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Qu Yuan


Qu Yuan (340~278 BC) is one of the most prominent poets in Chinese classic literature, and often held as a prime example of patriotism He was initially a brilliant minister of the Kingdom of Chu in the Warring States Period. Advocating a foreign policy of alliance with other states against the Kingdom of Qin, the then hegemonic power threatening to dominate them all, he fell under the slander by other corrupt, jealous officials at home, lost favour with the King, and was driven in exile. Enticed by deceptive offers from Qin, the King abandoned the alliance with Qi. Failure to take the right course of action in diplomacy resulted in a series of major military defeats to Qin, and the Chu state went in reduced circumstances.

The exile was years of depression for Qu Yuan. He spent much of this time collecting legends and rearranging folk odes while traveling in the countryside, and produced some of the greatest poetry in Chinese literature. In his poetry, he expresses fervent love for his motherland, and a deep concern for its future in the face of the expansionism of Qin. In 278 BC, the Chu capital fell to Qin general Bai Qi. Learning the bad news, Qu Yuan ended up drowning himself in the Miluo River out of his intense and abiding grief on the fifth day of the fifth month of Chinese lunar calendar.

Qu Yuan is credited to have initiated the sao style of verse (named after his representative work Li Sao (the Sorrows of Parting)), which abandoned the then prevailing four-character verses as in poems of the Classic of Poetry in favour of verses with varying lengths. Packed with rich and bold imaginations between the lines, Qu Yuan’s works are deemed to open the tradition of Romanticism in Chinese classic literature, with influences on later great Romanticist poets such as Li Bai (701~762).

The Chinese folk remembers Qu Yuan every year by dedicating a festival to him – the Dragon Boat Festival, which falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of Chinese lunar calendar, the day of Qu Yuan’s death. Customs of eating zongzi (rice dumplings wrapped in seed leaves) and dragon boat racing are related to Qu Yuan. People beat drums and splash the water with the paddles to keep fish and evil spirits away from eating his body, and zongis is thrown into the river both as an offering to Qu Yuan’s spirit and distract the fish.
Qu Yuan committing suicide, with a stone in arms, wading into the Miluo River.Folk custom of throwing zongzi (rice dumplings) into rivers on Dragon Boat Festival, commemorating Qu Yuan's death.
A painting showing Qu Yuan committing suicide, with a stone in arms, wading into the Miluo River.Folk custom of throwing zongzi (rice dumplings) into rivers on Dragon Boat Festival, commemorating Qu Yuan's death.
Zongzi, rice dumplings, on Dragon Boat Festival, commemorating Qu Yuan's death.Folk custom of dragon boat racing on Dragon Boat Festival, commemorating Qu Yuan's death.
Zongzi, rice dumplings, on Dragon Boat Festival, commemorating Qu Yuan's death.Folk custom of dragon boat racing on Dragon Boat Festival, commemorating Qu Yuan's death.



 

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