This was written on 06/23/12 and is being posted from L'Ilha Formosa--the beautiful island of Taiwan!
Storm Talim is a couple days past here in Taiwan, so the hot, muggy
June weather is back in force. Pichu and I take a walk around the
market every morning, and we note how fruit prices have risen
dramatically. The southern parts of the island were very badly hit, and
that's the farm belt. Up here, in Hsinchu (Xinzhu) County, topography
gave us a good bit of protection.
Today is Duan Wu Jie, which
some Westerners call the Dragon Boat Festival. The boat races
commemorate the upright official Qu Yuan of the ancient Kingdom of Chu
(now Hubei and Hunan provinces, roughly), who drowned himself in the
Miluo River to protest the corruption of the Chu court. The people
raced in boats to save him, but were unsuccessful (hence the dragon boat
races today), and later thew offerings of glutinous rice and pork
wrapped and steamed in bamboo leaf to placate his soul--hence the
ubiquity of Zhong Zi (the Chinese term for the treat) at this time of
Among some Hakka people here in the Taoyuan, Xinzhu,
and Miaoli area, there's the custom of hanging out a yellow rattan on
this holiday, and a folktale that explains it.
In the late Tang
dynasty (800's AD), there was a man named Huang Cao, who was brilliant
and capable, but as ugly as the day is long. He passed the civil
service exam with the highest possible score, but was rejected for an
official position when the emperor saw how ugly he was. He thereupon
raised a rebellion which ravished most of China--including a pogrom
against the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim merchants in Guangzhou, where I
used to live. Many peasants of northern China were displaced, and fled
south when Huang Cao's rebels were active in the North.
day, Huang Cao rode out on reconnaissance in the mountainous area
between what are now Jiangxi and Fujian provinces. He and his men rode
after and caught up with a woman carrying a larger boy on her back and
leading a smaller boy by the hand. Very amused, he asked the woman why
she wasn't carrying the smaller one and leading the larger one.
The woman, not knowing who the armored warrior addressing her was
explained, "The older boy is the only son of my older brother-in-law and
his wife; the smaller in one of several born to my husband and me. We
are trying to reach the village in the next valley, where my husband and
other sons have found refuge. If something were to happen to the older
boy, my brother-in-law would have no-one to carry on his family line.
Thus, I am being more careful about him. You, sir, better get yourself
and your men to safety, too, for Huang Cao is somewhere around here."
Touched by the woman's sense of family propriety, Huang Cao told the
woman, "I am Huang Cao, but don't worry: I honor those who seek
propriety. Hang a yellow rattan on the house where you will stay, and I
swear by Heaven and Earth that no harm will come to you."
she reached the next village, the woman told everyone what had
happened, and that they should all hang yellow rattan on their houses.
Thus all of the villagers and the refugees among them were saved, and
became the ancestors of the Hakka people.
Whether these stories are legend or not, I don't know. But, whether you are Hakka Chinese or not, a belated happy Duan Wu!
The blogger is a middle-aged American currently employed in teaching world history and global issues. He has also taught US history, government, English for Speakers of Other Languages, and Chinese language. His moonlight occupation is Chinese-English document translation, editing translations from English into Chinese, and other "word work". He is married, with two sons,a daughter-in-law, and a grand-daughter. He also is a confessing Protestant Christian unashamed of the Evangelical label. His major interests include the interplay of religion and culture.