The story of the Dragon Boat Races can be traced back 2400 years ago to the legend of Qu Yuan, who has become an historic model of patriotism in China. At that time China was divided into many states, and Qu Yuan was a minister of the state of Chu in the Yangtze River valley to the south. During the war between the states of Qin and Chu, the king of Chu was fooled into banishing Qu Yuan. Chu was in danger of being taken over. Qu Yuan wandered the countryside and wrote about his love for his country and people and wrote some of the most beautiful poetry in the Chinese language. In a long poem, the autobiographical and allegorical, Li Sao, he poured out his feelings of grief and concern for the state of Chu. In his frustration and sorrow over his beloved country, he clasped a big stone to his breast and leaped into the Mi Lo River to end his life. Legend has it that local fishermen raced out in their boats to try and save him, but failed. To prevent his body being eaten by fish they beat the waters furiously with their paddles and threw rice dumplings wrapped in silk into the River as a sacrifice to his spirit.
In memory of Qu Yuan, every year on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar, the day he drowned himself, dragon boat races, which are said to represent the search for his body, are still held, and the Chinese people eat zongzi, little packets of glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves, thought to have their origin in the bamboo tubes of rice thrown into the river as food for his spirit . Originally, to keep the river dragons from eating them, the packets were tied with colored silk threads, which dragons fear. In some cultures the dragon is considered to be evil. But Chinese dragons are strong, powerful and frequently a symbol for spring rain and growth. They are also protective and benevolent which is why the dragon boat races are viewed as a means of spreading good luck. (By Sylvia Ali)