organization with deep networks across Teyvat and a storied history––while even lifting up its reputation and bringing it to further market success. Her genuine nature to offset the inevitability of death with a general playfulness and easygoing attitude – with an ability to “switch off” or just constantly keep up with the esteemed presentation of the Parlour shows a degree of maturity present in few others.
Youth and humanity
We get fun lines of Hu Tao’s unorthodox upbringing, showing that her zany kind of attitude has forever been within her. Just as how she’s misunderstood as a prankster, it seems that the public generally frown at her fun side –– which is a shame, since she’s sort of a genius.
- As a three-year-old, she would read through volumes of classic texts while doing handstands. (No wonder she’s great friends with Xingqiu.)
- At six, she would cut classes and fall asleep in coffins.
- When she was eight, she started living in the parlor and learning the etiquette of funeral ceremonies.
- And at thirteen, she conducted the grand ceremony for her grandfather, the 75th.
- Hu Tao can play a four-player card game accompanied by no one for hours on end.
- Traveling merchants taking respite around the Huaguang Stone Forest can spot a mysterious girl keeping herself amused in solitude.
- Hu Tao’s shadow can be seen in the moonlit docks or at the highest, most precarious viewpoints in the mountains where she’s likely to take in the scenery…
- …and shape her thoughts into beautiful poetry. Aside from leading the only and most respected Funeral Parlour at a young age while being the talk of Liyue Harbour, she’s even more known as a poet –– with no end to her skills.
- Potentially has heart-to-heart talks with Statues of the Seven.
- Hu Tao frequently visited and petted two life-like stone lion statues outside the Ministry of Civil Affairs building, speaking to them as if they were living without a care in front of crowds. (She named them Whiskers and Mittens. She doesn’t give a fuck about what other people think of her––even if they know her as the Funeral Parlor Director.)
- Wears her grandfather’s hat as passed down unto her, spending an entire day and night to modify it from two sizes up to fit her.
- Planted and grew a plum tree herself, with a routine for the blossoms that adorn her hat: “pluck and air-dry, then paint, lacquer, and outline carefully before sun-drying for three days”
- Proclaimed herself as the “versemonger of the darkest alleys” and crafted “Hilitune” – a poem popular across all of Liyue.
- Has two unpublished poetry anthologies waiting called “Fiddlesticks” and “Of Common Lives”
These hints from her story quest show that not only is Hu Tao prodigious, a genius, and genuinely freedom-seeking and joyous; she’s a polymath––literally. Her life’s purpose of respecting death through resistance pervades, so much that she seems “all play and no work” despite being ridiculously capable and masterful at her professional craft. From reading volumes at age three to writing poems that stretch across all of Liyue, she proves that not only is she known for her unending dwellings with death as the Funeral Parlour lead––she’s made a name for herself on the lips of the living. Despite calling herself “versemonger of the darkest alleys” suggesting this clinging onto the grim, her poetry reaches the singsong hymn of children (how dark can an anthology called Fiddlesticks be?); while Hu Tao contends with these lines, it’s clear that she faces no problems walking between them.
Hu Tao needs deeper understanding, above all else. Liyue’s citizens don’t get her at all, afraid of how the undertaker’s master can be so frivolous––while reading her poetry in its gaiety and quirkiness. She’s long been immersed in a life philosophy that others just can’t grasp, is ridiculously humble and just as normal in idolizing others (“She doesn’t know me, but that’s cool, me just knowing about her is enough. Aw man… I really do wanna make friends with her.” About Beidou). At the same time, she’s ridiculously endearing. Ministry guards watching her play with inanimate stone lions waited days for her to return, asking her about her disappearance. Xingqiu respects her, and Chongyun umpires rap battle sessions in a strange love-hate friendship. The most hated person in Liyue is filling it with life: in both her presence, poems, and the peace she brings to the living.
As with the character quotes, Xingqiu knows that just like Hu Tao with his temporary freedom from the grasp of the Feiyun Commerce Guild–levity, play, and happiness mean everything. That life is purposeless if it’s only driven for a single purpose; working hard doesn’t necessitate blind seriousness that other characters like those in the Qixing, or Jean and Rosaria seem to bear. Hu Tao literally nopes the moment her duty is done to chase the more meaningful things in life.
