A poem to mark China's Dragon Boat Festival, known as Duanwu
Du Yubin

The Dragon Boat Festival, or Duanwu Festival (端午节), is a traditional Chinese festival which falls on the fifth day of May in the lunar calendar. In 2023, the festival falls on June 22 (Thursday). 

'Duan'(端) means 'beginning' and 'Wu'(五, or 午) means five. Therefore, 'Duanwu' means 'the fifth day of the fifth lunar month.'

The Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated to commemorate famous Chinese poet Qu Yuan, who is known for his patriotism and classical poetry. Qu drowned himself in the Miluo River on the fifth day of May (27 June, 278 BC) in China's Warring States period to protest at his homeland's fall.

From ancient times to today, memorial ceremonies combined with sporting events like dragon boating and feasts of rice dumplings (or Zongzi 粽子) are held to remember Qu.

It's said that the local people who admired him threw dumplings made of sticky rice into the river to feed the fish so that they would not eat Qu's body. Locals were also said to have paddled out on boats, either to scare the fish away or retrieve his body. This is said to be the origin of Zongzi and dragon boat racing.

In 1953, the World Peace Council named Qu Yuan as one of the four outstanding cultural figures in the world.

'Li Sao' (离骚 - literal translation: 'Encountering Sorrow' or 'Lament') is Qu's most famous ancient Chinese poem. 


The Lament (Excerpt)

By Qu Yuan 屈原

Translated by Yang Xianyi 杨宪益


Long did I sigh and wipe away my tears, To see my people bowed by griefs and fears.


But since my heart did love such purity, I'd not regret a thousand deaths to die.


The fallen flowers lay scattered on the ground, the dusk might fall before my dream was found.


The use of common rules they held debased; with confidence their crooked lines they traced.


The way was long, and wrapped in gloom did seem, as I urged on to seek my vanished dream.

A poem to mark China's Dragon Boat Festival, known as Duanwu

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