Le Lotus Bleu was the most important album Hergé had created up to this point, and it remains one of the most important albums throughout the Tintin series. With this album Hergé’s graphical development reaches its first peak, turning Tintin into the Tintin we now know. Hergé had already made clear that he intended to let Tintin travel to China in Le Petit Vingtième. Fearing that he would again fail to put down a true image for the setting and the (secondary) characters in his comic, Abbot Gosset, counsellor for a group of Chinese students in Leuven (Louvain, Belgium), wrote him a letter, asking him to do some research on his subject. The Abbot directed him to a Chinese student at the Académie de Bruxelles (Academy of Arts), Chang Chong-ren. The encounter that followed would change Hergé’s life and art considerably.
From Chang, Hergé learned how to paint and draw according to Chinese techniques; it was Chang who told him about ‘la ligne claire’ (clear line), and who taught him how to paint Chinese characters. Chang told Hergé about life in China – the real China, not China as Hergé had drawn her in Tintin au pays des Soviets.
The impact Chang had on Hergé can hardly be overestimated, and it wasn’t a big surprise that the two men became friends for life. A lot of what happens in Le Lotus Bleu comes directly from this early stage in their friendship, and Chang would get a part in the album as Tintin’s first friend (Tchang). The album was so well-made, that when the album was re-edited in 1946, hardly anything was changed to the drawings or the content.
Chang had been clear enough about what really happened with the invasion of China by the Japanese. What he told Hergé was quite different from what people had been lead to believe; the sabotage of the railway between Shanghai and Nanking for instance—supposedly the work of Chinese railway robbers—had been staged by the Japanese. Since Hergé had almost word for word included Chang’s experiences in the album, the Japanese reacted with abhorrence. The Japanese Ambassador filed an official complaint with the Belgian government, demanding that the album be banned. Even the Belgian Army reacted against the publication of the album, claiming it was no longer suitable for children. Hergé more or less admitted his albums were no longer aimed solely at children. But children loved it, and the Chinese were extremely happy with this sudden and unexpected aid in their cause. Hergé even received an invitation from Madame Chang K’ai-shek (wife of the Chinese President at the time) to visit China.