Xinzheng City, China

Each spring, the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival commemorates a poet’s famous suicide. Qu Yuan, an exiled former minister, in anguish over corruption and war, drowned himself in the Mi Luo River in 278 BC. Shouldering a weighty rock, he waded into the river, and local peasants, artisans, workers, as well as Yuan’s friends and acquaintances, gathered and lobbed rice balls into the water to distract hungry fish while search teams skimmed the river in longboats. In later years, the boats were shaped to resemble the sleek bodies of dragons, and the sounds of slapping paddles and drums were meant to scare off evil spirits. Chinese people observe the annual festival on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar, which this year falls on May 28 of the Gregorian calendar. As part of the observance, people eat steamed rice dumplings, wrapped in green, bitter reed leaves, symbolizing the rice balls used to distract phantoms so long ago.

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