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Chinese Culture: Dragon Boat Festival
Dragon Boat Festival is called Duan Wu Jie in Chinese. Jie means festival. The festival is celebrated on the 5th of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar. |
The most popular theory of the origin of the festival is that it was derived from the activities of commemorating a great patriot poet, Qu Yuan. The story about Qu Yuan has been deeply rooted in Chinese culture and this festival, so it is definitely a very important factor for the origin of the festival.
But since some of the well-known traditions of the festival already existed even before Qu Yuan, other origins of the festival were also suggested. Wen Yiduo suggested that the festival may be associated with dragon closely because two of the most important activities of the festival, dragon boat racing and eating zongzi, are related to dragon. Another view is that the festival is originated from the taboo of evil days. The fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar is traditionally considered an evil month and the 5th of the month is particularly a bad day, so a lot of taboo had been developed.
Most likely, the festival was gradually derived from all of the suggestions and the story of Qu Yuan is certainly the driving power to make it a great festival today.
Like other Chinese festivals, there is also a legend behind the festival. Qu Yuan served in the court of Emperor Huai during the Warring States (475 - 221 BC). He was a wise and erudite man. His ability and fight against corruption antagonized other court officials. They exerted their evil influence on the Emperor, so the Emperor gradually dismissed Qu Yuan and eventually exiled him. During his exile, Qu Yuan did not give up. He traveled extensively, taught and wrote about his ideas. His works, the Lament (Li Sao), the Nine Chapters (Jiu Zhang), and Wen tian, are masterpieces and invaluable for studying ancient Chinese culture. He saw the gradual decline of his mother country, the Chu State. And when he heard that the Chu State was defeated by the strong Qin State, he was so despaired that he ended his life by flinging himself into the Miluo River.
Legend says after people heard he drowned, they were greatly dismayed. Fishermen raced to the spot in their boats to search for his body. Unable to find his body, people threw zongzi, eggs and other food into the river to feed fish, so hoped to salvage his body. Since then, people started to commemorate Qu Yuan through dragon boat races, eating zongzi and other activities, on the anniversary of his death, the 5th of the fifth month.
Zongzi is the most popular food for the festival. Zongzi is a special kind of dumpling. It is usually made of glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves. Fresh bamboo leaves are the best for the wrapping since the taste and smell of the fresh bamboo leaves is part of zongzi. Unfortunately fresh bamboo leaves are hard to find.
Today you may see zongzi in different shapes and with a variety of fillings. The most popular shapes are triangular and pyramidal. The fillings include dates, meat, yolk of egg, etc. The most popular fillings are dates. The festival is closely associated with zongzi and dragon boat races. More importantly this is also a national patriot festival through commemorating the great patriot poet, Qu Yuan. People are reminded that the importance of loyalty and commitment to the community in the festival.
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