端午节 ( Duānwǔjié) ' Dragon Boat Festival'     

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          
           
              Crossing the finish line in Heiwai, Ronggui. (Photo: Caiguanaho)  
           
          

         
      
       
    

  


     In honour of the Dragon Boat Festival, celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month (May 30th 2017), here is a short excerpt from one of Qu Yuan’s most famous poems, translated by  Hugh Grigg .  離騷 ( Lí Sāo ) 'The Sorrow of Parting'  朝      發  軔   於  蒼    梧  兮,                                                                     Zhāo fā rèn yú cāngwú xī,                                                                    Taking off the brake, departing from Cangwu at dawn,   夕 餘  至  乎    縣    圃;                                                                               xī yú zhì hū xuán pǔ;                                                                                and before night falls, arriving at the Hanging Gardens;   欲   少    留  此 靈    瑣  兮,                                                                         yù shǎo liú cǐ líng sǒu xī,                                                                              I wish to stay at this gathering place of the spirits,    日 忽 忽  其 將     暮;                                                                                   rì hūhū qí jiāng mù;                                                                                    yet the sun is about to set;   吾   令    羲 和 弭  節 兮,                                                                             wú lìng Xīhé mǐ jié xī,                                                                                  I   order Xihe to slow to a trot;   望       崦   嵫 而  匆    迫;                                                                           wàng yān zī ér cōng pò;                                                                        gazing at Mt Yan and Mt Zi, yet not anxious to approach them;   路  漫   漫     其 脩   遠    兮,                                                                       lù mànmàn qí xiū yuǎn xī,                                                                          the road is boundless - cultivation so distant;   吾    將      上     下   而  求 索。                                                                   wú jiāng shàngxià ér qiúsuǒ.                                                                      I shall explore it from beginning to end.      What has Dragon Boat racing got to do with Qu Yuan?  Well, the story goes that Qu Yuan (c. 340–278 BC), poet and political advisor to King Huai of Chu, recommended that Chu ally itself with the enemy state Qi to defeat the mutual enemy state of Qin. However, in exile from Chu for allegations brought against him by corrupted ministers influencing the King, Qu Yuan hears that his beloved homeland has been defeated by Qin after King Huai did not take his advice. Upon hearing this news, he drowned himself in the Miluo river in an act of political martyrdom and in protest against political corruption.   After his drowning the locals are said to have rushed into the water in long boats, beating drums to scare evil spirits away and throwing rice wrapped in leaves into the water to prevent the fish from eating him. Another version is that they threw rice to feed Qu Yuan's spirit but it kept getting intercepted by catfish the size of dragons. So, a few years after his death, Qu Yuan appeared and told them to wrap the rice in leaves. Either way, at the Dragon Boat Festival people race long boats, eat 糭子  zòngzi  (rice dumplings wrapped in leaves), and remember Qu Yuan for his poetry and patriotism.   In recent years people have begun to suggest another reason for his committing suicide based on alternative readings of his poetry.  Usually, his prose is understood as patriotic, but some scholars suggest that it can also be understood as an expression of his love for King Huai, who exiled him before ignoring his advice. This has led to some of the Chinese LGBTQ+ community, as well as a number of scholars, interpreting Qu Yuan’s suicide as that of a jilted lover, rather than an exasperated patriot.  Regardless of the reason for which he committed suicide, he was a much-loved figure and this yearly celebration of his life, death, and poetry has left a great legacy in sport and cuisine. Over the last 30 years or so, the sport of Dragon Boat Racing has become popular around the world and the International Dragon Boat Federation support competitions and leagues everywhere. The  zòngzi  have also gained popularity as a regular snack food, sometimes plain, sometimes stuffed with sweet or savoury fillings.  Sources:   https://eastasiastudent.net/china/classical/qu-yuan-li-sao-extract/    http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/the-legends-behind-the-dragon-boat-festival-135634582/    http://shanghaiist.com/2012/06/23/duanwu-festival-gay-valentines.php    https://www.idbf.org/history    http://thewoksoflife.com/2015/05/zongzi-cantonese-style/

In honour of the Dragon Boat Festival, celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month (May 30th 2017) here's the tradition and story behind the yearly celebrations.

