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Dragon Boat Festival Exhibition

In Dragon Boat Festival, Hong Kong, Museums on June 9, 2011 by triotriotrio Tagged: , ,

Dragon Boat Exhibition at the Maritime Museum

Monday is an official holiday in Hong Kong for the observance of the Tuen Ng Jit Festival. Two events associated with the holiday are preparing and eating zongzi, and racing dragon boats. Zongzi are a type of rice dumpling sometimes known as Chinese Tamales. And dragon boats are long slender paddle powered boats like a canoe.

The Hong Kong Maritime Museum is currently hosting a temporary exhibition in celebration of the Dragon Boat Festival.

Here are three highlights of the exhibition:

Ming Dynasty Dragon Head

On display is a dragonhead figure that dates to the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644). One of the remarkable things of this piece, besides the age, is how detailed the carvings are. Many modern day heads have a generic shape and are composed of springs and cheap plastic bits. This piece is a work of art and would have been made at the hands of a master. Even though this piece was exposed to water conditions and unknown other elements for years it still contains its original hair pieces and remnants of its original lacquer paint.

Dragon Boat Dish

Also on display is a remarkable piece of porcelain which the includes images of dragon boats. But one of most interesting aspects of the plate is not what you can see but what you can’t see. On the back of this particular plate are a set of five Chinese characters that depict what is known as the five poisons. The five poisons refer to the snake, centipede, lizard, toad and scorpion. Placing these characters on pieces like pottery were thought to held ward off the poisons on the day of the Tuen Ng Jit Festival, the day where poisons had their most power.

Lastly the exhibition highlights the story of Qu Yuan (c. 340 BCE – 278 BCE). Many of the events connected to the festival are connected this famous poet and politician.  Qu Yuan committed suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo River on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, the same day as the annual observance of the Tuen Ng Festival. It is said that the local people, who admired him, threw lumps of rice into the river to feed the fish so that they would not eat Qu Yuan’s body. This is said to be the origin of zongzi. The local people were also said to have paddled out on boats, either to scare the fish away or to retrieve his body. This is said to be the origin of dragon boat racing.

Qu Yuan

Although it is clear that Qu Yuan’s did not create the festival – his life and death are today intertwined into the traditions of today.

The exhibition will be up to the end of August. The Hong Kong Maritime Museum is located in Stanley at the historic Murray House. The museum is open every day except for Monday.

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