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UPDATED: 16:18, June 22, 2004
Dragon Boat Festival: Past and Present
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The Dragon Boat Festival is a lunar holiday, occurring on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month.

Backgrounder: the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival (the Duanwu Festival) is a significant holiday celebrated in China, and the one with the longest history. The Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated by boat races in the shape of dragons. Competing teams row their boats forward to a drumbeat racing to reach the finish end first.

The boat races during the Dragon Boat Festival are traditional customs to attempts to rescue the patriotic poet Chu Yuan. Chu Yuan drowned on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month in 277 B.C. Chinese citizens now throw bamboo leaves filled with cooked rice into the water. Therefore the fish could eat the rice rather than the hero poet. This later on turned into the custom of eating Zongzi and rice dumplings.

The celebration's is a time for protection from evil and disease for the rest of the year. It is done so by different practices such as hanging healthy herbs on the front door, drinking nutritious concoctions, and displaying portraits of evil's nemesis, Chung Kuei. If one manages to stand an egg on it's end at exactly 12:00 noon, the following year will be a lucky one.

Today, a variety of activities for celebrating the festival are held nationwide.

Dragon Boat Festival activities expanded

In addition to the popular tradition of dragon boat races, a variety of activities are planned across the country to celebrate today's festival.

More than 100 noted poets gathered in Beijing for a three-day seminar which ends today. They studied the poems of Qu Yuan -- the patriot poet in the Warring States Period (475-221 BC) from when the festival originates -- and also composed their own verses in memory of the late hero.

The Chinese capital will host a park carnival and a seminar as well, both focusing on folk customs during the festival.

"I am excited about the upcoming carnival, because I used to celebrate the day by simply eating a couple of Zongzi (a pyramid-shaped dumpling made of glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves)," said Lu Ying, a thirty-something Beijinger.

The traditional festival has even won favor from websites this year.

Online services are available this year for people to remember Qu Yuan. People can read about his story, study his poems and send virtual Zong Zi to him at, a special website devoted to Qu Yuan.

"The variety in celebrations on the festival is probably connected with the increasing awareness among the public about preserving traditional culture," said Lu Ying. >>>

However, the Chinese people were indignant when news came that the Republic of Korea were applying world heritage status for its "Jiang Ling Duan Wu Memorial Rites", a festival more or less similar with the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival. Feeling their own traditional culture being "stole away", people are asking--

Whose Dragon Boat Festival?

For traditional Asian culture facing same modernization challenge, China and the Republic of Korea (ROK) are both only one of the representatives, perhaps in the process of breaking through an encirclement, Dragon Boat Festival (Duan Wu) (the 5th day of the 5th lunar month) will become a shared cultural heritage in the East Asian cultural circle.

No matter whether or not the ROK applies for making Dragon Boat Festival a world cultural heritage for its own country, the topic of China's traditional national culture has once again aroused the Chinese people's attention, the ROK which is also in the same cultural circle has many things that are worthwhile for China to use as reference. >>>

It's not only Duan Wu, other traditional Chinese festivals such as the Spring Festival, Lantern Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival and Double Ninth Festival etc. have already blended into the cultures of our neighbors and acquired their respective features. Is it possible that one day another neighbor wants to apply for them as world heritages?

Worries concerning Dragon Boat Festival

This year's Dragon Boat Festival is accompanied by a secret worry - a few years from now will Dragon Boat Festival still be China's holiday? This is not at all a baseless worry. In April a piece of new broke out - a neighboring country planned to apply for recognition of Dragon Boat Festival as its world heritage.

The Chinese were astounded: How come our two-thousand-year long Dragon Boat Festival becomes cultural heritage of other country! Although it was later confirmed that the "Jiang Ling Duan Wu Memorial Rites" the country was applying for is a kind of sacrificial activity, which is different from China's Duan Wu (Dragon Boat Festival). But one thing is certain that it indeed evolved from China's Duan Wu. If the said country successfully applies for it China can no longer apply for world heritage in the name of "Duan Wu".>>

Experts say that the ROK is not to blame for its efforts to push forward the Dragon Boat Festival, which arrived in the country over 1,000 years ago, as a world heritage of the whole human race. However, experts are calling that--

China should focus on preservation of traditional culture

"The annual dragon boat race here is the best proof that the festival belongs to China," said Li Biyan, a former government official of Yueyang, central China's Hunan province.

On May 12, nearly 10,000 people of Yueyang, university students mainly, took part in a signature activity, as an appeal to protect this traditional Chinese festival.

Instead of blindly claiming sovereignty of the festival, Chinese should pay more heeds to the preservation of traditional culture, said Wu Bing'an, vice-chairman of Chinese Folklore Society.

"We do not have a systematic and authoritative set of laws on the protection of our traditional culture," said Wu, "whereas legislation of this field has been instituted in Japan and Republic of Korea as early as the mid-20th century." >>>

By People's Daily Online

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