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The Duanwu Festival

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The Duanwu Festival is a Chinese traditional festival in memory of the ancient patriotic poet Qu Yuan.

During the Warring States Period (475BC-221BC), China was consist of seven states: Yan, Zhao, Han, Wei, Qi, Chu, Qin. Among these states, Qin had the strongest power and Chu had the largest size. The state of Qin conceived to swallow up other states and dominate the whole China. As a major official of the state of Chu, Qu Yuan proposed to ally with other states to fight with Qin. However, King Huai of Chu and his son, King Qingxiang of Chu denied all his proposes, and, instead believing treacherous court officials’ slander, sent Qu Yuan into exile. Back in hometown, Qu Yuan worried about the future of his motherland all the time and wrote many excellent poems, among which the most famous one is Li Sao. In this poem, he described many beautiful mythologies with romantic style. The literary style created by Qu Yuan is called “Chu Ci” or “Sao style” in Chinese literary history.

In 278 B.C., Qu Yuan was 62 years old. One day, walking along the Miluo River, he heard the news that the capital of the State of Chu was lost to his enemy the State of Qin. In despair, Qu Yuan drowned himself in Miluo River. That day was the fifth day of the fifth lunar month.

People in the state of Chu respected and love Qu Yuan so much that when they got the message of Qu Yuan’s suicide, they went out in the boats to try to find his corpse. However, they found nothing with disappointment. To show their respect as well as avoid Qu Yuan’s corpse eaten by fish, they rowed boats along the rivers, throwing Zongzi (glutinous rice wrapped in a pyramid shape using bamboo or reed leaves) into the river to feed fish. Every year thereafter on this day, every family in China will make and eat Zongzi in memory of Qu Yuan. This is the origin of Chinese people’s traditional festival “the Duanwu Festival”.

Another custom on the Duanwu Festival is Dragon Boat racing, which symbolizes that people are struggling to retrieve Qu Yuan’s corpse from the water. Since ordinary boats can’t scare away monsters in water, people decorate ordinary boats into dragon and beat drums and clang gongs to make monsters believe Dragon King is coming. When monsters run away, it’s much easier to salvage Qu Yuan’s body.

Qu Yuan has died over two thousand years, leaving invaluable cultural wealth. His poems have been published all over the world in many languages. In 1953, the 2230th anniversary of Qu Yuan’s death, the World Peace Congress ranked him as one of the Four Cultural Celebrates of the world.


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