One of my students told me on Friday: “Now that Dragon Boat Festival is over, summer is finally here.” WHAT?? Here I am sweating through every shirt I have since I’ve been here, but little did I know that the REAL summer was about to hit. Not only that, but there are apparently two months of June in the Chinese calendar this year, aka “the weather will be very hot and will last longer than usual.” Loved to hear that.
I could only remember parts of the legend behind the Dragon Boat Festival, so I did some more research for the sake of preventing the spread of fake news: It is celebrated to commemorate a patriotic poet named Qu Yuan, who was also a minister in the State of Chu (one of the seven Warring States). He advised the King to ally with the State of Qi to fight against the most powerful State of Qin, but the King dismissed and exiled him after jealous officials slandered Yuan. Qu Yuan became devastated when the Qin State conquered Chu in 278 BC. On the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, Qu Yuan’s sadness drove him to commit suicide by tying himself to a heavy rock and jumping into the Miluo River. Legends say that the local people tried to preserve his body by paddling their boats up and down the river, while hitting the water with their paddles and beating drums to scare the river monsters away. They threw lumps of rice to feed the fish and distract them from eating Qu Yuan’s body. An old Chinese doctor also poured realger wine into the river to poison the monsters. Eventually, different aspects of this story transformed into Dragon Boat Festival traditions: rowing boats became dragon boat racing, the lumps of rice became traditional sticky dumplings called Zongzi, and people drink realger wine in commemoration of Qu Yuan.
While growing up, my dad would spend hours telling me stories about Greek history, legends, and mythology. These stories always broke me out of my bubble and gave me this surreal feeling, as if there was so much more out there than what this world seems to offer. I absolutely loved the mystery and inexplicable, magical nature of my dad’s tales. I felt myself getting excited the moment one of the teachers got up to explain the legend of the Dragon Boat Festival as we were on a school trip with the N.9 middle school students. We have been on several excursions where we’ve heard about historical events and the life stories of significant Chinese heroes, though a lot of the information can be hard to grasp, especially when my primary concern is trying not to pass out from standing in the sun. I was happy to learn something about Chinese history through this festival, especially in a form that was as homey and relatable to me as a legend.
On another note, I’m starting to believe dragons are real and are setting the sky on fire- it’s the only way I can justify the existence of this kind of heat.