One of the most charming aspects about Hu Tao and Xingqiu (who is clearly one of the only characters that fully grasps her openly, if just by virtue of sharing similar struggles and responsibilities––though Hu Tao is truly binded to hers) is their poetry rap battles. Her Character Story V dictates that the two met, hit it off immediately, and exchanged pointers and poetry in the halls of Wangsheng Funeral Parlour: Xingqiu’s tradboy artistry against Hu Tao’s whimsical, strange, and marvelous verse; a bizarre, chaotic rhythm would ensue as they sparred––dragging Chongyun in as umpire to see two absolute high birth nerds, thought leaders, and geniuses fill the streets with laughter. This is her purpose, realized. Beyond all, she’s a young adult trying to not take things too seriously and enjoy the fleeting life of most in Liyue, one she knows too well. Live in life.
While Hu Tao’s eccentricities are absolutely endearing, we see that they continue to impose an always-upended sense of doubt in her from other folks in Teyvat.
Even the Parlour’s undertakers and consultants had anticipated Hu Tao to bring in more of the unsuitably kind of gregariousness to rites, “anticipating her debut with their stomachs in knots as if they were suspended over the peaks of Jueyun Karst.” Instead, Hu Tao continues to maintain this impossible balance, flipping her personality like a switch. With her genius, she memorizes the parlour’s rites and rules, respects its formalisms, educates the current generation of undertakers with lectures from consultants like Zhongli (unafraid of playing around and teasing him), and even prodding to grow her business –– even if it’s a strange market to hope for business in. “Ever since Hu Tao took over, the parlor’s operations have been so solid and reliable, with ceremonies conducted so tactfully that quite a few superstitious people in Liyue have changed their attitudes towards funerals.”
On Hu Tao’s relationship with Qiqi (Character Story IV)
Addressing her relationship with Qiqi and reframing one of her biggest scandals is pretty simple: THE ASSHOLE IS BAIZHU. He’s long been manipulating Qiqi for so fucking long (see Qiqi’s stories and voicelines, where she mentions his lack of sincerity towards her, though she appreciates anyone’s concern). Hu Tao’s About Baizhu line shows that she’s pretty distrusting of him. She merely wants Qiqi to be free from suffering, the worst fate she knows of that she has long seen over and over, and out of respect for the natural order of death.
In her Character Story, we know that Hu Tao accepted her incorrect judgment over Qiqi’s fate after acknowledging Qiqi’s will to live was so strong (a fact that might be difficult for her to grasp, as she struggles with maintaining that one’s value and time in life can perhaps even overcome natural order). Later on, she pampers Qiqi and treats her like a friend. Unfortunately, Qiqi only remembers the complicated instances where Hu Tao would joke about burying here, and because she has selective memory…
What do these actions tell us about Hu Tao?
- That Hu Tao wishing to bury Qiqi is entirely out of concern and care. To Hu Tao, death is a respite and the only place of eternal peace –– and that Qiqi deserved this instead of suffering in a mortal realm that she did not belong in.
- That Hu Tao’s resentment of Baizhu (and thusly, her confident mockery of him on bulletin boards around the city) likely comes from witnessing his abuse and exploitation of Qiqi; she’s a prankster asshole only when necessitated, and is unafraid to stand up
- She’s incredibly respectful of death and its natural orders, but also willing to bend it completely –– just as she did with her grandfather in traveling to Wuwang and waltzing with spirits to find him. Hu Tao’s love and concern for others manifests in her facing against the natural orders to which she’s bound to serve. This is the second instance of it we see, especially now that she “pampers” Qiqi.
- Hu Tao has solid kidnapping skills (recall that Qiqi has adeptus powers within her and can literally go berserk)
- Before kidnapping Qiqi, Hu Tao would go through “much deliberation” such as calculating the most auspicious time for a ceremony, preparing for cremation, and finding a tomb to bury Qiqi in somewhere in the outskirts of the city. How thoughtful!
- Was perceptive enough to dig into Qiqi’s history and discover the series of events that led to her preservation and resurrection as a zombie, despite these events potentially happening hundreds of years ago (Qiqi was encased in amber and these fights took place in wars looong ago)
- Her voiceline on Qiqi is just her messing around. (“Have you seen Qiqi? Tell me where she is, quickly. I need to go seal her away, hee-hee!”)
While Qiqi’s hatred of Hu Tao is likely going to stick around, we know that none of these came from ill intentions and how remorseful and apologetic Hu Tao is. Not that Hu Tao’s well-executed kidnapping is excusable by any means, it was enough to be ingrained in the forgetful Qiqi –– which shows how traumatizing these experiences were for her; this wasn’t also the best approach to defend Qiqi from Baizhu who still continues to exploit the zombie every single day. While there’s a lot of question with two of Liyue’s biggest institutions warring with one another, it’s safe to say that Hu Tao and the adeptus that watch onto Qiqi face the same dilemmas when dealing with her; she wanted to live, but at what cost did this mean when it was more likely that her greatest will was to see her family? Her fear of death was so strong that it acted as the moment where the Cryo Archon and adepti gave her another chance at life, but there lies a predicament in that her current existence is pretty much exploitation and suffering; a misunderstanding of divinity and godhood that they’re detached from that only mortals like Hu Tao can contend with and grasp.
