Thursday, June 05, 2008

Dragon Boat Festival and Guilin

This Sunday is Dragon Boat Festival according to the Chinese lunar calendar. The holiday always falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. Though it will be a Sunday this year, we will also have Monday off from school.

Being given time off from classes and soon to leave China, Janet and I decided we must travel somewhere new and decided to take an overnight train to Guilin, about eight hours to our north. Guilin is famous throughout China for its karst topography where limestone peaks scenically rise up around the Li River. The scene is described by many classical Chinese poets and even pictured on the back of the 20 Yuan bill. I'm looking forward to leaving tonight!

As to Dragon Boat Festival, I had my students describe the holiday in class and it is a celebration of a famous Chinese poet named Qu Yuan. He served in an imperial court during the Warring States Period in China, nearly 2300 years ago. According to legend, the ruler at the time was treating the people poorly and many were dying from famine and war with neighboring kingdoms. Qu Yuan couldn't bear to see the people suffering and pleaded with the Emperor to make changes. When the Emperor ignored him, Qu Yuan jumped from a cliff into a river to kill himself.

The peasants, seeing Qu Yuan drowning in the river, rushed to their boats and tried to race out to save him. Along the way, they threw zongzi (glutinous rice dumplings) into the river so that the fish might eat the dumplings and not the poet. Unfortunately, the people were too late to save Qu Yuan from drowning.

Today, Dragon Boat Festival commemorates Qu Yuan's death. Here in Zhanjiang there will be a large boat racing competition and the people will eat zongzi to celebrate the day. I'm hoping there will be a boat race in Guilin to watch, but if not, there should at least be plenty of rice dumplings to eat.

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