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Dragon Boats Racing and Zong Zi
Dear Hakka Friends,
This is not Hakkalogy but Sinology.
Dragon Boats Racing and Zong Zi
Qu Yuan was born in 340BC into an aristocratic family in the State of
Chu (present day Jiang Ling county in Hubei province). It was during
the period of the Warring States (453BC to 221BC) of the Zhou Dynasty
(1134BC to 250BC).
Qu Yuan was the first man to be officially recorded
in Chinese history as a poet scholar. In Chinese classical history
other than the Shi Jing (the Book of Odes) the only important poetic work
during the Zhou Dynasty was Chu Ci (Elegies of Chu) which was made up
to a large extent of poems by Qu Yuan.
Qu Yuan was appointed the Minister of Law and Ordinances by Mei Huai,
the ruler of Chu who reigned from 328BC to 298BC. He drafted all the laws in
the State of Chu and was very influential in the Chu Court. But he offended
the powerful chief eunuch, Jin Shang, with whom he also disagreed over
foreign affairs policy. There was also personal and official animosity
between him and the chief eunuch.
The chief eunuch lied when he told the ruler Mei Huai:
"Qu Yuan is too proud and is disrespectful of you. He is bragging
that nothing can be done in the country without him. Every one in
the country knows about it except you, your Highness".
Mei Huai was furious. He sacked Qu Yuan as a Minister and put him to
work as an ordinary clerk in the Ministry.
In 299BC, Ying Ji, the ruler of the State of Qin (present day Feng
Xiang county in Shaanxi province) invited Mei Huai for a conference in
Wu Guan (present day Wu Guan city in Shaanxi province). Qu Yuan advised
Mei Huai not to go. But the ruler's youngest son, Mei Lan, argued that his
father should attend as Qin was a very powerful State and his staying away
from the conference could infuriate the ruler of Qin2 and cause him to
Mei Huai followed his son's advice and attended the conference.
He was incarcerated by the ruler of Qin at the end of the conference.
He was treated like a prisoner of war and brought to the Qin capital of Xian
Yang (present day Xi An city in Shaanxi province). He died in the hands of
the Qin the following year, 298BC, and his elder son, Mei Heng, succeeded
him as the new ruler of Chu.
Qu Yuan criticised Mei Lan for advising his father to go to the
conference. Mei Lan was ashamed of himself but would not accept
Qu Yuan's criticism. Mei Lan banished Qu Yuan to the remote wilderness
south of the capital Jiang Ling (present day Jiang Ling city in Hubei
While on his way to exile Qu Yuan arrived at the river, Mi Luo,
(present day near Xing Yin county in Hunan province), he spent some there.
It was during this time that he composed the Li Sao which was an allegory
of himself searching for an understanding ruler whom he could serve. More
than half of Li Sao was about the shaman's journey in search of divinity.
The shaman rode the wind and clouds, straddled the sun and the moon and
voyaged outside the universe.
Qu Yuan continued to wander around the banks of the Mi Luo River,
pouring forth his soul in verses. As time went by, he grew thinner and thinner.
One day a fisherman met him at the river bank. He recognised Qu Yuan
and said to him:
"Are you not the famous Minister of Law in the Court? What brings
about your rambling around here?"
Qu Yuan replied:
"The whole world is dirty and I am the only one who is clean.
They are all drunk and I am the only one who is awake.
That was the reason that I was dismissed".
The fisherman said:
"The true sage does not quarrel with his environment but adapts
himself to it. If you say the whole world is dirty, why can't you
go with the world and make it clean. If you say they are all drunk
why can't you drink with them and teach them not to drink
Qu Yuan replied:
"If one has just had a bath, one will not put on dirty clothes.
How should one allow his pure body to be dirtied by unclean clothes.
I rather have a grave in the bellies of the fish that swim in the
river than being buried among the filth and corruption of this
The fisherman went away laughing and singing:
"I will wash my tassels if the water is sweet and clean;
If the water is dirty I will not even put my feet in it".
Qu Yuan hated the corrupt government of his country. He felt he should
not be punished for being too loyal to the ruler of his country. Despair and
sadness overwhelmed him. He tied a big rock to his body, jumped into the
river and disappeared immediately.
People living along the banks of Mi Luo River heard of his disappearance
in the river. They rushed out to the river with their boats to try to rescue
him. He could not be found. Neither could his body.
Fearing that the fish might devour his body, people made glutinous rice
dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves and threw them into the river with the
hope that the fish would devour the wrapped dumplings instead of his body.
Qu Yuan disappeared on the 5th day of the 5th moon (in the Lunar
Calendar). During this period time people living in Southern Chu called the
1st day of a moon (month) Duan Yi (beginning one), the 2nd day Duan Er, the
3rd day Duan San, the 4th day Duan Si, the 5th day Duan Wu, the 6th day Duan
Liu and so on and so forth until the 10th day. From the 11th day on the word
Duan was not used. They called the 11th day Shi Yi, the 12th day Shi Er and
so on. People fixed the 5th day of the 5th moon as Duan Wu Jie to
commemorate the disappearance of Qu Yuan in the river on 5th day of the 5th
Duan meant : the beginning.
Wu meant: five.
Jie meant: festival.
This festival was also called Duan Yang Jie. Later it was changed to Duan Wu
People living in South China made 5th day of the 5th moon an annual
event on which day boat races were held, signifying the launching of boats
to rescue Qu Yuan. Figures of dragon heads decorated the bows of the boats
which later became known as dragon boats. Eventually the whole event was
renamed the annual dragon boat races.
Every year on the 5th day of the 5th moon, the day Qu Yuan disappeared,
it was customary for people living in the region near Mi Luo River to make
glutinous rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves and to throw them into the
river to feed the fish. Later they accepted the fact that Qu Yuan's body
must have decomposed in the water after such a long period of time. They
stopped throwing glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves into the river.
Instead of feeding the fish they consumed the dumplings as desserts.
Many generations later they called the dumplings Zong Zi.
Do you like to eat Zong Zi?
I think the Hakka pillow Zong Zi is the best.
Shi Ji (Historical records) and Chinese folklore
CHUNG Yoon-Ngan. email@example.com
- The Door Gods
- From: Yoon-Ngan Chung <firstname.lastname@example.org>