Traditionally held on the fifth day of the fifth moon on the lunar calendar, late May to mid June on the solar calendar, the Dragon Boat Festival commemorates the life and death of the ancient patriot-poet Qu Yuan who lived from 340-278 B.C.. Qu Yuan was a minister who advocated reforms in his home state of Chu. The King refused to listen to Qu Yuan’s advice and instead banished him from the state of Chu. In exile, Qu Yuan wrote poetry expressing his concern for his country and people. In 278, when Qu Yuan heard that his home had been invaded, he drowned himself in the Mi Lo River.
The people of Chu rushed to the river to rescue him. Too late to save Qu Yuan, they splashed furiously and threw zung-ze, steamed rice wrapped in reed leaves, into the river as a sacrifice to his spirit and to keep the fish from Qu Yuan’s body.
Since that time, some 2,000 years ago, dragon boats are racing on rivers in China and people throw zung-ze into the river to honour the memory of Qu Yuan.
Even before Qu Yuan, the fifth moon was a time of danger. With the hot and wet weather of summer came the perils of plagues and diseases. Parents embroidered designs of tigers eating poisonous insects on children’s clothing to protect them from evil spirits. In addition, children wore herb and spice filled amulets around their necks to ward off insects. Chinese people consider themselves to be the descendants of dragons and so during the fifth moon, feel it is appropriate to paddle boats with dragon designs and make sacrifices of zung-ze to cajole the river dragons