We do know, however, that the true enemy is Baizhu. Fuck him fr fr
Let’s move onto the symbolism in her two abilities that we have no visuals of at all yet! (Her attack is simply the Wangsheng Funeral Parlor’s style passed down, so we’ll skip that.)
Recall the recurring motifs around her: butterflies, plum blossoms, wispy ghosts and spirits. To summarize, Hu Tao’s skills reveal a bit more about her treatment towards death and the strength she derives from walking its boundaries, plus further validates the lingering fear and anxieties she nurses when passage after death is lead astray. “The more anxious she feels, the stronger the flame.“
It’s long been rumored that vision holders tend to carry similar traits, where it’s theorized that the archon of each region bestows visions across each region. Like other Pyro holders and with the context we have on her story, it’s clear that Hu Tao’s Vision manifested due to a persevering, deep volition, passion, and love for her the lines drawn between life and death from both her practice and her encounter at thirteen that changed her. Note also that Hu Tao is pretty dismissive about her vision, “Vision… Vision…? Oh, this thing? Yeah, whatever…“, which isn’t entirely new (see Ningguang and Albedo) and sees fighting as a mere “means to an end”.
E: Guide to Afterlife
“Only an unwavering flame can cleanse the impurities of this world.”
“Hu Tao’s Secret Spear technique is based on several rules, the first of which is: ‘The spear opens the path to the afterlife, and the butterflies bridge this world and the next.'”
Aside from desperate wishes a her E turning her spear into a scythe, her elemental skill centers around two effects. In “Guide to the Afterlife”, Hu Tao takes on the role of a harbinger between the mortal and spiritual realm. She enters the ‘Paramita Papilio’ state after sacrificing her HP, converts her damage into Pyro––taking on the role of a butterfly. Celtic symbolism is rife around Teyvat, mostly in the celtic Triquetra/Trinity Knot. In Celtic symbolism, butterflies similarly represent the soul: myths revolve around how butterflies swoop the dead, consume their slots, and fly into the skies with them, not just a standard act of passage. Instead, this “consumption” of souls is an offering of immortality. Mortals like Hu Tao don’t have the nature of eternal life present in adepti or archons, so the closest thing is to offer one’s soul for a chance of rebirth in a life that was close to extinguishing. It’s a symbol of transformation for the ephemeral man, and a nod towards the idea of rebirth. While a life must be treasured, we know very well that not all bear the privilege to do so. Instead, there is always a chance at rebirth and renewal in another lifetime. Self-sacrificial and all, we can read this as Hu Tao offering an entire part of her life and being to help bridge the path between the mortal world and the next––servicing it in very literal abandonment of her chance at a regular youth.
Charged attacks in the Paramita Papilio state apply an effect called ‘Blood Blossom‘ to enemies, afflicting Pyro Damage every few ticks. We can link this the Plum Blossom, China’s National Flower also known as meihua, that is “a symbol for resilience and perseverance in the face of adversity, because plum blossoms often bloom most vibrantly even amidst the harsh winter snow.” In China’s cultural context, the plum blossom represents both society and constitution, adversity and faith of the people’s spirit, the Five Races Under One Union, and its branches the noble virtues of “originating and penetrating, advantageous and firm”. From her stories, we also know that Hu Tao planted a plum blossom tree and preserves the blossoms she wears on her hat herself. All in all, these further insinuate the transitoriness of life that she beholds, but also the unadultered faith required to keep up with her line of work. How much of it can she really bear?
