Festival
Legends
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Dragon Boat Festival Story

Item (direct transcription):

A long, long time ago, there was a minister that really, really loved his king, very much. But his king wouldn’t listen to him. He’s like, “King, the ministers you just hired are bad people. You really have to listen to me.” And the king’s like, “I will not listen to you. You know why? Because the new ministers I hired think you’re a liar.”

With that, the minister was so heartbroken; he wrote a suicide note. He wrote the suicide note that said: “King, I love you too much. You’re a very good king. You must not listen to them. These two new hire-ees are bad people. If you don’t believe me, then maybe in death you will understand.” With that, he jumped inside a pond, or a lake, or a large body of water, so he could get the job done. And then he drowned—he let himself drown—and he died.

The king saw the letter—the suicide letter—and said, “Oh my god. He would commit suicide just to warn me? Get those two hire-ees out of my palace!” And then, this minister was actually a beloved minister, so a lot of people were like, “Shoot, his body is in the water. He’s probably being eaten by fishes right now.” So, they made some meats and vegetables, wrapped it in rice, and wrapped it in bamboo leaves, and then they threw it into the water so that the fish would eat the bamboos—I mean, rice that are wrapped in bamboo leaves—instead of the body. And to this day, whenever we celebrate Dragon Boat Festival we eat that in remembrance for that man.

Background Information:

The informant was taught this story by his “elders” in the Chinese community. He has heard the story many times from many different people.

The informant thinks that the story might be true, since it seems plausible to him.

Interestingly, the informant does not believe that there is any meaning or moral to the story. When his elders taught him the story, it was presented as important not due to its truthfulness or meaning, but due to its ancientness. For that reason, he believes that the story is told simply for the sake of perpetuating a tradition from generation to generation.

Contextual Information:

This story is only told on the day of the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival, ostensibly to honor the minister’s sacrifice. The informant didn’t know why the story was associated with that particular festival.

Analysis:

I find it interesting that the informant does not find any moral in the story. To me, several morals (e.g. you can only know who your real friends are in hindsight) are apparent. It seems that because of the context in which the story was related to the informant, it never occurred to him to search for a moral. He simply took it for granted that the story is told only due to its ancientness.

Perhaps, over-stressing the traditional weight of a story can actually reduce its effectiveness by distracting the recipient from the interesting qualities of the story itself.

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