Follow the Silk Thread – Dragon Boat Festival at the Yenching Academy

The Dragon Boat Festival is enshrouded in the fragrance of bamboo leaves. This year’s festival fell on June 3, and our teachers and students celebrated the event at the Jingyuan Courtyard 3 on the same day. Associate Dean Fan Shiming, Director of Graduate Studies Lu Yang, Assistant Dean Chen Changwei, and Assistant Dean Zuo Jing joined our Scholars in the festivities.

Our teachers first introduced how Asian countries celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival. We have zongzi in China, but the Nyonya culture in Southeast Asia has developed its traditions for the festival. Nonetheless, the Dragon Boat Festival culture has been shared across Asia.

Daniel Tafelski gave a brief presentation on the festival’s history. What we do at the festival, from zongzi-making and dragon boat racing to sachet wearing, has been a way to commemorate Qu Yuan and a thoughtful approach to health. Sachets, originally used to ward off evils and diseases, are more of a symbol of happiness.

Following Luo Hanyi, the students tried to make their sachets: Two edges of the sachet were first sewn together with plain stitches before moxa was put in. Hidden stitches were applied to seal the sachet, which was later decorated with beads and tassel. Everyone was happy with their cute sachet.

An intricate surprise came after the dinner. The Academy prepared a surprise gift for the four students celebrating their birthdays in June. When the four took off their blindfolds, the attendees sang them the birthday song, accompanied by Mu Boyang’s clarinet performance. Our teachers then brought out the birthday cake as though they were magicians who could take out a rabbit from a hat. The four students made their wishes and took photographs. All the attendees shared in their joy.

Our teachers presented the gift bags to the Scholars. The gift bag contained zongzi of various flavors, cooling pastes, and mosquito repellent. The celebration rounded off with hearty laughs and cheering from all present.

Here is what our Scholars said about celebrating the festival with the YCA staff and their colleagues:

Liao Sitan (China): “What a surprise and how happy I am in my last summer at the Academy! I celebrated my birthday together with other Scholars at Jingyuan. My birthday wish is for a promising future for all our 2020 Cohort YCAers.”

Sarah Brooker (USA): “Although I’ve spent several years in China, this was the first time I’ve been able to celebrate Dragon Boat Festival with my classmates. Taking a break from classes to make the fragrance pouches and eat zongzi was definitely the highlight of the week. Looking forward to celebrating it again next year!”

Liu Yishu (China): “I’m happy to make the sachet and eat zongzi with my teachers and fellow students. Every single stitch on the sachet is sewn with our joy and good wishes. This day of celebration at Jingyuan will remain in my mind forever – with the fragrance of bamboo leaves, our joyous laughter, and the best Dragon Boat Festival I’ve ever had.”

Mu Boyang (China): “It was an honor to be part of the event and play for the students whose birthdays are in June. Many thanks to Luo Hanyi and our dear teachers; we would not have had this amazing experience without their efforts. I am looking forward to having more brilliant events like this at the Academy.”

Qiu Zheqian (China): I’m excited to make my sachet for the festival. It’s a sort of accomplishment to make a zongzi-shaped sachet by following the instructions. The birthday surprise was fantastic, and I am grateful to my friends and teachers. It was an unforgettable birthday for me.

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