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Han Hua: Duan Wu continues to bring people together


By Han Hua    Source: CGTN    Published: 2019-6-7

Duan Wu, literally the "double fifth" lunar day and month, or Dragon Boat Festival, brings people closer every year. Why? Unlike many other traditional holidays that honor gods or Mother Nature, Duan Wu was created by the people to commemorate a real person.

This year, the date of Duan Wu coincides with the first day of Gaokao, China's standardized university entrance examination. Since the day is celebrated to honor Lord Qu Yuan, one of the most renowned poets and an outstanding politician and nobleman in Chinese history, many (not necessarily having a Gaokao student at home) see it as a good sign and blessing, and express the wishes through social media such as WeChat or Weibo, by inventing a lot of new emojis for the occasion, and humorous well wishes. Suddenly, the Duan Wu plus Gaokao combo doubles the holiday happiness and presents a good lead-in for more celebratory activities in the next three days.

This is a very modern way for Chinese people to celebrate their long preserved traditional holidays, reflecting an attitude of the cycle "the merrier the people are, the more respect our ancestors get, then we get their blessing in return," which is also intriguing to me from time to time as a Chinese person.

For example, when I searched online for the scented sachets, a small silk bag stuffed with aromatic herbs to be worn by children during Duan Wu, I was amazed to see the variety of these sachets and the words and patterns embroidered on it. Traditionally, the sachets require five-color silk string in order to ward off evil; now it is up to the fashion to make the final say of the color used, the words and patterns embroidered. The most popular ones could go with pure black or white, with words such as "pass every exam," "drive safe," "I love you," "get all the gadgets for free," etc.

All of this echoes Qu Yuan spiritually. The nobleman left us with his famous poem collection Li Sao, in which he actually dedicates many chapters to his clothes, the preferred clothing by fairies in his imagination, the ideal look of noble men and women, the accessories they should wear, etc. What a fashion icon who immediately transcended modern society to stay beside us!

Zong Zi is another example. Chinese traditional holidays always go with some themed food to be commemorated. The pyramid-shaped dumpling of sticky rice wrapped in reed leaves is the theme food for Duan Wu. Legend tells us that Zong Zi is produced and thrown into the Miluo River, where Qu Yuan committed suicide, in order to steer clear the fish from eating Qu Yuan's body.

After thousands of years, that sad moment is transferred into a rather warm moment when family and friends sit down together and wrap Zong Zi, sharing stories and laughter. What is more, thanks to the availability of materials and numerous experiments by Chinese, Zong Zi can be wrapped in many shapes and using various food materials ranging from lobster meat to cranberry. The only thing that has stayed the same is the reed leaves.

Duan Wu becomes even younger when it also engages new media to help boost the bond, generation by generation, and among people who do not even know each other.

There are families in Guangdong Province, where the dragon boat race is deeply rooted, in which the younger generation refused to inherit and pass on the heritage. All of a sudden comes Dou Yin and Kuai Shou, the short video online platforms where young people could post their masculine dragon boat racing online and make an appointment for a new race. Many views even require close-ups of the manually made Dragon Boat to appreciate the elegant craftsmanship. Duan Wu culture and customs are perfectly inherited then, known to more people all over the world, and people are connected.

Han Hua is a research fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University in China.

Key Words: China   festival   tradition   Han Hua  

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