Q- Wisdom: Chinese Poet Qu Yuan #atozchallenge.

After  writing a letter to Qu Yuan, an ancient Chinese Poet, I received this reply. Too big to fit inside a fortune cookie, I found it rolled up inside a piece of bamboo in my garden.

By the way the Annual Dragon Boat Races are held in his honour and there’s further information at the end.

Dear Rowena,

Wisdom is timeless.

You have been travelling down the river for so long navigating your path by the sun, the moon, the stars and the butterflies.

Question follows question and wisdom follows.

Know that you don’t need to become someone else to walk in their shoes. You can only be yourself.

You are a seed. For your seed to grow and feed the nation, you need nutrients and to feel the sun and rain. Not only for you to grow but also to nourish your soul.

I thought you would appreciate the Wisdom of Confucius, which has guided my footsteps and my heart.


Qu Yuan


The Wisdom of Confucius

  • By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.

  • Wherever you go, go with all your heart.

  • Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.

  • Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.

  • Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.

  •  If I am walking with two other men, each of them will serve as my teacher. I will pick out the good points of the one and imitate them, and the bad points of the other and correct them in myself.

  •  I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.

  •  Only the wisest and stupidest of men never change.

  •  Instead of being concerned that you have no office, be concerned to think how you may fit yourself for office. Instead of being concerned that you are not known, seek to be worthy of being known.

  • To know what you know and what you do not know, that is true knowledge.

  • Study the past, if you would divine the future.

  • It is easy to hate and it is difficult to love. This is how the whole scheme of things works. All good things are difficult to achieve; and bad things are very easy to get.

  • When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.

  • Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.

  • You cannot open a book without learning something.

  • The superior man is distressed by the limitations of his ability; he is not distressed by the fact that men do not recognize the ability that he has.

  • The more man meditates upon good thoughts, the better will be his world and the world at large.

  • Faced with what is right, to leave it undone shows a lack of courage.

  • He who learns but does not think, is lost! He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger.

  • Wisdom, compassion, and courage are the three universally recognized moral qualities of men.

  • A superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions.

  • If we don’t know life, how can we know death?

  • How to play music may be known. At the commencement of the piece, all the parts should sound together. As it proceeds, they should be in harmony while severally distinct and flowing without break, and thus on to the conclusion.

  • The expectations of life depend upon diligence; the mechanic that would perfect his work must first sharpen his tools.

  • I want you to be everything that’s you, deep at the centre of your being.

  • A youth, when at home, should be filial and, abroad, respectful to his elders. He should be earnest and truthful. He should overflow in love to all and cultivate the friendship of the good. When he has time and opportunity, after the performance of these things, he should employ them in polite studies.

  • To practice five things under all circumstances constitutes perfect virtue; these five are gravity, generosity of soul, sincerity, earnestness, and kindness.

  • Speak the truth, do not yield to anger; give, if thou art asked for little; by these three steps thou wilt go near the gods.

  • When you are laboring for others let it be with the same zeal as if it were for yourself.

  •  If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of ten years, plant trees; if in terms of 100 years, teach the people.

  • The superior man thinks always of virtue; the common man thinks of comfort.

  • The superior man understands what is right; the inferior man understands what will sell.

  • A gentleman would be ashamed should his deeds not match his words.

  • We should feel sorrow, but not sink under its oppression.

    Qu Yuan & The Dragon Boat Race

Through researching Qu Yuan’s “reply” to my letter, I have learned so much more about his revered position in Chinese history and culture. Indeed, he is honoured through  Duanwu Jie, the Dragon Boat Festival, which falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar.

“Usually Chinese festivals are explained by the traumatic death of some great paragon of virtue,” says Andrew Chittick, a professor of East Asian Humanities at Eckerd College in Florida.

And so the story goes with Qu Yuan, an advisor in the court of Chu during the Warring States period of ancient China who was exiled by the emperor for perceived disloyalty. Qu Yuan had proposed a strategic alliance with the state of Qi in order to fend off the threatening state of Qin, but the emperor didn’t buy it and sent Qu Yuan off to the wilderness. Unfortunately, Qu Yuan was right about the threat presented by the Qin, which soon captured and imprisoned the Chu emperor. The next Chu king surrendered the state to their rivals. Upon hearing the tragic news, Qu Yuan in 278 B.C. drowned himself in the Miluo River in Hunan Province.

In the first origin story of zongzi, told during the early Han dynasty, Qu Yuan became a water spirit after his death. “You can think of it as a ghost, a spirit energy that has to be appeased. There are a variety of ways one might appease a ghost but the best and most enduring is to give it food,” explains Chittick.

For years after Qu Yuan’s death, his supporters threw rice in the water to feed his spirit, but the food, it was said, was always intercepted by a water dragon. After a couple of centuries of this frustration, Qu Yuan came back to tell the people to wrap the rice in leaves, or stuff it into a bamboo stalk, so the dragon couldn’t eat it. It was only generations later that people began to retroactively credit Qu Yuan’s erstwhile lifesavers with starting the rice-ball-tossing tradition.

To make sense of how the water dragon gets into the story, or indeed of the boats carved with dragons on them, we need to go back further in time—more than 6,000 years ago, the earliest dated figure of a dragon found within the boundaries of modern China. “One of the most important mythical creatures in Chinese mythology, the dragon is the controller of the rain, the river, the sea, and all other kinds of water; symbol of divine power and energy…. In the imperial era it was identified as the symbol of imperial power,” writes Deming An, Ph.D., a professor of folklore at the Institute of Literature, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, in Beijing, and co-author of Handbook of Chinese Mythology. “In people’s imaginations, dragons usually live in water and are the controllers of rain.”

Dragon boat racing is ascribed to organized celebrations of Qu Yuan beginning in the 5th or 6th century A.D. But scholars say the boats were first used hundreds of years earlier, perhaps for varied reasons. On the lunar calendar, May is the summer solstice period, the crucial time when rice seedlings were transplanted. At the same time, says An, “according to Chinese traditional belief, the date figured with double ‘5’ is extremely unlucky.” To ensure a good harvest, southern Chinese would have asked the dragons to watch over their crops, says Jessica Anderson Turner, a Handbook of Chinese Mythology contributor who holds a Ph.D. in folklore from the Indiana University. They would have decorated their boats with ornate dragon carvings, “and the rowing was symbolic of the planting of the rice back in the water,” Anderson Turner explains. This jibes with Yan’s explanation of the symbolism behind the shape of zongzi: tetrahedral. “The points are intended to resemble the horn of a cow,” Yan says, “which was a sacred symbol in the ancient agrarian culture for blessings and abundant crops.”

Source: Legends Behind the Dragon Boat Race.

Further Reading:















4 thoughts on “Q- Wisdom: Chinese Poet Qu Yuan #atozchallenge.

  1. roweeee Post author

    Thanks, Derrick. Could never have pulled this off in the days before Google and the Internet. It would have been a life’s work.

  2. Pingback: Alphabet Soup Week 4 | beyondtheflow

  3. Pingback: #AtoZchallenge Reflections…66, 652 Words Wiser. | beyondtheflow

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