It's that time of year again. The lunar calendar's fifth day of the fifth month. Yup! It's Dragon Boat Festival time—eating zongzi, drinking pesticide, and, best of all, having a four-day weekend. Most people from the East and West know the basics of the story—a dude died, people made rice cakes, and then had a long weekend. But few know the true story. Ladies and gentlemen, introducing...Qu Yuan.
Are you listening?
Qu Yuan was born in approximately 384 BC, in the area of China, which is now known Hubei. Aside from the fact he was born into an aristocratic family, not much is known about Qu Yuan's childhood. As an adult, he demonstrated an excellent memory and excelled in the art of diplomacy. He was so well regarded for his highly developed skills that he was appointed left minister to King Huai during the incredibly complex and convoluted Warring States period. As left minister, it was Qu's duty to advise the king on domestic affairs and royal orders, as well as entertaining guests and ministers from other states. Qu Yuan loved his kingdom and was devastated to discover that the government was becoming increasingly corrupted.
屈原約於西元前 384 年出生，在中國的一個地區，也就是現在所知的湖北。除了他生長在貴族世家的事實，屈原的童年鮮為人知。成人後，他展現絕佳的記憶力並在外交手段上高人一籌。他極度純熟的技巧非常受到器重，因而被指派為楚懷王的左丞相，此時正處於極為錯綜複雜的戰國時期。身為左丞相，屈原有責任在國事和皇室命令上忠告君王，同時也必須招待來自其他諸侯國的門客與丞相。屈原很愛他的國家，並在發現朝廷正日漸變得腐敗後感到心力交瘁。
After the death of King Huai, the new king, Qingxiang, appointed his brother to the role of prime minister. The prime minister hated Qu Yuan and exiled him to the land south of the Yangtze River. It was during his exile that Qu Yuan began writing poetry. In total, Qu wrote about 25 noteworthy poems which mostly focused on his frustrations and despair with the increasing decline of his beloved kingdom. His sad prose poetry was so well regarded that it defined an entirely new style of Chinese poetry entitled "Chuci." Arguably his poem most representative of the style is Sorrow After Departure, which goes a little something like this...
During his many years of exile, Qu grew increasingly depressed at the now burgeoning downfall of his homeland, so much so that he could no longer stand the emotional despair and decided to end it all. He completed his magnum opus, titled Lament for Ying, then picked up a rock, waded into the Miluo River, and committed suicide. From here is where the legend of the Dragon Boat Festival begins. When people saw that Qu Yuan was committing suicide, they immediately took their boats to the river and raced to find his body. People also threw rice into the river as to prevent fish from trying to eat him. To fend off a water dragon who apparently lived in the river, an old doctor threw in a bottle of wine to get it drunk.
According to the official Beijing government website, a dragon-like fish floated to the surface with a piece of Yuan's clothing in its whiskers. Yes, the Beijing government website talks about dragons. That's awesome!
What the website doesn't mention, though, is that after a few days, Qu came back as a ghost. Because apparently dragons are fine, but ghosts are impossible. Anyway. Some time later, Qu's ghost appeared before his friends. He told them that he died from drowning, not by dragon, and asked them to prepare glutinous rice wrapped in silk packages as an offering to the water dragon. These rice packages, now traditionally wrapped in bamboo leaves, are what we call zongzi. To commemorate the extreme patriotism and revolutionary poetry styles of Qu Yuan, the day of his death became Dragon Boat Festival. As this is an ancient story, details about how the story went down and even details regarding who the festival is celebrating changes, but Qu Yuan is popularly considered the true precursor.
The festival does not only exist in China. In fact, many countries throughout Asia celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival. Hong Kong, Korea, Singapore, Vietnam all join in on the festivities. In China, its traditions are directly linked to the legend of Qu Yuan—eating the dragon's offering, zongzi, drinking the spirit that killed the dragon, realgar wine, which actually contains trace amounts of arsenic, it was originally used as pesticide. Seriously, do yourself a favor and don't drink it. And finally, in honor of those who searched for Qu Yuan's body, dragon boat racing became a competition. The sport of dragon boat racing has become so popular that it is practiced around the world. In China, the annual winners of the race are awarded with the prestigious Qu Yuan Cup.
This is honestly the thing I love most about Chinese history. There are so many weird stories about strange yet amazing people. A man from 300 BC wrote genre-defining poetry, kills himself, gets a dragon killed, and comes back as a ghost, and is nationally recognized with an agreed-upon festival. Also, luckily for me, since 2008, the Dragon Boat Festival has become an official public holiday, which means I can spend my weekend getting drunk in the bathtub.
這實在是我最愛中國歷史的地方。有好多關於怪異但令人欽佩的人物的奇聞軼事。一位西元前三百年的男人寫了定下新體材的詩歌、自我了斷、讓一條龍被殺死，然後以鬼魂之姿重返，受到一個國定假日的肯定。還有，對我來說很幸運地，自 2008 年，端午節已成為國定假日，這代表我可以用我整個週末在浴缸裡喝茫。
So, there you have it. Thank you so much for watching another one of my videos. Don't forget to like, comment, and subscribe. If this is the first video of mine you've seen, welcome! And be sure to click on the link to check out my other history videos. The previous video was on Hong Xiuquan, Jesus's Chinese brother, who led the bloodiest event in modern history! Thanks again for watching. I'm WooKong and goodbye.