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The Dragon Boat Festival is a traditional Chinese holiday in June that has numerous tales about its origin. The most popular one commemorates the life and death of Qu Yuan, a famous but controversial scholar who loyally served the King of Chu in the 3rd century BC. Court officials, wary of Qu Yuan's wisdom and intelligence, falsely accused him of conspiracy. As a result, the king exiled Qu Yuan, who then spent this time writing poems. He is known as China's first poet.
When the Qin State conquered the capital of Chu in 278 BC, Qu Yuan was so distraught that he committed suicide by jumping into the Miluo River. People of Chu who believed Qu Yuan to be an honorable man searched the river in their boats, beating drums and throwing rice into the water to keep evil spirits and fish away from his body, but they were not able to save him. The Dragon Boat Festival commemorates their attempts to rescue him.
The multi-day festival begins on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar (which is the reason some call it the Double Fifth Festival), This puts the time around the summer solstice and each year the dates change. Festivities include dragon boat races, eating special foods like zongzi (rice dumplings), and drinking realgar wine, entertainment, and games.
In the Republic of China, the festival was also celebrated as "Poet's Day" in honor of Qu Yuan. Other names for the festival are Double Fifth; Duanwu Festival; and Tuen Ng Jit,. Even though it was a cultural holiday in China for a long time, the Dragon Boat Festival was made a traditional holiday in 2008.
A dragon boat is a human-powered vessel that holds a team of 20 paddlers, a drummer, and a steers person. Boats may be brightly decorated and have a dragon's head in the front and a scaly tail at the end. *Sizes and lengths of dragon boats vary with some of the largest boats able to hold 80 paddlers (they must all be the same size to race). A sacred ceremony is held before the competition to bring the boat "to life". The goal, of course, is to be first boat to finish the race.
Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, and South Korea also hold Dragon Boat Festivals, based on the Chinese festival, but with their own special differences.