An Exhilarating Festival Loaded with Good Desires
Publication time：2020-06-24 23:12:56
Celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month by the lunar calendar, people of several ethnic groups throughout China, especially in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River, observe the Dragon Boat Festival, also known as the Duanwu Festival. Activities vary from region to region, but they usually share several features. It’s hard to imagine that the vibrancy of today’s colourful festivities was originated from a tragedy that occurred 2,000 years ago.
The Legend behind the fierce-looking racing and pounding drums
With a history of over 2,000 years, Dragon Boat Festival used to act as a chance for Chinese people to dispel diseases and viruses. However, the legend best known in modern China holds that the festival commemorates the death of Qu Yuan (340 BC-278 BC) in the Warring States Period (475 BC-221 BC).
Qu was a minister of the State of Chu (1042 BC-223 BC), one of the seven warring states situated in present-day Hunan and Hubei, China. He was upright, loyal and highly esteemed for his wise counsel that brought peace and prosperity to the state. However, when the king decided to ally with Qin, an increasingly powerful state, Qu opposed the alliance. Besides, Qu Yuan’s wisdom and intellectual ways antagonized other court officials, thus they accused him of false charges of conspiracy and Qu was exiled by the king.
During his exile, Qu Yuan wrote a great deal of enduring poems to express his anger and sorrow towards his sovereign and people, such as Li Sao (The Lament), Tian Wen (Asking Questions to the Heaven) and Jiu Ge (Nine Songs), and was therefore regarded as a famous poet in China's history. Twenty-eight years later, Qin captured Ying, the capital of Chu. In despair, in 278 BC, after finishing his last masterpiece, Huai Sha (Embracing the Sand), he attached a heavy stone to his chest and jumped into the Miluo River at his age of 61. Upon hearing the news of this tragic attempt, all the local people nearby were in great distress. Fishermen searched for his body by sailing their boats down the river. When his body could not be found, they turned to beat drums, splash water with their paddles and throw the rice dumplings into the water, serving as both an offering to Qu Yuan’s spirit, and a means to keep the fish and evil spirits away from his body. This was said to be the origin of dragon boat racing and zongzi (traditional Chinese rice-pudding). Later, many people imitated these acts to show their respect for this great patriotic poet. Because Qu Yuan died on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, people decided to commemorate him on that day every year. However, it wasn’t until 2008 that the Dragon Boat Festival was recognized as a traditional and statutory public holiday in China.
Dragon boats are thus named because the fore and stern of the boat are in the shape of a traditional Chinese dragon. Dragon boat racing naturally reflects a reverence for the dragon and the active energy associated with it. A team of people works the oars in a bid to reach the destination before the other teams while a member sits at the front and beats a drum to maintain morale and ensure the rowers keep pace. It is said that the winning team will bring harvest and a happy life to their villages.
Driving evil spirits and diseases away
Most Chinese festivals are observed by eating a particular food as a custom, and the Dragon Boat Festival is no exception. A notable part of celebrating this festival is making and eating zongzi with family members and friends. At first, the locals decided to make zongzi in hopes of keeping the fish and evil spirits away from Qu Yuan’s body. Another reason maybe is that zongzi is considered as a symbol of luck, as the pronunciation of “Zong” is very similar to the pronunciation of “Zhong” in Chinese, meaning winning a prize. When making zongzi, soaking the glutinous rice, washing the reed or bamboo leaves and wrapping zongzi with leaves are the most important parts. Made with sticky rice and wrapped in leaves of reed, lotus or banana, it has different shapes and various fillings in different areas of China. The leaves also give a special aroma and flavor to the sticky rice and fillings. Choices of fillings vary depending on regions. In the north part of China, people prefer the jujube as filling, while people in the south favor sweetened bean paste, fresh meat or chestnut.
In the past, people believed that natural disasters and illnesses are common in the fifth lunar month. Therefore, during the Dragon Boat Festival, people try many ways to get rid of diseases and bad luck. For example, cleaning yards, hanging acorus and artemisia leaves on doors and windows to repel insects, flies, fleas and moths from the house, and drinking realgar wine to stay healthy are important rituals for people. Children usually hung incense bags on their necks to avoid catching contagious diseases and to keep evil spirits away. Incense bags were made from a variety of sewn bags and included the powders of acorus, artemisia, realgar and other fragrant items. For some, acorus was a solemn matter of superstition. Since the shape of acorus likes a sword and with the strong smell of the garlic, it was believed that it could remove the evil spirits. Actually, acorus has an anti-poison function and can prevent epidemics. Women often turned the glossy, evergreen and lush acorus leaves into floral hoops to wear. People also made paper cuttings of creatures and wrapped these around the wrists of their children. Also on this day, some climbed mountains, searching for Chinese medicines.
All of these activities and games were regarded by the ancients and some today as effective in preventing diseases or evils while promoting health and well-being.
1.Countries: This festival is also unofficially observed in Singapore and Malaysia. In Indonesia, the festival is known as Peh Cun, which was derived from Hokkien. In Korea, the holiday is called Dano. In addition, it is a significantly traditional holiday in Korean Culture.
2.Customs: Dragon boat racing, eating zongzi, drinking realgar wine, hanging acorus and artemisia leaves on doors and windows, etc.
Source: China-ASEAN Panorama