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Duanwu Festival has become a commemorative date for the Chinese patriot and poet, Qu Yuan. The fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar is not only a day to enjoy rice dumplings wrapped in leaves or to watch the dragon boat races. It’s also an occasion to remind oneself of one’s duties and obligations to the nation along with the sacrifices and contributions of Qu Yuan and other patriots.

A great poet and patriotic minister, Qu Yuan (340-278 BC), had opposed the alliance between his king and State of Chu (楚). He was unsuccessful and overwhelmed by the misery of the fact that his state was collapsing. He committed suicide by throwing himself into the Mi Luo River on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month.

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The story goes that when the fishermen heard of Qu Yuan’s suicide, they immediately set forth in their boats to look for him. Thus began the tradition of having dragon boat races at Duanwu Festival.


It’s also said that when Qu Yuan’s body could not be found, the people started throwing rice into the river to divert the fish and river dragon from eating the patriot by having the rice bundled in chinaberry leaves and tied with five-coloured threads. Another explanation is that the rice was thrown in to feed Qu Yuan. Hence, rice dumplings wrapped in leaves have become an integral part of the Duanwu Festival.

Now that you know the origins of Duanwu, it’s time to brush up your dumpling wrapping skills!

Info source:  
Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations, Chinese customs and festivals in Singapore, p. 51

Suchitthra Vasu, “Dragon Boat Festival”, accessed on 30 May 2019, cited in Latsch, M. (1985). Traditional Chinese festivals. Singapore: G. Brash, p. 59