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Dragon Boat Festival

Origin of the Festival

The tragic tale of Qu Yuan further integrated the dragon boat races into the lives of the Chinese. Fourth Century B.C.E. is known as the period of the "warring states" in Chinese history. It was a time when numerous supremacy wars between feudal lords erupted. Many kingdoms had already disappeared, except for Chu, which was one of the mightiest kingdoms remaining. Qu Yuan was a poet and a minister and councillor to the king of Chu - truly a great patriot. He feared for the future of his kingdom and to do the best for his country, he gave advice to the king. To his surprise, the advice was not accepted and he was exiled. At the devastation of the kingdom of Ch'u and his exile, Ch'u Yuan, in desperation and sorrow, threw himself into the Mi Lo river.

The people of Chu loved Qu Yuan. They grieved over his death and spent much time trying to scare the fish and water dragons away from Qu Yuan's body by rowing around the river in their fishing boats, splashing their oars, and beating their drums. And to ensure that Qu Yuan never went hungry, they wrapped rice in leaves and threw them into the river. Rice dumplings (ZhongZi) are still eaten today as part of the dragon boat festival celebration.

Celebration of the Festival

The dragon boat festival is typically celebrated "the Fifth of the Fifth" - the fifth day of the fifth month, which falls approximately in May or June in the Western calender. Red is the prominent colour on the boats because it is the colour of the number five and symbolizes heat, summer, and fire. The lengths of the boats can range between 30 and 100 feet but are wide enough to barely fit two people side by side. Some of the original rituals are still practiced today, like the "Awakening of the Dragon" by dotting the eyes of the dragon's head on each boat. This ceremony is conducted to cleanse and bless the area of the competition, the competitors, and their boats. It also gives the boats and their crew the strength of the Dragon and the blessing of the Goddess of the Sea.

Nevertheless, much has changed in the festival. The crowd no longer throws stones at the rival boats and it is not imperative a boat capsize and at least one person drown - which was considered a special sacrifice to the gods and was, surprisingly, a sign of good luck.

Today the dragon boat races are primarily a form of amusement. It is no longer a necessary ceremony performed to scare away evil and call for a good year but entertainment that teaches people a little about Chinese history and culture .

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