THE LEGEND

The Dragon Boat Festival is also known as Duan Wu Festival, on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month of Chinese calendar, 2nd of June this year. It is a day celebrated to commemorate the life and death of one of China's most famous citizens, Qu Yuan, also phoneticised Ch'u Yuen. It is said that he lived in the pre-imperial Warring States period (475-221 BC).

Qu Yuan is popularly regarded as a minister in one of the Warring State governments, the southern state of Chu (present day Hunan and Hubei provinces), a champion of political loyalty and integrity, and eager to maintain the Chu state's autonomy and hegemony. Formerly, it was believed that the Chu monarch fell under the influence of other corrupt, jealous ministers who slandered Qu Yuan as 'a sting in flesh', and therefore the fooled king banished Qu, his most loyal counsellor.

In the year 278 B.C., upon learning of the upcoming devastation of his state from invasion by a neighbouring Warring State (Qin in particular), Qu is said to have waded into the Miluo river holding a great rock in order to commit ritual suicide as a form of protest against the corruption of the era. The Qin or Chin kingdom eventually conquered all of the other states including Chu and unified them into the first Chinese empire.

The word China derives from this first dynasty of empire, the Qin (or Chin) Dynasty, under imperialist unifier Qin Shi Huang.

The common people, upon learning of his suicide, rushed out on the water in their fishing boats to the middle of the river and tried desperately to save Qu Yuan. They beat drums and splashed the water with their paddles in order to keep the fish and evil spirits from his body. Later on, they scattered rice into the water to prevent him from suffering hunger. Another belief is that the people scattered rice to feed the fish, in order to prevent them from devouring the poet's body.

However, late one night, the spirit of Qu Yuan appeared before his friends (that is, he resurrected from the dead) and told them that the rice meant for him was being intercepted by a huge river dragon. He asked his friends to wrap their rice into three-cornered silk packages to ward off the dragon. This has been a traditional food ever since known as zongzi or sticky rice wrapped in leaves, although they are wrapped in leaves instead of silk. In commemoration of Qu Yuan, people hold dragon boat races annually on the day of his death.