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Backgrounder:Origins of Duanwu Festival

2010-06-12 07:16:46 GMT2010-06-12 15:16:46 (Beijing Time)  SINA.com

Zongzi (also known as rice dumpling) is traditionally eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival (Mandarin: Duanwu; Cantonese: Tuen Ng) which falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese calendar.(File Photo:blog.sina.com.cn)

The Duanwu Festival (in Mandarin Chinese pronunciation) or Tuen Ng Festival (in Cantonese Chinese pronunciation) is a Chinese traditional and statutory holiday. It is a public holiday in mainland China and Taiwan, where it is called the "Duanwu Jie" and a public holiday in Hong Kong and Macau, where it is called the "Tuen Ng Jit". In English it is also referred to as "Dragon Boat Festival", after one of the traditional activities for the holiday.

The Duanwu Festival occurs on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese calendar, giving rise to the alternative name of Double Fifth. In 2009, this falls on May 28. The focus of the celebrations includes eating zongzi, which are large rice wraps, drinking realgar wine, and racing dragon boats.

The Duanwu Festival has also been celebrated in other East Asian nations. For some equivalent or related celebrations in these countries, such as Kodomo no hi in Japan, Dano in Korea, and Tết Đoan Ngọ in Vietnam.

  Origins

The Duanwu Festival is believed to have originated in ancient China. There are a number of theories about its origins. There are a number folk traditions, beliefs and explanatory myths connected to the observance. Today, the best, most widely known legend relates to the death by suicide of Qu Yuan, a scholar and minister to the King of Chu, in 278 BC an era in Chinese history that is referred to as the Warring States period. Scholars wrote literary works, including poetry. Qu Yuan is commonly referred to as a "poet" and a "statesperson", however he is more properly considered as a ministerial scholar.

  Qu Yuan

The best-known traditional story holds that the festival commemorates the death of poet Qu Yuan (c. 340 BC - 278 BC) of the ancient state of Chu, in the Warring States Period of the Zhou Dynasty. A descendant of the Chu royal house, Qu served in high offices. However, when the king decided to ally with the increasingly powerful state of Qin, Qu was banished for opposing the alliance. Qu Yuan was accused of treason. During his exile, Qu Yuan wrote a great deal of poetry, for which he is now remembered. Twenty-eight years later, Qin conquered the Chu capital. In despair, Qu Yuan committed suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo River on the fifth day of the fifth month.

It is said that the local people, who admired him, threw food into the river to feed the fish so that they would not eat Qu Yuan's body. This is said to be the origin of zongzi. The local people were also said to have paddled out on boats, either to scare the fish away or to retrieve his body. This is said to be the origin of dragon boat racing.

Wu Zixu

Despite the modern popularity of the Qu Yuan origin theory, in the former territory of the state of Wu the festival commemorated Wu Zixu (526 BC - 484 BC). Like Qu Yuan, Wu Zixu was a loyal advisor whose advice was ignored by the king to the detriment of the kingdom. Wu Zixu was forced to commit suicide by the king Fuchai, with his body thrown into the river on the fifth day of the fifth month. After his death, Wu Zixu was revered as a river god. In places such as Suzhou, in Jiangsu province, Wu Zixu is remembered during the Duanwu Festival to this day.

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