5th day of 5th lunar month
June 23, 2012
June 6, 2011
June 16, 2010;
Duanwu is often called Double Fifth, because it falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month of the Chinese calendar, but it’s more commonly referred to as the Dragon Boat Festival, after its most famous annual event.
Almost as famous are the delicious special foods prepared for this date. The traditional dish, zongzi, is a triangular rice ball stuffed with sweet or savory fillings, and wrapped in bamboo leaves. The Duanwu beverage of choice is a special realgar yellow rice wine.
The inspiration for the holiday comes from the death of one of China’s first great poets, Qu Yuan. Qu Yuan was a political advisor in the late forth century BC who urged his king to unite with other kingdoms against the rising state Qin. However, jealous and corrupt political opponents counseled the king against the advice of Qu Yuan, who was accused of treason and forced into exile. It was during this exile that Qu Yuan traveled the country gathering and recording local folklore and legends. When Qin did eventually attack and capture the capital city of Ying, Qu Yuan composed one of his greatest works, “Lament for Ying”. He then committed suicide by tying himself to a rock and jumping into a river.
The local fishermen tried to keep the fish from eating Qu Yuan’s body by throwing food into the water. Over time this became a tradition. Later a legend gained credence that Qu Yuan was killed by a great underwater dragon.
The Maoist government banned celebrations of Duanwu in 1949. It wasn’t until only a few years ago that the Chinese government officially reinstated three of the country’s most popular holidays: Tomb Sweeping Day, Mid-Autumn Festival and Duanwu.