People practice paddling before a dragon
boat race for the Dragon Boat Festival on the West Lake of Fuzhou, East
China's Fujian province June 4, 2008.(Xinhua Photo)
By Li Huizi
BEIJING, June 8 (Xinhua) -- Beijing office worker Li
Bingshuang celebrated the annual traditional Chinese Dragon Boat Festival, or
Duanwu Festival, on Sunday, by rowing a boat with friends and having a picnic at
the well-known Summer Palace.
On the rented boat at the park which ancient emperors
and royal families used to enjoy play, Li and friends chatted and played cards
under the summer sunshine.
"As ancestors commemorated the existence of a very
famous Chinese poet Qu Yuan on the day by performing dragon boating and making
zongzi, we do similar activities to observe the day," said the 26-year-old who
had spent hours to prepare the picnic food. This included zongzi, pyramid-shaped
dumpling made of glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves eaten during
the Dragon Boat Festival on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month.
Li said she felt at ease to plan the holiday as in
all, she had three days off for the festival. "It has been long time for me not
to stop to smell the flower and completely relax myself."
NATIONAL HOLIDAY FOR FIRST TIME
Previously, Li worked over the festival day as most
Chinese did, especially when the day fell on weekdays; there had been no day off
allowed on one of the most important traditional occasions of the nation.
On Dec. 16, the State Council, China's Cabinet,
revised the nation's official holiday schedule to add three traditional
festivals -- "Tomb-Sweeping Day," "Dragon Boat Festival" and "Mid-Autumn
Festival" -- in response to public demand. It also changed the length of other
"We have time to celebrate now, or at least have time
to ponder what the festival means, and in what way we observe it," Li told
Like most of China's post-1980's generation, Li has
been more attracted to the modern society than toward traditional ideas.
She only learned about the festival from school
textbooks and in her more than 20 years of life, she never celebrated such an
occasion except by eating zongzi bought from the supermarket.
But this year, she made the zongzi together with her
friends. "We have time this year due to the holiday," she said.
The Dragon Boat Festival, named after the traditional
activities for the holiday, is observed in many other East Asian nations as
People usually eat zongzi, drink wine and race dragon
Traditionally, the day commemorated the anniversary
of the death of patriotic poet Qu Yuan, a minister during the Warring States
Period (475-221 B.C.). Out of despair, he committed suicide by drowning himself
in the Miluo River in central Hunan Province after his nation was conquered.
Local people felt so grieved that they threw wrapped
rice balls into the river nearly immediately to feed the fish so that his body
would not be eaten by them.
Locals were said to use reed leaves grown by the
river as covers to wrap the glutinous rice balls.
Boats were also paddled out to scare the fish away so
that Qu's body could be retrieved. This was believed to be the origin of dragon
Folklorist Ji Lianhai said there were other meanings
behind the festival as well. Traditionally, Chinese considered themselves as
offspring of dragons, and the festival was created as a means of communication
with Chinese ancestor, such as the dragon boat and zongzi presented to the
As the festival ushered in a hot summer, people
invented many ways to prevent diseases, such as drinking realgar wine. "The day
should also be made as an occasion to spread knowledge of the traditional
Chinese medicine," Ji added.
At present, he said, the nation attached much
importance to the value of patriotism embodied in poet Qu and called for
carrying on his spirit of safeguarding national interests when the country faces
Ji suggested that communities should hold more
activities for people to be aware of the holiday and let the one-day off become
Kiran Gautam, managing editor of the "Naya Nepal
Post," told Xinhua via e-mail that to revive traditions more younger generations
of people should be involved in preserving culture.
"Culture always unite people," Gautam said, adding
the Dragon Boat Festival was typical of China, a country which had a long
history of more than 5,000 years, and that it should be well protected.
Sometimes people could not know more about a
traditional festival until they got a national holiday for it, he said.
"The new holiday measure will surely encourage young
generations to celebrate the festival and understand the unknown culture and
history behind it and past it on to the next generation," Gautam said.
After watching a dragon boat race years ago in Hong
Kong, David Jones, managing editor of "The Washington Times," was impressed to
see the way that "a very old tradition had been retained and incorporated into
the life of such a modern and progressive society".
Learning the story of why the eye was painted onto
the dragon boat helped him to understand better the traditions of Chinese
culture, said Jones via e-mail, adding he hoped the holiday would help to
reinvigorate the festival.
"As globalization tends to make everything in the
world more the same, it is important to preserve these traditions that make each
society unique," he said.
Korean people are more nostalgic as the Republic of
Korea (ROK) successfully registered the festival with UNESCO's intangible
cultural heritage in 2004, prior to China.
Chen Qinjian, a professor of the East China Normal
University, said the traditions of the festival were much better protected in
ROK, and Chinese began to be more aware of tradition preservation recently.
Hunan Province has proposed to apply for the UNESCO
status for the Chinese traditions of the festival and the birthplace of poet Qu.
"The research work for the application is going to be
enormous, but that helps the nation to cherish traditions," said Chen.