China: Academics are discounting the popular tradition that the Duanwu Festival has its origins in patriotism and are saying that it is unrequited gay love that Chinese celebrate when they honor an ancient politician.
Chinese all over the world commemorate Qu Yuan who in 278 BC threw himself into the Miluo River. They believe that he did so to protest against the corrupt alliance of the state of Chu with the hegemonic Qin state.
However, academics say Qu Yuan ‘s death was more for romantic reasons because of his abandonment by the King Huai of Chu and which led him to throw himself into the river.
The poet’s memory is honored annually as the Duanwu Festival by millions of ethnic Chinese with the eating of rice dumplings, which according to legend, were thrown off dragon boats to feed the fish so they would not nibble on Qu Yuan’s corpse.
This special celebration falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month and this year was on June 2.
The thesis that Qu Yuan was gay and a lover of his king was first put forth in 1944 by the Sichuan scholar Sun Cizhou.
In Li Sao (Departing in Sorrow), an allegorical poem in the Chuci poetry anthology, Qu Yuan falls into depression after his rejection by his lord and slanderous attacks by jealous officials surrounding the king.
Qu Yuan’s references to the king as “beautiful man” and “restoration of the soul” were terms widely used by women at that time to characterize their lovers, according to Sun.
The poet’s suicide because the king had found other new lovers was a love story, not a patriotic one, said Sun.
Sun’s views, while widely controversial at the time, has now came to be accepted by other notable academics. Chuci expert Wen Yiduo, for instance, described Sun’s thesis as “completely correct.”
Sun’s idea that Qu Yuan was “someone who offers entertainment to kings or emperors” is completely correct and grounded on historical facts.” wrote Wen.
“It was the politics based on his pure and everlasting love with King Huai of Chu. In this relationship, both people have a shared and noble political ideal and, pushed by love, both strive for the well-being of the country and people,” wrote Chi.
“However, as the king gradually deserted him and the power struggle worsened, Qu’s dream soon shattered, and his “Utopia based on homosexual politics disappeared in the Miluo River,” said Chi.
Fang Gang, associate professor of gender studies at Beijing Forestry University, believes that Duanwu Festival is the first gay Valentine’s Day in the history of civilization, and that the recognition of it as such would be a big move in “rectifying the name” of both Qu Yuan and the origins of the festival.
The debate over whether Duanwu Festival can rightly be called a gay Valentine’s Day has ignited rancorous debate on microblogging platforms in China.
”This is an utter humiliation to years of traditional Chinese culture,” fumed one Sina Weibo user.
Sociologist Liu Chongshun agrees. “The image of Qu Yuan as a patriot is one that has been formed over two millenia, and has become an immovable fixture in the history, culture and psyche of China… and is not something that can be changed overnight,” wrote Liu.
Criticisms, however, have not dampened the enthusiasm of members of China’s LGBT community in claiming Duanwu Festival as their own Valentine’s Day.
A-qiang, a Guangdong-based gay activist, wished his followers a “Happy Gay Valentine’s Day!” on the morning of the festival, and others have followed suit.