It’s the Duanwu or Dragon Boat Festival in China on June 20 this year. The festival is celebrated on the 5thday of the 5th Chinese lunar month and has a history of over 200 years.
The festival commemorates the life and death of the famous Chinese scholar Qu Yuan, who was a loyal minister of the King of Chu in the third century BCE. Qu Yuan’s wisdom and intellectual ways antagonized other court officials, thus they accused him of false charges of conspiracy and was exiled by the king. During his exile, Qu Yuan composed many poems to express his anger and sorrow towards his sovereign and people.
Qu Yuan drowned himself by attaching a heavy stone to his chest and jumping into the Miluo River in 278 BCE at the age of 61. The people of Chu tried to save him believing that Qu Yuan was an honorable man; they searched desperately in their boats looking for Qu Yuan but were unable to save him. Every year the Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated to commemorate this attempt at rescuing Qu Yuan.
The local people began the tradition of throwing sacrificial cooked rice into the river believing that the rice would prevent the fish from eating Qu Yuan’s body. That’s how the custom of eating zongzi originated. Zongzi is a kind of sticky rice dumpling made of glutinous rice filled with dates, or red beans, or meat wrapped in pyramid shape in bamboo or reed leaves, and tied with soaked stalks or colorful silky cords.
Other customs that are practiced include dragon boat racing, hanging Chinese mugwort and calumus, wearing perfume pouches and drinking realgar wine. The perfume puches are filled with hearbal medicine to drive away the insects or evil spirit. Mugwort leaves are used medicinally in China. It has a very unique fragrance that deter flies and mosquitoes. Realgar wine is a Chinese alcoholic drink consisting of fermented cereals and powdered realgar. In ancient times, people believed that realgar was an antidote for all poisons, and effective for killing insects and driving away evil spirits.