Duan Wu Jie or Dragon Boat Festival
Duan Wu Jie is one of the oldest traditional festivals of China. It dated back to 2,000 years ago during the period of the Chinese Warring States. The date of the festival is the 5th day of the 5th month of Chinese Lunar Calendar. Next year’s Duan Wu Festival will fall on Saturday, 23 June 2012.
On 30 September 2009, this festival was included in the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Duan Wu Jie, among all Chinese festivals, has the most alternative names. It is known by more than 20 other names. The most common ones are Duan Yuan, Fifth Month, Double Fifth, Dragon Boat Festival, Chinese Dumpling Festival, and Poets’ Day.
Several theories regarding the festival’s origin have arisen based on folk traditions and myths. Some of the popular theories are listed below:-
1) Qu Yuan
A poet-statesman of Chu (a state in the Warring States Era), Qu Yuan was banished for his opposition to the Chu ruler’s policy to form an alliance with the stronger Qin. Years later, his country was conquered by Qin. In sorrow, Qu Yuan jumped into the Miluo River on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month. This particular day was later designated as Poets’ Day in memory of him.
On hearing the tragic news and admiring his patriotism, many people paddled boats to look for him. The Dragon Boat Festival is believed to have its origin from this.
Those living along the river also offered sacrifices in the form of cooked rice. But when they discovered the rice was eaten by the fishes, they had them wrapped in bamboo leaves. Modern day’s zongzi (rice dumplings) are believed to have evolved from this. Thus, the festival is also known as Chinese Dumpling Festival.
2) Cao E
Much of North-eastern Zhejiang celebrates Duan Wu Jie in memory of Cao E.
Cao E is a young girl of Eastern Han Dynasty. On the 5th day of the 5th lunar month, she jumped into the river to look for her drowned father’s body. After 5 days, she was found dead, embracing her deceased father.
A temple was built to commemorate her for her filial piety. The village that she had stayed before, the river where she was drowned, and the temple were all named after her.
3) Wu Zixu
Wu Zixu is commemorated in the territory where the kingdom of Wu was once situated. Though he was very loyal to the ruler of Wu, he was ordered to kill himself. His body was then disposed into the river on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month. There is a myth that Wu Zixu had transformed into the god of waves after his death.
4) Qiu Jin
A 28-year-old female revolutionary, Qiu Jin was sentenced to death by the Qin Dynasty. The people admired her for her poetry and bravery and commemorate her on Poets' Day (another name for Duan Wu Jie).
5) Dragon worship
There is belief that the 5th day of the 5th lunar month is the day when the “dragon” tribe in the region of Wuyue conducted some memorial totem ceremony in ancient times.
The custom of throwing zongzi into the river and racing dragon boat were considered to be related to dragon worshipping.
Although different regions in China hold different theories about Duan Wu Jie, the most popular and widespread version is that of Qu Yuan.
In ancient days, the fifth lunar month was considered to be an extremely inauspicious month. People believed evils and illnesses are common during summer time.
Children born on the fifth day of the fifth month were believed to bring harm to their parents. This particular day was considered so unlucky that even married women would return to their parents’ home, symbolically ‘avoiding Duan Wu’. A bride-to-be would have to be in her best clothes. As a result, Duan Wu Jie is also called “Girls’ Day”.
Another belief is that if you can balance a raw egg on its end at exactly noon on that day, the rest of the year will be lucky.
The festival’s significance as a time for warding off evil and diseases is symbolized by a number of customary practices. Calamus and moxa herbs and picture of Zhong Kui (guardian against evil spirits) would be hung on the front door to drive away evil spirits. Adults would drink xiong huang (a special rice wine) while children carry fragrant silk sachets as these are said to possess qualities for warding off evil and diseases.
Duan Wu Jie is considered to be a great day for collecting herbs as medicine. Herbs were believed to work better if picked and prepared on that day. People bathed in various kinds of herbs thinking that this will help them to stay healthy.
To this day, Duan Wu Festival is still celebrated in countries with significant Chinese populations or with people of Chinese origins. However, nowadays the celebrations focus mainly on consuming rice dumplings and racing dragon boats. Most of the superstitious customs are no longer observed.
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