How does the patriotism of the Dragon Boat Festival translate today?
By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang
In the crush of end of the school year activities, I often forget about duan wu jie, also known as the Dragon Boat Festival, until I am unexpectedly awash in zongzi, those delicious pyramids of sticky rice bundled into bamboo leaves and tied with string, an unexpected seasonal delight. Pork, seafood, chestnuts, red bean, Cantonese style, Shanghai style, Taiwanese style, it doesn’t matter, we love them all. For a few miraculous days every June or July, zongzi appear on our doorstep, at the grocery store, as gifts, scrawled onto the Chinese menu, and sold as community fundraisers.
My Auntie Ling taught my children and me how to wrap and cook zongzi. Auntie Gong taught all the Chinese School kids (and some parents) how to wrap and cook zongzi. But I love it most when an auntie or grandma smiles and just shoves a big bundle of zongzi into my bag.
There are various versions of the story, but I often think about the Chinese poet and minister Qu Yuan who served in the court of Chu during the Warring States period (481/403 BCE - 221 BCE). He spoke out against governmental corruption and was exiled by the emperor. He then died by suicide in the Miluo River in Hunan Province in 278 BCE after his advice was ignored by the emperor. The villagers felt so bad that they then went out on the river in long dragon boats and threw in bundles of rice wrapped in bamboo leaves so that the fish would eat the rice instead of his body.
Sometimes referred to as the People’s Poet, Qu Yuan’s death was a patriotic act to show the emperor how important his message was. This is a difficult story to explain to today’s young people.
I think about all the times my parents left jobs and I left jobs because of ethical reasons. This can be difficult to explain too. I think about the risks that activists take to help others and help their country.
As Asian Americans, our patriotism and loyalty have been questioned for over 150 years, with devastating consequences, including the Chinese Exclusion Act, the incarceration of Japanese Americans, and the Patriot Act and Muslim Ban. And yet we continue to believe in this country, and we continue to work together to help others.
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- REGISTER TODAY FOR OUR TEACHERS WORKSHOP ON U.S.-CHINA RELATIONS ON JUNE 28 – Please join us for our Teachers Workshop titled “U.S.-China Relations: Coexistence in a Changing World” on Wednesday, June 28 at 3 pm PT / 6 pm ET. This workshop will examine how tensions past and present and the history of U.S.-China relations starting in the 1850s have influenced how we’ve arrived at where we are today. Join us for a discussion on the issues behind a path toward a more constructive U.S.-China relationship. Our esteemed panel of experts will lay a foundational understanding of the relationship and provide perspectives on the path forward. This online Teachers Workshop supports educators who teach Social Studies, World History, Modern History, Languages, and AAPI and/or Ethnic Studies but is open to all. Our co-sponsor for the event is Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations. Registration is open.
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- SEE THE RECORDING OF “THE PAST IS ALWAYS PRESENT: PRESERVING FAMILY ROOTS WITH TECHNOLOGY” – As part of 1990 Institute’s programming honoring Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, this webinar featured Brian Wong, 1990 Institute’s Vice Chair, and Huihan Lie, My China Roots Founder and CEO, discussing why understanding one’s own heritage is important in finding your own sense of belonging, how Chinese genealogy traditions are unique, and how technology is playing a distinct role in uncovering family history, culture, and genealogy for Overseas Chinese and Chinese Americans. In case you missed it, the recording is available for “The Past is Always Present: Preserving Family Roots with Technology.”
- WATCH STREET INTERVIEWS ON AFFIRMATIVE ACTION IN OUR NEW SHOW, CHATAAPI – The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule this month whether universities can consider race as a factor in their admissions process. It is looking at two cases brought against Harvard University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill by a group called Students for Fair Admissions, which believes the schools’ admission process using affirmative action discriminates against white and Asian American applicants. In the 1990 Institute’s new comedy, news satire, and talk show, ChatAAPI, our correspondent Victor Li, who uses the name Riceman, hit the streets to gather opinions from students and the general public on affirmative action in college admissions. Watch ChatAAPI exclusively on our YouTube channel.
- LEARN MORE ABOUT THE HISTORY OF U.S.-CHINA RELATIONS IN OUR VIDEOS: – To provide important context on the complex history of the relationship between the U.S. and China, the 1990 Institute has created multiple educational videos that explore China’s recent history, U.S.-China relations, or both. In the storytelling video “The Rise of China as Seen Through Mrs Wong’s Purse,” the economic rise in China over five decades has resulted in tremendous changes in its citizens’ daily lives. From the end of the Cultural Revolution to the opening of China to the lives of its people today, the enormous changes in virtually every aspect of life in China are illustrated by the contents of the purse of the fictitious Mrs. Wong. Ping Pong Diplomacy - Can History Repeat Itself?” explains how a serendipitous encounter in 1971 between two table tennis players – one from the U.S. and one from China – set in motion a positive change in diplomatic exchanges that political leaders from both countries had seemed to desire but couldn’t find an opening to affect. This video is a refresher of this chance encounter at Nagoya, Japan that led to the formal normalization of U.S.-China relations in 1979. Watch these videos and then register for “U.S.-China Relations: Coexistence in a Changing World” on June 28.
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