The Epic Tale of Qu Yuan and Dragon Boat Festival

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We all miss Dragon Boat festival this year. In honour of that, we will recount the epic tale of Qu Yuan and the inception of Dragon Boat Festival.

Qu Yuan lived during the Warring States period in China (340-278 BCE). He was a politician and poet. Because of his love for his province and his community’s devotion to him, Dragon Boat was created.

The Fall

Qu Yuan began his career as the Left Minister for King Huai, this was not meant to last. King Huai, influenced by corrupt ministers banished Qu Yuan to the region north of Han River. 

His exile would not last, and Qu Yuan was reinstated. He worked diligently to mend the broken relationship between the States of Chu and Qi.

Power eventually passed to King Qingxiang, his Prime Minster Zilan slandered Qu Yuan’s good name. Once more in his life, Qu Yuan found himself exiled.

Qu Yuan left for the regions south of the Yangtze River. There, he collected legends, writing folk lore and poems as he travelled the countryside.

As the years passed he fell into a depression. He began writing poetry expressing deep concerns over his beloved state. 

His Death

In 278 BC, Qu Yuan learned of the capture of Ying, his capital, by General Bai Qi of the State of Qin. This inspired Qu Yuan to write the poem, Lament for Ying.

His own lamentations were more than his fragile mental state could withstand. He carried a heavy rock into the Miluo River, never to resurface.

Still River

Heart broken, members of his community paddled their boats into the river to retrieve Qu Yuan’s body. But it was to no avail.

Qu Yuan was lost to his people, but they paddled to save his spirit. The people banged drums and slapped their paddles into the water to ward off fish and evil spirits, protecting Qu Yuan’s body.

Legends say that Qu Yuan’s spirit came to the community asking them to wrap rice in a tricornered silk package. He asked that they throw these rice packages into the water as an offering to his spirit and to keep fish from his body.

The rice packages would become known as zongzi and are now wrapped in leaves instead of silk.

zongzi

Dragon Boat

On the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese calendar, regarded as the day Qu Yuan died, the Dragon Boat Festival begins.

We race our boats in search of Qu Yuan, we eat zongzi to save his spirit and we come together as a community.

Whether Qu Yuan’s tale is based on a true story or a beautiful tale of sacrifice, we can thank him for the community we share in his name.

Next year, when we celebrate Dragon Boat Festival again, we can do so with Qu Yuan in our hearts, zongzi in our bellies and good friends by our side.

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