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The Fifth Day of the Fifth Month-The Dragon Boat Festival

Occurring on the fifth day of the fifth month on the Chinese lunar calendar, the dragon boat festival celebrates the life and death of the famous Chinese scholar Qu Yuan (Chu Yuan). The festival has been held annually for thousands of years, this year it will be held on June 20th, 2015.

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The history of this event allegedly traces back to the suicide of the poet and scholar Qu Yuan. As a minister to the King of Chu, his knowledge and intelligence made others in the court feel insignificant and was slandered by aristocrat and thus exiled. During his time exile, Qu Yuan wrote poems that became widely known and loved. He drowned himself in the Miluo River, unable to be reconciled about the actions of the sovereign. Being considered a wise and intellectually superior man, his act of taking his life was unacceptable to the people. As he threw himself into the river, the people attempted to save him, searching the waters for his body. The festival thus celebrates the actions of these brave individuals attempting to rescue their beloved poet Qu Yuan.

The dragon boat is a human powered paddle boat traditionally built of teak. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and designs which can range from 40 to 100 feet in length. The front end is shaped as the open mouth of a dragon with the back representing the tail. In order to prepare any dragon boat for a race, a celebration ensues where eyes are painted on the dragon face in order to bring it life.

During the festival, many traditional customs are carried out, including eating zongzi (a rice food item that was thrown into the river on the day that Qu Yuan died), wearing perfumed pouches to ward off evil, and wearing silk threads around wrists, ankles, and necks. These threads protect children from diseases and are worn during the festival as it occurs during summer when illness and disease is most prominent.

Bringing people together for thousands of years, the dragon boat festival is an important and meaningful event, symbolizing the patriotic poet Qu Yuan and commemorating traditional customs that have been integral to Chinese culture for millennia.

This article is from the June 2015 edition of the Victoria Chinese Messenger.

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