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Friday, June 29, 2012

A Belated Happy Duan Wu!

This was written on 06/23/12 and is being posted from L'Ilha Formosa--the beautiful island of Taiwan!
Tropical 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 the year.

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.

One 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."

When 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!

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