Q: Spirit Soother
“Commands a blazing spirit to attack, dealing Pyro DMG in a large AoE. If Hu Tao’s HP is below or equal to 50% when the enemy is hit, both the DMG and HP Regeneration are increased. Supernatural activity by those who have already left this world is a source of great anxiety for the Wangsheng Funeral Parlour. In such cases, cremation always lets Hu Tao find peace of mind. The more anxious she feels, the stronger the flame.“
The most interesting line in Hu Tao’s ultimate ability is the last––”The more anxious she feels, the stronger the flame.” In her stories, we’ve explored that positivity and apathy are far from sufficient explanations towards her dealings with death. We see instead that death and its processions are means that Hu Tao venerates not only for tradition and her clientele, but because they quell the realities of the spirit world she deals with. Hu Tao is not exempt from spirits (unlike Chongyun, who can’t face them at all), she’s refreshingly, heartbreakingly human and bears far more than she deserves. We also know that her line of work isn’t something she does solely for the sake of tradition and upholding her role; there’s a deep-rooted sincerity and veneration she has for the practice (furthered by her inquiry of it), so these fears aren’t sourced from resentment from the position. Finding genuine peace and comfort in the diverse array of funeral rites the Parlor abides by, particularly in cremation, we see how her love and dealings with death are cultivated. These rituals become a source of peace and meaning for her just as they are cathartic to the bereaved families. Fostering and mastering these practices for herself and others then, is her act of service to Liyue.
We can talk a bit about cremation here. Funeral homes smell astringent and heavy, and will be littered with hundreds upon hundreds of flowers moving through while preparatory rooms will have the distinctive smell of wood-burning, . While flowers soothe the grieving, cremation itself gives peace to people like Hu Tao who take on the role of the intermediary, giving others the calm to focus on mourning.
The Stars: Hu Tao’s Constellations
Teyvat and the regions beyond are ruled by the presence and imagery of the celestials and stars (where GI’s heaven and realm of the archons Celestia literally hovers over the skies of Liyue and Mondstadt). Constellations dictate a supposed progression and rekindling of power as ascensions do. Character constellations can be read as pieces to each unit’s story.
Hu Tao’s constellation is “Papilio Charontis”, Papilio meaning butterfly and Charontis likely a reference to the extinct Prodryas persephone butterfly (Jupitellia charon) with name connected to the underworld in Greek mythology –– particularly the Charon, a psychopomp (creatures that escort newly deceased souls from Earth to the afterlife) acting as ferrymen of Hades. (Note that we know of the Parlor’s Ferrylady who hangs around at night, who even tells the player to “Go, lost soul. Into the light.”) Extending this, Charon means “of keen gaze”, a euphemism for death.
- Crimson Bouquet
Thematic relations to her plum blossoms. Note that in China (and presumably in Liyue), the color red/crimson is considered to be happy and unappropriate for death. Hu Tao bears red plum blossoms as a sign of hope and happiness – less so as an offering – and in effect, subverting her expected role.
- Ominous Rainfall
Simple draw at the supernatural and mysterious that’s dealt with. When it rains, Hu Tao responds with a sigh: “What a bummer…“
- Lingering Carmine
Carmine is a deeper and darker-tinted red pigment (as with crimson), matching the plum blossoms that Hu Tao wears. Carmine is often used as a descriptor for dried blood, furthering the complexities imbued in the color red with its representation of human condition, passion, death, and being.
- Garden of Eternal Rest
Move that boosts allies’ CRIT rate, excluding Hu Tao. Suggests that her affinity with plum blossoms is part of her adoration of life, and honoring for those who have departed. Men leave flowers at graves as tradition, believing
- Floral Incense
Linked to the performing of cremation. Rules around death are of utmost importance, including the burning of incense to honor the deceased. In particular, cremation involves a casket placed on a stack of bricks where family members toss lit candles, incense, and wood to initiate the burning themselves. Ashes are later gathered.
- Butterfly’s Embrace
Essentially, Hu Tao cheats death, the constellation saving her from lethal strikes. What does it mean when the butterfly, a symbol of fleeting life, rejects its role of consuming the soul and instead holds on to her –– making her embrace the state of living?
These constellations give us a bit more insight to the symbols and practices that Hu Tao is surrounding with. It’s no surprise that as a Funeral Master, these items return again and again––subverted by Hu Tao in the most interesting of ways. A color of dried blood turned into a gesture towards hope, eternity, and happiness. The butterfly’s embrace of death turned into a final act of resistance. There is far more to her than she lets on, affirming her precocious philosophies and attitude.
Staff of Homa
Hu Tao’s weapon is made for her, and its lore confirms its connections to the Hu family, image of flame, butterflies, ash, and cremation through rites. Here’s a link to its full story, it’s pretty straightforward.
- Affirms the role of Hu Tao (and other Parlor Directors) in bringing peace and purifying even corrupted corpses of the gods
- Signifies the role of death in Teyvat as release and peace, upholding the importance of Wangsheng’s role
- …and the surefire fate too, that Hu Tao bears, turning into a lovely butterfly.
