Qu Yuan (ca.340 BCE – 278 BCE) was a Chinese scholar and minister to the King from the southern Chu during the Warring States Period.His works are mostly found in an anthology of poetry known as Chu Ci.His death is traditionally commemorated on the occasion of the Duanwu Festival ,which is commonly known in English as the Dragon Boat Festival or Double Fifth (fifth day of the fifth month of the traditional Chinese calendar)
One explanation is that the Duanwu Festival originated from people’s worship of dragons. In ancient China, people believed the dragon was the god in charge of water, which was vitally important to daily life and agricultural production. On the day of Duanwu, people raced dragon boats to entertain the god and offered him Zongzi as a treat. The sole purpose was to please the god to ensure a year of favorable weather.
Some people believe Duanwu comes from activities instigated by ancient sorcerers. These activities were held in early summer when the hot weather was about to bring diseases to people who didn’t have modern devices and medicines to protect themselves. So, ancient sorcerers encouraged people to wear fragrant pouches and hang mugwort and calamus on their doors to drive away the so-called evil spirits that caused diseases.
Scholars may provide many other explanations about the origin of the Duanwu Festival. But if you ask ordinary people about its origin, you’ll get the same answer. They will tell you that the Duanwu Festival honors the great poet, Qu Yuan. They’ll also tell you the story that has been passed down for more than 2,000 years.
Qu Yuan was born in 340 BC, during the Warring States Period. At that time, there were seven states struggling among themselves to unify China. Of the seven states, Qin was the strongest and Chu the largest.
Qu Yuan was a noble of Chu. During his lifetime, the powerful kingdom of Chu fell into a decline.
Early in his life, Qu Yuan won the confidence of the King of Chu, and was his deputy prime minister, helping draft laws and determine foreign-policy. When he saw the danger posed by the ambitious Qin State, he proposed government reforms and an alliance with the neighboring Qi state as a way to ensure Chu’s safety.
But the King of Chu was surrounded by self-seekers, who were jealous of Qu Yuan. They accepted bribes from the Qin’s envoy, dissuaded the King from taking Qu Yuan’s advice and brought about the poet’s estrangement from the King. Qu Yuan was finally sent into exile for 20 years.
During those desperate years, Qu Yuan helplessly watched his beloved country become weaker every day. In the year 278 BC, the capital of Chu was stormed by troops from Qin. In great pain, Qu Yuan wrote “Lisao” or “The Lament”, the greatest of all his poems. On the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, he drowned himself in the Milo River, because he was hopeless about his country’s future.
Qu Yuan died thousands of years ago, but he is remembered every year for his love of and loyalty to his country and his people.