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Folk Customs of the Dragon Boat Festival
(端午节民俗趣谈)
The Duanwu Festival, known as the Dragon Boat Festival in the west, is a Chinese tradition that began more than 2,000 years ago in the Spring Autumn and Warring States Period. In actual fact, the festival has several different names, including the Duanyang Festival, Chongwu Festival, Tianzhong Festival, Tianchang Festival, and the Festivalin May. Before the Tang DYNASTY, it was known as “the Fifth Day of the Fifth Lunar Month”, but then it was changed to Duanwu. Duan(端) means the first.
The origins of the festival are obscure, and vary according to different folk traditions. One tradition holds that it was to commemorate Wu Zixu, a loyal official of the State of Wu during the Warring States Period. Another tradition believesit was started in memory of Cao E, a filial daughter of the Eastern Han Dynasty. A famous scholar named Wen Yiduo in modern times believed it was originally a totemic sacrifice in the ancient southern Yue and Wu tribes. However, the most widespread belief is that it was originally to commemorate the great patriotic poet Qu Yuan.
Born in the State of Chu during the Warring States Period, QuYuan grew up to be an able diplomat and extremely knowledgeable man of letters. As a trusted confidant of King Huai, he held many important positions. At the time, there were seven states fiercely struggling for supremacy. Qu Yuan proposed that the State of Chu should ally with the State of Qi in order to be able to better contest the supremacy of the powerful State of Qin. However, the court wasfull of intrigue and bitter rivalries. Pro-Qin court officials said many evil things about Qu Yuan, and sowed distrust toward QU Yuan in the King’s mind.
In 278 BC, when Qu Yuan was 62, tragedy struck the State of Chu when Qin troops overran the capital. On the fifth day of the fifth month, Qu Yuan was so devastated that he held a big stone in his arms and threw himself into the Miluo River.Because he was such a respected figure, local people rowed boats out on the river to search for him, but it was too late. When they realized that he was indeed dead, they threw dumplings and rice wrapped in reed leaves into the water, in the hope that the fish would eat this instead of u Yuan’s body.
Holding dragon boat races and celebrating with this kind of food, known as zongzi, evolvedinto a custom that continues to this day. During the 1940s, the celebration was named Poet’s Day, and since then many people have used the day to compose and appreciate poems, and to celebrate its other customs.
The tradition of the Dragon Boat Festival has now been continued for over 2,000 years, but its customs have remained largely the same. Dried Chinese mugwort or calamus is usuallyhung on doors, zongzi is symbolically prepared and eaten, and rice wine with realgar powder is served. People carry small pouches stuffed with fragrant spices, sacrifices are prepared for ceremonies, and , of course, dragon boat races are held. Dragon boat racing has also become an international sport with its own set of rules.
Hanging Chinese mugwort of calamus is a custom that originated inthe period of the Southern and Northern dynasties(420-589). The fragrance of mugwort is not only pleasant, but also has the power to deter worms and mosquitoes. Calamus is a kind of aquatic plant that has similar effects. On the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, house and courtyards are traditionally cleaned and scrubbed and dried Chinese mugwort calamus is hung on door lintels to help killgerms and hence prevent disease.
This custom has some basis in scientific reasoning. Summer arrives in the fifth lunar month and the days are therefore longer and hotter. According to the theories of traditional Chinese medicine, people should pay particular attention to what they eat, how they dress, and their daily activities at the intersection of the seasons because of the health risks...
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