Sunday, June 05, 2011



By Kevin Stoda, Matsu, Taiwan

Tomorrow, the 6th of June 2011, is when Chinese around the globe celebrate DRAGON BOAT FESTIVAL.


The Dragon Boat Festival is a national holiday in Taiwan. According to one Taiwanese government website, the “Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, and together with Chinese New Year and Mid-Autumn Festival forms one of the three major Chinese holidays. Since the summer is a time when diseases most easily spread, Dragon Boat Festival began as an occasion for driving off evil spirits and pestilence and for finding peace in one's life. The festival was later enriched by the legend of the patriot Chu Yuan.” It is the chinese festival that has the longest history, i.e. dating back well-over 2 millenia ago.

Moreover, the “festival's significance” is seen as both a kick off to summer and, more importantly, as “a time for warding off evil and disease.”


According to many Chinese textbooks, Chu Yuan “was descended from the imperial family, and an air of suffering nobility and fantasy can easily be sensed in his works. He is one of the greatest Chinese poets of all times. His tragic death is commemorated each year on the fifth day of the fifth moon by dragon boat races and the offering of rice (zongzi) thrown into the water. On that day, Chu Yuan committed suicide in the Milo River of Hunan Province.”

Chu Yuan, unlike too many Chinese and American officials today, was willing to speak to the truth to the powerful and suffered for his truths. Under the war-making Emperor King Huai (329-299 B.C.), Chu Yuan stood up and opposed the war-making plans of others in the Imperial Court and some of his own advisors who drawn up (and subsequently carried out) plans to engage in a series of wars of expansion. This vocal opposition led to his first exile as “ in 303 B.C. he was banished, never to return to power.”

According to legend, Chu Yuan, then “wandered over the countryside, principally in the region of the vast inland T'ung-ting Lake in Northern Hunan. During this time he collected legends, rearranged folk odes, and wrote the long, tragic poem of complaint against the Emperor known as Li Sao. Eventually, unable to bear his fate any longer, he drowned himself.”]

By the time Yuan took his own life by drowning himself in a river in the 3rd century B.C., Chu Yuan had already likely become the most popular author or poet of his day. He’s still considered by some to be the Father of Chinese poetry.

It should be noted that prior to sending Chu Yuan into his own internal exile, the Imperial Court slandered Chu Yuan greatly. It was this unfair series of slanders about him being a traitor that haunted him throughout his days—i.e. all this simply because he had whistleblown on the other Imperial Ministers for wanting to wage a series needless wars of expansion and attrition.

According to one Chinese source , “[o]n May 5, 278 B.C., he [Chu Yuan] eventually jumped into the Miluo River holding a big stone. His spirit of being unwilling to go along with others in devil deeds, his noble character and sterling integrity ha[ving] been always respected. Now Qu Yuan’s spirit has become a symbol of the noble and persevering spirit of the Chinese people.”

In short, Chu Yuan became about 2300 years ago, the symbol for the Confucian state of China the eptiomy of a civil servant with integrity who stands by and for the people—i.e. and above the desires and vanity of others, who are seeking only power and war.


You might ask at this point, “How did the legend of Chu Yuan get tied in with the concept of a dragonboat race?”—and then later on mied in with the annual dragon boat festivals around the globe?

One Beijing govenrment website notes that there are several favorite legends concerning the founding of the DRAGON BOAT TRADITION in China. Howver, the legends around Chu yuan are among the most popular. In Beijing’s narration of the great poet and once-upon-a timeprime minister (after a short exile), Chu Yuan returned to his homeland where he “hoped to institute reforms and in poems satirized the corruption, selfishness and disregard for the people on the part of dubious characters who had achieved trusted positions.”

Finally, “in 296 BC, Qu[Chu] Yuan, then in his mid 50s, was banished for the second time. Grieving for the condition of his homeland, for years he [then] wandered about south of the Yangtze River.”

