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Monday, June 9, 2008

端午节: Dragon Boat Festival

Yesterday was Duan Wu Jie ( 端午节: Dragon Boat Festival), also known as the Double Fives Festival because it occurs on the fifth day of the fifth month on the Chinese lunar calendar.

The best-known traditional story surrounding this holiday tells the tale of Qu Yuan ( 詘原 ), a patriotic poet and minister to the Zhou emperor, who lived during China's Warring States period (475-221BC). Qu Yuan experienced political exile after enjoying time as a favorite within the emperor's court. After twenty-eight years in exile, Qu finally committed suicide to protest the corruption of the era and to express despair over the Qins' defeat of the Zhou. Qu drowned himself in the Milou River; in response, the local people raced their boats across the river, beating drums to scare the fish away and throwing zongzi into the water to feed braver fish so that they would not eat Qu Yuan's body.

Most Chinese nationals spend this holiday preparing and eating zongzi ( 糭子: glutinous rice dumpling), drinking realgar wine and, most importantly, racing dragon boats.

Dragon boats are generally brightly decorated and painted, long canoes that seat anywhere from 22 to 80 people, depending on the boat's length. The stem of the boat forms an open-mouth dragon's head while the stern ends in a scaly tail.

Before a dragon boat enters the competition, it must be "brought to life" during the eye-painting ceremony. This ancient ritual is said to awaken the dragon and bring out its fire, which gives the boats and their crews the strength of the dragon.

Any number of boats can compete during the race, with the winning team determined by the boat first able to grab the flag positioned at the end of the race. Winning a dragon boat race hinges on how well the team works together to paddle in sync and on how well each paddler perfects the stroke technique.


Aunt LoLo said...

Oh, hahahaha...I missed Dyun Mh Jit! Sad. We spent Sunday evening with some new friends from church, gorging ourselves on her french onion soup. (She's french...and it was AWESOME.) I hope y'all stayed cool at the festival! It was HOT yesterday....here's hoping it cools down real soon!