       
 
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     In China, the Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival is the most important festival of the year, like Christmas in the UK. It is celebrated on a different date every year because the date is based on the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar. A lunar month is two days shorter than a solar month and so, every few years an extra month is added to make up for this, hence why the date changes every year.      How is it Celebrated:    Spring festival is celebrated in several ways in China. The most important event of the Spring Festival is a giant feast. People from the North of China eat dumplings during their Spring Festival feast whereas people from the South eat glutinous rice cakes.  Family members will come from far and wide to enjoy it together. Chinese people go to many lengths to attend the Spring Festival feast with their family, with some travelling across the entire country to attend. Family members returning to their hometowns for the Chinese New Year can be described as the largest human immigration event on the planet.       
  
  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  
  
  
  
  
           The next way the Chinese New Year is celebrated is through the exchange of red envelopes or “hong bao”. The packets contain money for good luck for the new year. Traditionally the packets were given to unmarried young people and children by those that are already married. Nowadays red packets tend to be given from the older generation to the younger generation as a sign of good will.        Other ways Spring Festival is celebrated in China is by decorating the house with red lanterns, paper cuttings, door couplets and upside-down Fu characters. All these red decorations are displayed to bring in good luck for the new year. Red is a lucky colour in China, furthermore, the Chinese New Year monster, Nian, is said to be afraid of the colour red. He is also afraid of loud noises which is traditionally why Chinese people set off fireworks during the festival.       

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          

         
      
       
    

  


       
  
 
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     Chinese lion dances and dragon dances:    Lion dances are a tradition in China spanning thousands of years, originally the lion was thought to be a mythical creature, with lions only being introduced to China during the Han dynasty because of the silk road. Lion dances take place during important occasions such as the Spring Festival or other big occasions as the lion is thought to be an auspicious animal in China and so brings good luck. In the South of China lion dances play an important role in bringing good fortune. Some Chinese businesspeople will even hire a lion dance troupe when launching a new product etc. to bring good luck to their business.        Dragon dances originally came about as a way of praying for rain as the dragon created rain for the thirsty animals in the Chinese zodiac story. After this a dragon dance became a ceremonial activity when worshipping the ancestors. Nowadays dragon dances usually take place at important festivals like the Chinese New Year as a symbol of wisdom, power and wealth.      
  
 
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      Animal Zodiac:     This year will be the year of the rooster so for any roosters it’s your “ben ming nian” literally your origin of life year. This is a year that will bring you bad luck because people in their ben ming nian offend the God of Age.     The Chinese zodiac years follow a twelve-year cycle, with the order being determined by the Chinese zodiac origin story below.       The Chinese Zodiac Story:      

  

  	
       
      
         
          
             
                  
             
          

          

         
      
       
    

  


      The story goes that a long time ago the Jade Emperor in China wanted to create a way of measuring time and so he declared that a race would take place. The first twelve animals to cross the river would have a year named after them.        Rat and cat, who could not swim, asked the kind ox to carry them across the river and ox agreed. However devious rat pushed cat off ox’s back and into the river and cat drowned. This is why cats do not have a year named after them, it is also said to be why cats and rats hate each other. As ox reached the finish line rat leapt from his back and crossed it first, earning him 1st place, with ox coming second.     Next to finish was tiger who used his strength to swim against the strong current and earn third place. While rabbit hopped across stepping stones and logs to arrive in fourth place.    In fifth place was the dragon, who flew across the river. The emperor asked the dragon why he did not finish first since he could fly, but the kind dragon was delayed by creating rain for thirsty animals. The emperor, impressed by his kindness, stated that the dragon’s son snake could take sixth place as a reward.    Next to arrive was horse, closely followed by rooster, monkey and goat, who had worked together to arrive to the shore by using a raft to cross the river.    Eleventh to arrive was dog, who was delayed to arrive because the rivers water was so clean that he stopped to bathe in it.    The last animal to arrive was pig, again the Emperor asked him why he arrived so late. The pig replied that he was hungry and stopped on the way to have something to eat, after this he fell asleep, eventually crossing the river in last place.         
 
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In China, the Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival is the most important festival of the year, like Christmas in the UK. It is celebrated on a different date every year because the date is based on the traditional Chinese lunisolar calendar. A lunar month is two days shorter than a solar month and so, every few years an extra month is added to make up for this, hence why the date changes every year. 

Read more about the Chinese new year here:

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