The Duanwu Festival, also often known, especially in the West, as the Dragon Boat Festival, is a traditional holiday originating in China, occurring near the summer solstice. It is also known as Zhongxiao Festival, commemorating fealty and filial piety. The festival now occurs on the 5th day of the 5th month of the Chinese lunar calendar.
The story best known in modern China holds that the festival commemorates the death of the poet and minister Qu Yuan (c. 340–278 BC) of the ancient state of Chu during the Warring States period of the Zhou Dynasty. A cadet member 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 and even accused of treason. During his exile, Qu Yuan wrote a great deal of poetry. Twenty-eight years later, Qin captured Ying, the Chu capital. In despair, Qu Yuan committed suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo River.
It is said that the local people, who admired him, raced out in their boats to save him, or at least retrieve his body. This is said to have been the origin of dragon boat races. When his body could not be found, they dropped balls of sticky rice into the river so that the fish would eat them instead of Qu Yuan's body. This is said to be the origin of zongzi.
The festival was long marked as a cultural festival in China and is a public holiday in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau. The People's Republic of China government established in 1949, however, did not officially recognize Duanwu as a public holiday. Beginning in 2005, the government began to plan for the recognition of three traditional holidays, including Duanwu. Since 2008, Duanwu has been celebrated not only as a festival but also as a public holiday in the People's Republic of China. It is unofficially observed by the Chinese communities of Southeast Asia, including Singapore and Malaysia.
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