“In frustration at being unable to do anything to save his state, he [Chu Yuan] clasped a big stone to his breast and leaped [sic] into the river to end his life.”

According to the same Beijing government webiste, “Qu[Chu] Yuan's sufferings had gained the sympathy of the people . . . . In memory of him, 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 [Chu Yuan’s] body [in the river], are held, and the Chinese people eat Zong Zi, little packets of glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves, which was [legendarily] originally thrown into the river to keep the fishes from eating the body of Qu Yuan.”


Meanwhile, In China, it has been claimed or “said that when [upon] hearing the news of Qu Yuan's suicide, some doctors poured realgar wine into the Miluo River to anaesthetize the fishes, hence preventing them from eating Qu Yuan's body.” This has, henceforth, enabled Chinese and other regional governments (e.g. in Taiwan and Vietnam) to focus on health issues at this very same time each year.

For example, I believe that it has not been coincidental that during these past weeks in May 2011 (i.e. leading up to the Dragon Boat Races and Festival) that the Taiwan government has cracked down hard on chemical-, food-and beverage manufactures who have endangered the health of Taiwanese consumers--due to usage of reportedly carcinogenica materials in their production or manufacturing processes for produce, drinks, and perfume products.

Such a government action is considered a belated but important way of honoring the Civil Servant Yuan who had fought hard to help people, i.e. rather than to waste resources waging wars on his own peoples or on neighboring peoples.


“Dragon Boat racing was not introduced to the world at large until the 1970s when the Hong Kong Tourist Board staged an international Dragon Boat Festival to promote Hong Kong culture.” Last year, for the first time, I personally watched dragon boat races in Germany on the Rhine River near Mainz and Wiesbaden.

The Chinese Dragon Boat Race tradition has thus become popular outside of the Chinese-speaking world through recent processes of globalization Chinese government promotions. Recently, I also noted that Washington, D.C. has its own big DRAGON BOAT RACE, too.

It would seem that the (Washington) D.C. Dragon Boat Club is in the spirit of things—i.e. things Chinese, that is. (Check out the D.C. Dragon Website below.)

However,--pardon the puns—American Congressmen and Civil Servants in D.C. are “missing the boat”.

They, in Washingon, D.C., are leaving out the legend of Chu Yuan and the need for a nation to honor and recall civil servants who do the right thing, i.e. follow their conscience and speak truth to power by laying down the facts.

John F. Kennedy had written about men like this in his non-fiction work, PROFILES IN COURAGE some 65 years ago—why has congress and America forgottten to honor such men and women in the interim?

NOTE: “Written in 1955 by the then junior senator from the state of Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy's Profiles in Courage served as a clarion call to every American. The inspiring true accounts of eight unsung heroic acts by American patriots at different junctures in our nation's history, Kennedy's book became required reading, an instant classic, and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Now, a half-century later, it remains a moving, powerful, and relevant testament to the indomitable national spirit and an unparalleled celebration of that most noble of human virtues.”

Moreover, instead of making the (Chinese’) connection to honoring civil servants and government workers who offer Americans and the world real “Profiles in Courage”, e.g. through some annual event or national holiday, our two or three branches of govenrment in Washington, D.C. “have been going overborad” arresting and imprisoning American heroes, like the whistle-blowers like Bradley Manning and Bradly Birkenfeld--big-time this past decade.

In other words, American support of good governance—even in lip service—is often a “big washout”.

In conclusion, in contrast to Taiwan, where the government and good governance are known to this very day as “Yuan” (in honor of Chu Yuan), America tends to forget to support whistle blowers and too often seems to desire to put whistle blowers behind bars.


I THINK IT IS TIME to revert to the official governmental and natinal respect of the Confucionist Chinese for good governance, the commonweal, and honest and noble civil servants. Otherwise, we—Americans--are not teaching our children the right things about government and necessary moral integrity.

Let’s salute our whistleblowers and those servants in government or in the military who are actually carrying out good acts of governance in America—let’s do it at least once a year!



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