The Dragon Boat Festival is one of the most conventional festivals in China and has been celebrated for thousands of years. But what lies behind the festival’s long history?
A legend has said that Dragon Boat Festival is for in memory of Qu Yuan, the greatest poet in ancient China. Qu Yuan’s life is documented in Shiji(史记), or Records of the Grand Historian, which was written from 109 to 91 BC. A highly intellectual and respected royal servant, Qu was a loyal confidante of the king. However, he was continually slandered by politicians hoping to blacken his name in the court and ultimately he was exiled by the king. Without Qu’s guidance however the state was soon invaded by a neighboring dynasty. Upon hearing this news, Qu Yuan threw himself into the Miluo River.
Legend has it that people living near the river used dragon boats to try to search for and rescue his body, albeit unsuccessfully. They also threw rice balls into the water to ensure the fish didn’t eat him. Eating wrapped up pieces of sticky rice is a tradition that has been kept alive today in the form of Zongzi. Coupled with the dragon boat races around the country the day of Qu Yuan’s suicide has become the Duanwu Festival.
The name Duanwu literally means the fifth day of the fifth month in the lunar calendar. According to Chinese myths, this is an ominous day in the ominous month when pestilence and poisonous creatures outbreak actively. It could decide people’s life and death. The myth may also explain why people assumed that distinguished people had died on that day.