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Paintings about the Dragon Boat Festival

(China Daily)

09:18, June 08, 2013

Gather Medicinal Herbs (Cai Yao Cao) and Grant Owl Soup (Ci Xiao Geng) in Stories of the Dragon Boat Festival (Duan Yang Gu Shi Ce) by Xu Yang, the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) (

Every May or June, the fragrance of reed leaves fills the air. The Dragon Boat Festival, or Duanwu Festival, falls on the fifth day of the fifth month on the Chinese lunar calendar. In Chinese, "duan" means "outset", and "wu" is the shortened form of the fifth month in the lunar calendar. Thus, the day is called "duanwu" by the Chinese. According to location and dynasty, the festival is called something different. As many as twenty names are mentioned in historical records.

During the Dragon Boat Festival, ancient people always gathered medicinal herbs, drank realgar wine and suspended the artemisia and acorus calamus. Stories of the Dragon Boat Festival, kept in the Palace Museum, reveals folk customs of the festival. In the Qing Dynasty, emperors regarded developing folk customs as a way of stabilizing the political situation. For instance, Stories of the Dragon Boat Festival was drawn under the order of Emperor Qianlong, whose seals were in it. The album is composed of eight pictures with their titles in the official script and notes in the running script. These pictures are Shoot Glutinous Rice Dumplings (She Fen Tuan), Grant Owl Soup, Gather Medicinal Herbs, Feed Mynahs (Yang Qu Yu), Suspend a Doll made of Artemisia (Xuan Ai Ren), Tie Colorful Silk Treads (Xi Cai Si), and Watch Dragon Boat Races (Guan Jing Du).

The Dragon Boat Festival originated as a memorial ceremony for dragons in ancient times. In the Song Dynasty (960-1279), the title of Loyalty Duke (Zhong Lie Gong) was conferred upon Qu Yuan. He has been commemorated since then on the fifth day of fifth lunar month. Among various commemorative activities, the dragon boat race is most well-known one.

The word "dragon boat (Long Zhou)" appeared for the first time in Annals of Emperor Mu (Mu Tian Zi Zhuan). A paragraph in Jingchu Chronicle (Jingchu Sui Shi Ji) reads, "On the fifth day of the fifth lunar month…people always take dragon boat races and gather medicinal herbs." There are too many of these historical materials to recount. Emperors in the Tang, Song, Yuan (1271-1368), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing dynasties all liked to watch dragon boat races.

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