Like thousands of onlookers throughout the world, I watched the dragon boats commemorating the ancient story of a famous Chinese poet.
People in Guangzhou packed the route along the tributaries of the Pearl River as more than 100 dragon boats cruised through the city.
The three-day festival commemorates the death of the poet and politician Qu Yuan (340–278 B.C.) of the ancient state of Chu during the Zhou dynasty.
However, when the Zhou king decided to ally with the increasingly powerful state of Qin, the creators of the Terra Cotta warriors in Xi’an, Qu was banished for opposing the alliance and even accused of treason.
In exile, Qu became China’s first great poet.
Years later, the Qin captured Ying, the Chu capital. In despair, Qu committed suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo River.
The story goes that local people raced out in their boats to save him or at least retrieve his body. Thus, the story of the dragon boats began. When his body could not be found, the locals dropped balls of sticky rice into the river so that the fish would eat them instead of Qu Yuan’s body. Thus began the legacy of zongzi, or sticky rice. Hint: if you have never eaten sticky rice, you take off the leaf and the ribbon.
The People’s Republic of China did not officially recognize the celebration as a public holiday. Since 2008, however, “Duanwu,” as it’s known in China, has been celebrated not only as a festival but also as a public holiday.