- Emphasizes that Hu Tao’s spirit is a result of centuries of practice and tradition, and that the firmest reminders of her role come when she herself is facing darkness.
What’s Hu Tao really after?
- Meaning in both life and death: peace for men and gods, and a deep-rooted belief that toeing these boundaries and resisting a death she seemingly should be at peace with brings more for mankind
- Acting as psychopomp not only in her traditional role of carrying people to this realm and the next, but even moreso to society in her role as poet, creator, friend…
- Understanding from people, even if it might ever only come in her verse and processions
- Changing society’s view on death, even if she’s wholly fearful of it herself and if it comes at her expense
- Purpose, abundance, and selflessness in our cursory lives before the nothingness of the end.
- Insight on divinity that can actually be maintained by every mortal man once the right knowledge is obtained, passed down by work in the Wangsheng Funeral Parlor. With all of Teyvat’s nods to Gnosticism, it’s not a stretch to believe that Hu Tao is very close to understanding the heaven’s meanings…
Fragrance in Thaw
The most a mortal can do in the realm of archons and adepti: life with meaning, gesture, and little rebellions against the realm of gods through the act of rebirth and sheer happiness. To Hu Tao, perhaps playfulness and joy is a radical act in a broken, wartorn world where mortal lives are short and are slowly making their way to ruling and overtaking godly powers and hierarchies that have long succumbed them to war. Hu Tao lives in an age of rebellion that we’ll be closely following as the traveler marches forward––and is the perfect Director to renounce all the negatives of tradition even at the cost of her own image. If for the sake of people’s peace, joy, and chance at rebirth––she takes it, tired of fighting. If to question the gods and spirits, she walks these lines. If only to spend every second outside of her duties for others in the creation of verse, song, and play for the rest of Liyue to enjoy in their lives, she creates. If only to grant peace for the living as ceremonies grant more for the bereaved than they do for the dead, she is one with mortal men in her role and all the moments she spends out of funeral work. She’s barely out of her teenage years, yet spends a life of giving out of genuine belief and love.
Fragrance in Thaw. Hu Tao is a ridiculously complex, fascinating character who everyday disavows death and preservation in the most human ways–while simultaneously respecting customs and bridging life-and-death for mortal men and gods alike. Death is an inevitable thing for those beneath the heavens (for now), but it’s also incredibly complex, sensitive, and in the world of Teyvat––a mystery to mortals that she is navigating. She offers comfort to others, internalizing a covenant that frequently goes awry with how her personality is constantly at odds with Liyue, yet never ceases.
It’s no surprise that Hu Tao can be easily written off as a prankster, it’s an immediate deflection when we think about harsher topics like death. How unsettling must it be to see a young lady adorned with plum blossoms on her head in complete solitude, adherent to routine and ritual in the dead of the harbour’s night––escaping to gallant off and stare at the moon for verse.
While Hu Tao’s importance to the Traveler’s story still has much to be found out over, we learn from her death’s hegemony in Teyvat and one of the most intricate, collectivist yet simultaneously self-preservationist attitudes towards a finality that mortal men may be on the way to overcoming. Be it in risking her own life to watch her grandfather pass over in an act of defiance towards custom, a pious (be it skepticism required) fervor towards the enormity of death for men and gods, carrying on the burden of entire regions’ death rites at a young age, a final constellation that reveals her inner desire to save a present soul than carry on, an awkward kind of prankster attitude that has turned people against her––while still casually confident in strides of crowds that talk shit about her nonstop, and a sheer love for bridging understanding and making both the passing and living of life beautiful… she acts.
If anything, only when fragrance turns into a tangible veneer of ash does she rest; and so that may be her own end.
Thank you for reading this is so long. If you have more points to make or want to talk about Hu Tao, please talk to me. Chia#1840 on Discord, /u/narutothemedsobbing on Reddit
- February 3: New cover image, note on analysis being based off English localization, slight formatting fixes; adjusted name meaning including peach as symbolism for immortality/long life
- January 26: Points on Gnosticism and Zhongli regarding Hu Tao’s divine insight; first analysis of the Staff of Homa story
- January 25: First published
- One of my favorite lore writers is /u/Ellie_0_o. Her brilliant in-depth analysis on Childe moved me to write this (hello, we need more Genshin Character analysis essays please!) and inspired structuring this more like a narrative instead of bullet point takes into each of her stories that I was originally going to do.
- This interpretation of Hu Tao’s lore through her constellations by Shirosity#1111 and others on the Wangsheng Funeral Parlor Discord
- My friends accept me even if I’m Hu Tao kinnie