Dragon Boat Festival and Summer Cleansing happens on the Fifth day of the Fifth Lunar Moon in Chinese calendar. Many have written about the famous Poet Qu Yuan who sacrificed his life in a political gesture long time ago that supposedly started the dragon boat race. Actually, ancient folk customs of dragon boat race started way back before Qu Yuan even came into being. The symbol of the dragon was used by the early Wu Yue 吳越 people in southern China as a sign of superiority and status to show their power against invaders. The territory of the Wu Yue people were in southern China with many rivers and water ways, so boats were the main transport. The boat race was a sport as well as a training for young warriors to use in battle. Legend has it that the King Gou Jian 勾踐 of the Wu Yue people started the dragon boat race. Various paintings, carvings of this mythical creature were created in daily lives to protect them from evil, to represent vitality and power, and to instill pride in the people.
In the summer season, cleansing the environment to avoid disease was important to the ancient people. On May the 5th, also called "Duan Wu Jie" 端五節, colorful threads representing the Five Elemental Energies were used to decorate the doorways, wrap around arms or hang from braids for protection and good luck. Folks collect orchids, herbs to create medicinal baths. In some regions, it was celebrated as the day for daughters. Also, in some northern China where there was a lack of rivers, no dragon boat existed and this particular day was actually considered a "Bad Day". It was bad luck to be born on this day. Shamanistic ceremonies for protections and cleansing would be needed to get throughout this day and remove the bad omens.
Ancient China with its vast terrain and diverse ethnic cultures certainly offer us more than one thing to study and think about. Happy Summer Solstice to all.
Pearl Weng Liang Huang, Founder of
Ru Yi Studio of Multicultural Arts