Qu Yuan

Qu Yuan

[choo yyahn]
Qu Yuan's Names
Simplified Chinese: 屈原
Traditional Chinese: 屈原
Pinyin: Qū Yuán
Family name: Qu
Traditional Chinese:
Simplified Chinese:
Given name: Ping
Traditional Chinese:
Simplified Chinese:
Courtesy name (字): Yuan
Traditional Chinese:
Simplified Chinese:
Alias Given name (自名): Zhengze
Traditional Chinese: 正則
Simplified Chinese: 正则
Alias Courtesy name (别字): Lingjun
Traditional Chinese: 霛均
Simplified Chinese: 灵均

Qu Yuan (ca. 340 BCE - 278 BCE) was a Chinese scholar and minister to the King from the southern Chu during the Warring States Period. His works are mostly found in an anthology of poetry known as Chu Ci. His death is traditionally commemorated on Duan Wu (Cantonese: Tuen Ng) Festival (端午节/端午節), which is commonly known in English as the Dragon Boat Festival or Double Fifth (fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese traditional luni-solar calendar).


Qu Yuan, born in the Xiling Gorge area of what is today western Hubei province, was a minister in the government of the state of Chu, descended from nobility and a champion of political loyalty and truth eager to maintain the Chu state's power. Qu Yuan advocated a policy of alliance with the other kingdoms of the period against the hegemonic state of Qin, which threatened to dominate them all. Legend has it that the Chu king fell under the influence of other corrupt, jealous ministers who slandered Qu Yuan and banished his most of loyal counselors. It is said that Qu Yuan returned first to his family's home town. In his exile, he spent much of this time collecting legends and rearranging folk odes while travelling the countryside, producing some of the greatest poetry in Chinese literature and expressing fervent love for his state and his deepest concerns for its future.

According to legend, his anxiety brought him to an increasingly troubled state of health; during his depression, he would often take walks near a certain well, during which he would look upon his reflection in the water and his own person, thin and gaunt. According to legend, this well became known as the "Face Reflection Well." Today on a hillside in Xiangluping in Hubei province's Zigui, there is a well which is considered to be the original well from the time of Qu Yuan.

In 278 BC, learning of the capture of his country's capital, Ying, by General Bai Qi of the state of Qin, Qu Yuan is said to have written the lengthy poem of lamentation called "Lament for Ying" and later to have waded into the Miluo river in today's Hunan Province holding a great rock in order to commit ritual suicide as a form of protest against the corruption of the era.

Folklore Underlying the Duan Wu Festival (Dragonboat Festival)

Popular legend has it that villagers carried their dumplings and boats to the middle of the river and desperately tried to save him, but were unsuccessful. In order to keep fish and evil spirits away from his body, they beat drums and splashed the water with their paddles. They threw rice into the water as a food offering to Qu Yuan and to distract the fish away from his body. However, late one night, the spirit of Qu Yuan appeared before his friends and told them that he died because of a river dragon. He asked his friends to wrap their rice into three-cornered silk packages to ward off the dragon. These packages became a traditional food known as zòngzi, although the lumps of rice are now wrapped in reed leaves instead of silk. The act of racing to search for his body in boats gradually became the cultural tradition of dragon boat racing, which is held on the anniversary of his death every year.

Today, people still eat zòngzi and participate in dragon boat races to commemorate Qu Yuan's sacrifice on the Duan Wu festival, the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar. The Koreans later adopted the festival from the Chinese and called it the Dano festival.


Qu Yuan is regarded as the first author of verse to have his name associated to the work, as heretofore poetic works were not attributed to any specific authors. He is considered to have initiated the so-called sao style of verse, which is named after his work Li Sao, in which he abandoned the classic four-character verses used in poems of Shi Jing and adopted verses with varying lengths. This resulted in poems with more rhythm and latitude in expression. Qu Yuan is also regarded as one of the most prominent figures of Romanticism in Chinese classical literature, and his masterpieces influenced some of the greatest Romanticist poets in Tang Dynasty such as Li Bai.

Other than his literary influence, Qu Yuan is also held as the earliest patriot in China history. His social idealism and unbending patriotism have served as the model for Chinese intellectuals to this day, particularly following the establishment of new China in 1949. For example, in the 1950's China issued a postage stamp bearing the "likeness" of Qu Yuan.


Scholars have debated the authenticity of several of Qu Yuan's works since the Western Han dynasty (202 BCE - 9). The most authoritative historical record, Sima Qian's Records of the Grand Historian (Shi Ji) mentions five of Qu Yuan's works:

According to Wang Yi of the Eastern Han dynasty (ca. 25 CE - 220 CE), a total of 25 works can be attributed to Qu Yuan:

Wang Yi chose to attribute Zhao Hun to another contemporary of Qu Yuan, Song Yu; most modern scholars, however, consider Zhao Hun to be Qu Yuan's original work, whereas Yuan You, Pu Ju, and Yu Fu are believed to have been composed by others.


Record of the Grand Historian - various translations

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