Qu Yuan

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  • Born: 340 BCE
  • Died: 278 BCE
  • Chinese/Japanese: 屈原 (Qū Yuán / Kutsu Gen)

Qu Yuan was a government minister in the State of Chu during China's Warring States Period. He is known particularly as a poet, and for his association with the origins of the custom of dragon boat racing.

A number of poems in the Songs of Chu (Chuci) are attributed to Qu Yuan, including most famously one entitled "Encountering Sorrow" (Li Sao). Unlike the Book of Odes (Shijing), composed in northern China, and later adopted into the Confucian classics, in which the identity and personality of the poets is little evident, it is said that Qu Yuan's personality very much comes through in his poems, and that the "Li Sao" may even be autobiographical. As related in that poem, Qu Yuan fell victim to the schemes of a rival faction at court, and was forced into exile; in despair, he threw himself into a lake and killed himself. Boats rushed out onto the lake to recover his body before it could be eaten by the fish. This, according to tradition, is the origin of the festival of dragon boat racing, still practiced today on the fifth day of the fifth month in many parts of the Chinese cultural world.


  • Conrad Schirokauer, et al, A Brief History of Chinese and Japanese Civilizations, Fourth Edition, Cengage Learning (2012), 27-28.