Duan Wu and the Lament for Ying

Happy Duan Wu Festival day! Also known as the Dragon Boat Festival this Chinese holiday commemorates the death of Qu Yuan (340-278 BC), a poet from the kingdom of Chu (楚) during the Warring States Period.

May Dragon Boat Festival Print, Taipei National Palace Museum

It is celebrated each year on the fifth day of the fifth month (in the Chinese lunar calendar).

Perhaps the most interesting moral of the Duan Wu story is that the lack of accountability and integrity in leadership can lead a great state into total disaster.

Some might say the moral of the story has to do with loyalty, but that just begs the question of loyalty to what or who?

Once upon a time there was a minister named Qu Yuan from Chu who was known and respected for his family nobility and his great political loyalty to the kingdom through truth. Some might even say he was something of a whistleblower. He was very determined to maintain Chu’s sovereignty and he advocated for an alliance with other kingdoms to ward off the threat from the powerful state of Qin. The king, however, banished the truth-talking Qu Yuan at the behest of other corrupt and jealous ministers (you might say they called themselves the “patriots” to use today’s political parlance).

Qu Yuan then returned to his home town where he travelled the countryside and collected stories. This effort became a source of some of the most well regarded poetry in Chinese literature, known as Chu Chi, as Qu Yuan expressed love and devotion to his state and concern for its future. Perhaps the best known poem is “Lament for Ying” when Qu Yuan expresses his sadness over the capture of Chu’s capital city, Ying, by General Bai Qi from the state of Qin.

Soon after he wrote his lament, Qu Yuan went to the river Miluo to kill himself in protest of the corruption in government that led to the decline and fall of the state of Chu. People gathered to try and save the poet, but to no avail.

To this day there are celebrations and recognition in China to remember a man who put the “public concern” above his own welfare and who stood for integrity and against the corrupt leaders who sacrificed the future of their country for a false sense of pride and/or to line their own pockets.

Sound familiar?

As a famous US President once said (repeating the phrase of a French dressmaker), there is nothing new to this world, just history we have not yet read (Il n’y a de nouveau que ce qui est oublié).

山鬼 屈原 The Mountain Spirit
若 有 人 兮 山 之 阿 There seems to be someone deep in the mountain,
被 薜 荔 兮 带 女 萝 Clad in creeping vine and girded with ivy,
既 含 睇 兮 又 宜 笑 With a charming look and a becoming smile.
子 慕 予 兮 善 窈 宨 “Do you admire me for my lovely form?”
乘 赤 豹 兮 从 文 狸 She rides a red leopard – striped lynxes follwing behind
辛 夷 车 兮 结 桂 旗 Her chariot of magnolia arrayed with banners of cassia,
被 石 兰 兮 带 杜 衡 Her cloak made of orchids and her girdle of azalea,
折 芳 馨 兮 遗 所 思 Calling sweet flowers for those dear in her heart.
余 处 幽 篁 兮 终 不 见 天 “I live in a bamboo grove, the sky unseen;
路 险 难 兮 独 后 来 The road hither is steep and dangerous; I arrive alone and late.
表 独 立 兮 山 之 上 Alone I stand on the mountain top
云 容 容 兮 而 在 下 While the clouds gather beneath me.
杳 冥 冥 兮 羌 昼 晦 “All gloomy and dark is the day;
东 风 飘 兮 神 灵 雨 The east wind drifts and god sends down rain.
留 灵 修 兮 憺 忘 归 Waiting for the divine one, I forget to go home.
岁 即 晏 兮 孰 华 予 The year is late. Who will now bedeck me?”
采 三 秀 兮 于 山 間 “I pluck the larkspur on the mountain side,
石 磊 磊 兮 葛 蔓 蔓 The rocks are craggy; and the vines tangled.
怨 公 子 兮 怅 忘 归 Complaining of the young lord, sadly I forget to go home.
君 思 我 兮 不 得 闲 You, my lord, are thinking of me; but you have no time,”
山 中 人 兮 芳 杜 若 The woman in the mountain, fragrant with sweet herb,
饮 石 泉 兮 阴 松 柏 Drinks from the rocky spring, shaded by pines and firs.
君 思 我 兮 然 疑 作 “You, my lord, are thinking of me, but then you hesitate.”
雷 填 填 兮 雨 冥 冥 The thunder rumbles and the rain darkens;
猨 啾 啾 兮 又 夜 鸣 The gibbons mourn, howling all the night;
风 飒 飒 兮 木 萧 萧­ The wind whistles and the trees are bare.
思 公 子 兮 徒 离 忧 “I am thing of the young lord; I sorrow in vain.”

PDF With Simplified Chinese and references

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