Falling on the 5th day of the 5th month according to Chinese lunar calendar, the Dragon Boat Festival, also known as Duanwu Festival, is one of great significance. It has been held annually for more than 2,000 years and is notable for its educational influence. The festival commemorates the patriotic poet Qu Yuan (340-278 BC), and also acts as a chance for Chinese people to build their bodies and dispel diseases. Many legends circulate around the festival but the most popular is the legend of Qu Yuan.
Legend of Qu Yuan
As a minister in the State of Chu - one of the seven warring states before Qin (221BC - 206BC) in China's first feudal dynasty - Qu Yuan supported the decision to fight against the powerful State of Qin (one of the seven states during the Warring States Period (476 BC - 221 BC)) together with the State of Qi (ibid). However he was slandered by the aristocrat Zi Lan and was subsequently exiled by the King. In order to show his love and passion for his country, he wrote many enduring poems such as Li Sao (The Lament), Tian Wen (Asking Questions to the Heaven) and Jiu Ge (Nine Songs) and is therefore regarded as a famous poet in China's history. In 278 BC, after finishing his last masterpiece - Huai Sha (Embracing the Sand), he drowned himself in the river rather than see his country occupied and conquered by the State of Qin.
On hearing of Qu Yuan's death, all the local people nearby were in great distress. Fishermen searched for his body by sailing their boats down the river and other people threw food such as eggs and food like zongzi into the river to attract fish and other animals from destroying Qu Yuan's body. Later, many people imitated these acts to show their respect for this great patriotic poet and this practice continues today.
Because Qu Yuan died on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, people decided to commemorate him on that day every year. Dragon boat racing and eating zongzi have become the central customs of the festival. For two thousand years, Qu Yuan's patriotic spirit has influenced numerous people and he remains revered by the people from all over the world.
Many traditional customs and activities are held on the specified day by people in China and even by some people in neighbouring countries. Among these customs are dragon boat racing, eating zongzi, wearing a perfume pouch, tying five-colour silk thread and hanging mugwort leaves and calamus
Dragon Boat Racing:
Dragon boats are thus named because the fore and stern of the boat is in a shape of traditional Chinese dragon. A team of people works the oars in a bid to reach the destination before the other teams. One team member sits at the front of the boat beating a drum in order to maintain morale and ensure that the rowers keep in time with one another. Legend holds that the race originates from the idea of the people who rowed their boats to save Qu yuan after he drowned himself in the river. It is said that the winning team will bring harvest and happy life to the people of their village.
Now, some of ethnic minorities in China also hold dragon boat races like Miao, and Dai. Japan, Vietnam, and Britain regard it as an important game as well. In the year of 1980, it was listed in the state sports competition program held every year.
Eating Zongzi (pyramid-shaped glutinous rice wrapped in reed or bamboo leaves):
Most Chinese festivals include the eating of a particular food among their customs and the Dragon Boat Festival is no exception. Zongzi is the special food eaten here. Made with sticky rice, it has different shapes and various fillings. In the north part of the country, people favor the jujube as filling, while the south sweetened bean paste, fresh meat, or egg yolk. Many families make zongzi by themselves. When making it, soaking the glutinous rice, washing the reed or bamboo leaves and wrapping zongzi with leaves are the most important parts. Today, this custom prevails in China and other countries.
Wearing a Perfume Pouch and Tying Five-colour Silk Thread:
According to folklore, wearing the perfume pouch protects children from evil. So on this day, children decorate their clothes with diversely fragranced pouches. It is a kind of small pouch made of the colourful silk cloth stringed with five-color silk thread.
Hanging Mugwort Leaves and Calamus
The festival is held during summer when all kinds of diseases can prevail, so people clean their houses and put mugwort leaves and calamus on the top of the doors to discourage disease. It is said that the stem and the leaves of these plants discharge a special aroma which can dispel the mosquitoes, flies and purify the air, so this custom is an understandably popular one.The festival is held during summer when all kinds of diseases can prevail, so people clean their houses and put mugwort leaves and calamus on the top of the doors to discourage disease. It is said that the stem and the leaves of these plants discharge a special aroma which can dispel the mosquitoes, flies and purify the air, so this custom is an understandably popular one.
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