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Living Heritage: Duanwu

chinadaily.com.cn| Updated: June 5, 2024 L M S

Beating drums, synchronous strokes and an exhilarated crowd. Such spectacles of excitement are no rare scene across China on Duanwu, or Dragon Boat Festival, which falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month.

Although tales of its origin differ, the two-millennia-old festival is widely celebrated in memory of Qu Yuan, a patriotic poet during the Warring States Period (475-221 BC). When Qu realized his country's decline was beyond recovery, his remorse grew so strong that he committed suicide, on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. Legend has it that locals rowed boats to save the poet and threw zongzi, or sticky rice dumplings, into the river to keep fish from devouring his body. This tradition was passed down in China, even travelling across borders, carrying China’s respect for a patriot to all parts of the world.

A host of other practices are also associated with Duanwu. The fifth day of the fifth month is considered unlucky and poisonous. To rid themselves of the misfortune, many people, especially those in South China, take herbal baths, hang moxa and calamus plants over their doors and wear sachets stuffed with Chinese herbs, all with strong scents, to do away with venomous insects. Realgar wine, a common antidote against venom, is often enjoyed along with meals. Five-colored thread bracelets are also worn to obviate evil spirits. 

Duanwu began as a day to remember a poet steeped with love for his country. His patriotism is still celebrated today, with rich and fun customs that unite hearts across the globe, in methods that hail to the harmony between nature and man.