Last Saturday was Duanwu Festival, the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. The festival has ancient roots in early summer ceremonies to protect against plague, and also ceremonies to propitiate river spirits. It is most often associated now, however, with the poet Qu Yuan who lived in the state of Chu, and who committed suicide in 257 BCE when Chu was conquered by Qin. This conquest was a significant battle in the first unification of China, which led to rule by an Emperor rather than a feudal over-King. The name “China” actually comes from Qin. Here is one of Qu Yuan’s poems, the “Elegy for the National Martyrs” from the Songs of Chu, as quoted in Deng Ming-Dao’s The Lunar Tao:
They gripped the halberds of Wu, wore rhinoceros-hide armor.
Chariot hub crashed, short swords clashed.
Banners blotted out the sun, their foes charged like clouds.
Volleys of arrows answered each other, warriors vied to be first.
The enemy broke their ranks, trampled their lines.
The horse on the left died, the one on the right was slashed.
Chariot wheels seized in the dust, teams of horses fell tangled.
Raising jade drumsticks, they shouted and beat their drums.
Yet heaven’s season was against them, the powerful gods were angry!
Our staunchest men were slaughtered, left scattered on the field.
They went out, did not come back, will never return.
The plains lie empty, the roads stretch on.
They buckled on their long swords, raised their Qin bows.
Although their heads were hacked from their bodies, their hearts held no regret.
They were truly brave, such great warriors.
Strong and powerful to the end, they were never cowed.
Their bodies may be dead, but their spirits have become gods.
Their souls are transformed, they are our ghost heroes! (152)
Today is the thirteenth day of the fifth lunar month, Guan Di’s
birthday as a mortal [EDIT: festival, one of several throughout the year. Attributed by some sources as (one of) his birthday(s), celebrated by others as his son Guan Ping’s birthday or the day that he sharpened his blade — see comments below].
I’m posting this poem on this blog in his honor as well, for the last two stanzas apply to his life and apotheosis perfectly.