Dragon Boat Festival, Remembrance of a Patriot

The 5th day of the 5th month of the lunar year is an important day for the Chinese people. The day is called Duan Wu Festival, or Dragon Boat Festival, celebrated everywhere in China. This festival dates back to about 2,000 years ago with a number of legends explaining its origin. The best-known story centers on a great patriotic poet named Qu Yuan, who killed himself by jumping into the river in despair of his country falling into the enemy's hands because his master refused to take his advice.

Qu was a minister of the State of Chu situated in present-day Hunan and Hubei provinces, during the Warring States Period (475-221BC). He was upright, loyal and highly esteemed for his wise counsel that brought peace and prosperity to the state. However, when a dishonest and corrupt prince vilified Qu, he was disgraced and dismissed from office. Realizing that the country was now in the hands of evil and corrupt officials, Qu grabbed a large stone and leapt into the Miluo River on the fifth day of the fifth month. Nearby fishermen rushed over to try and save him but were unable to even recover his body. Thereafter, the state declined and was eventually conquered by the State of Qin.

Over the years, the story of Qu’s demise transformed into the traditions of racing dragon boats and eating zongzi – a kind of rice wrapped in bamboo leaves. The dragon-boat races symbolize the many attempts to rescue and recover Qu's body.

A typical dragon boat ranges from 50-100 feet in length, with a beam of about 5.5 feet, accommodating two paddlers seated side by side. A wooden dragon head is attached at the bow, and a dragon tail at the stern. In the center of the boat is a canopied shrine behind which the drummers, gong beaters and cymbal players are seated to set the pace for the paddlers. There are also men positioned at the bow to set off firecrackers, toss rice into the water and pretend to be looking for Qu. All of the noise and pageantry creates an atmosphere of gaiety and excitement for the participants and spectators alike.  

Source: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/