This friend of mine heard I was finding people to collect folklore and decided to help. He came up with several origins of traditional Chinese festivals. For this particular festival, he said he learned it from his middle school teacher when they were studying a poem the protagonist wrote in literature class.
During the Spring and Autumn Period in China history, there is a patriotic poet called Qu Yuan from the Country of Chu. In 229 BC., Country Qin invaded eight cities of Chu, but then invited King of Chu to Qin to make a peace treaty. Believing this is King of Qin’s scheme, Qu Yuan tried to reason with King of Chu, but only irritated the king and got himself exiled. King of Chu accepted the offer and did went to Qin, but as soon as he got there he was held in captive. King of Chu was full of regret and worry, and died three years later in Qin. After he died, Qin continued to invade Chu, and finally seize the capital. During Qu Yuan’s exile, he heard of the death of the King and the news that the capital was seized, he realized his country no long exists. Depressed, he drowned himself in the river. The day he committed suicide later became the day of Duanwu.
After Qu Yuan’s death, the used-to-be citizen of Chu were touched and full of grief. They went to the river to mourn over Qu Yuan. Fishermen rowed the boat on the river over and over again hoping to find his body but all failed. Someone then threw the rice rolls and other food into the river, hoping these food was enough for the fish in the river so they would not hurt Qu Yuan’s body. Everyone else followed him and began to threw food in the river. Every year of this day people continued to do that in memory of Qu Yuan, and these activity gradually became the Duanwu Festival’s traditions today — eating the special rice roll Zongzi and rowing Dragon boat.
Duanwu Festival is one of the most important traditional festivals in China. It does not mean much for me, except that this is the day we would eat a special and delicious food meant for this day only, called Zongzi (made of sticky rice and various other ingredients of your choice, served in a plant’s leaf). I kinda know this festival is originally held in memory of Qu Yuan but never know why. This is educational.