Wednesday June 16 is the 2010 Macau Dragonboat Festival. Macau is already starting to see lots of tourists coming in from Mainland China. At the Venetian Casino (where I currently work) we noticed a lot of activity Monday night. The official holiday is Wednesday but the entire week is a holiday period (does this qualify as a “golden week”, hmmm…..not sure about that.)
I’ve lived in Macau over two years now and I still haven’t seen the Dragonboat races! Because I work in entertainment, we’re always doing extra shows during the holiday periods so we don’t get to partake as much as we’d like.
The Dragonboat holiday, or Duanwu, is a very old one in China but was denied official recognition under the People’s Republic of China established in 1949. The Chinese government has re-adopted the holiday and it was officially recognized again starting in 2008.
The short story: a famous poet drowned in the water so people throw food to the fish so the fish will be fed and not eat the poet’s body. That’s the story I’ve heard from local Macanese. More details posted below.
Here’s more info on the Dragonboat festival and water races:
The best-known traditional story holds that the festival commemorates the death of poet Qu Yuan (c. 340 BC – 278 BC) of the ancient state of Chu, in the Warring States Period of the Zhou Dynasty. A descendant of the Chu royal house, Qu served in high offices. However, when the king decided to ally with the increasingly powerful state of Qin, Qu was banished for opposing the alliance. Qu Yuan was accused of treason. During his exile, Qu Yuan wrote a great deal of poetry, for which he is now remembered. Twenty-eight years later, Qin conquered the capital of Chu. In despair, Qu Yuan committed suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo River on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month.
It is said that the local people, who admired him, threw food into the river to feed the fish so that they would not eat Qu Yuan’s body. This is said to be the origin of zongzi. The local people were also said to have paddled out on boats, either to scare the fish away or to retrieve his body. This is said to be the origin of dragon boat racing.
Traditional Chinese 端午節
Simplified Chinese 端午节
- Hanyu Pinyin Duānwǔ Jié
- Hokkien POJ toan-ngó͘-cheh
- Romanization tø ŋ tɕiɪʔ
- Jyutping Dyun1 Ng5 Zit8
Duanwu Festival (Chinese: 端午節), also known as Dragon Boat Festival, is a traditional and statutory holiday associated with Chinese and other East Asian and Southeast Asian societies as well. It is a public holiday in Taiwan, where it is known by the Mandarin name Duānwǔ Jié, as well as in Hong Kong and Macau, where it is known by the Cantonese name Tuen Ng Jit. In 2008, the festival was restored in China as an official national holiday. The festival is also celebrated in countries with significant Chinese populations, such as in Singapore and Malaysia. Equivalent and related festivals outside Chinese-speaking societies include the Kodomo no hi in Japan, Dano in Korea, and Tết Đoan Ngọ in Vietnam.
The festival occurs on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar on which the Chinese calendar is based. This is the source of the alternative name of Double Fifth. In 2009 this falls on May 28 and in 2010 on June 16. The focus of the celebrations includes eating the rice dumpling zongzi, drinking realgar wine, and racing dragon boats.
In May 2009, the Chinese government nominated the festival for inclusion in UNESCO’s global “Intangible Cultural Heritage” list, partly in response to South Korea’s successful nomination of the Dano festival in 2005 which China criticised as “cultural robbery”.
Duanwu Festival is traditionally celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month on the Chinese lunar calendar.
Duanwu commemorates the life and death of the famous Chinese scholar Qu Yuan, he was a loyal minister that served the King of Chu during the Warring States Period in 3 centuries BC. Initially, his sovereign favored Qu Yuan, but over time, his wisdom and erudite ways antagonized the other court officials. And then he was Trumped up a charge of conspiracy, and ejected by his sovereign. During the exile, Qu Yuan made many poems to express his anger and sorrow of his sovereign and people.
In the year 278 B.C., at the age of 37, Qu Yuan drowned himself in the Milo River. He clasped a heavy stone to his chest and leaped into the water. Knowing that Qu Yuan was a righteous man, the people of Chu rushed to the river to try to save him. The people desperately searched the waters in their boats looking for Qu Yuan, but they were unsuccessful in their attempt to rescue him. Every year the Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated to commemorate this attempt at rescuing Qu Yuan.
When it was known that Qu Yuan had been lost forever, the local people began the tradition of throwing sacrificial cooked rice into the river for their lost hero. However, a local fisherman had a dream that Qu Yuan did not get any of the cooked rice that was thrown into the river in his honor. Instead, it was the fish in the river that had eaten the rice. And so, the locals decided to make zongzi to sink into the river in the hopes that it would reach Qu Yuan’s body. The following year, the tradition of wrapping the rice in bamboo leaves to make zongzi began.
There is also another version of the story. When it was known that Qu Yuan had been lost to the river, the local fisherman had a dream that the fish in the river were eating Qu Yuan’s body. The local people came up with the idea that if the fish in the river were not hungry, then they would not eat Qu Yuan’s body. People thus began throwing zongzi into the river to feed the fish in hope that Qu Yuan’s body would be spared.