Myths and Legends of China
Page: 15Of the other chief festivals, about eight in number (not counting the festivals of the four seasons with their equinoxes and solstices), four are specially concerned with the propitiation of the spirits—namely, the Earlier Spirit Festival (fifteenth day of second moon), the Festival of the Tombs (about the third day of the third moon), when graves are put in order and special offerings made to the dead, the Middle Spirit Festival (fifteenth day of seventh moon), and the Later Spirit Festival (fifteenth day of tenth moon). The Dragon-boat Festival (fifth day of fifth moon) is said to have originated as a commemoration of the death of the poet Ch’ü Yüan, who drowned himself in disgust at the official intrigue and corruption of which he was the victim, but the object is the procuring of sufficient rain to ensure a good harvest. It is celebrated by racing with long narrow boats shaped to represent dragons and propelled by scores of rowers, pasting of charms on the doors of dwellings, and eating a special kind of rice-cake, with a liquor as a beverage.
The Spirit That Clears the Way
The fifteenth day of the eighth moon is the Mid-autumn Festival, known by foreigners as All Souls’ Day. On this occasion the women worship the moon, offering cakes, fruit, etc. The gates of Purgatory are opened, and the Page 45hungry ghosts troop forth to enjoy themselves for a month on the good things provided for them by the pious. The ninth day of the ninth moon is the Chung Yang Festival, when every one who possibly can ascends to a high place—a hill or temple-tower. This inaugurates the kite-flying season, and is supposed to promote longevity. During that season, which lasts several months, the Chinese people the sky with dragons, centipedes, frogs, butterflies, and hundreds of other cleverly devised creatures, which, by means of simple mechanisms worked by the wind, roll their eyes, make appropriate sounds, and move their paws, wings, tails, etc., in a most realistic manner. The festival originated in a warning received by a scholar named Huan Ching from his master Fei Ch’ang-fang, a native of Ju-nan in Honan, who lived during the Han dynasty, that a terrible calamity was about to happen, and enjoining him to escape with his family to a high place. On his return he found all his domestic animals dead, and was told that they had died instead of himself and his relatives. On New Year’s Eve (Tuan Nien or Chu Hsi) the Kitchen-god ascends to Heaven to make his annual report, the wise feasting him with honey and other sticky food before his departure, so that his lips may be sealed and he be unable to ‘let on’ too much to the powers that be in the regions above!
Sports and Games
The first sports of the Chinese were festival gatherings for purposes of archery, to which succeeded exercises partaking of a military character. Hunting was a favourite amusement. They played games of calculation, chess (or the ‘game of war’), shuttlecock with the feet, pitch-pot (throwing arrows from a distance into a narrow-necked Page 46jar), and ‘horn-goring’ (fighting on the shoulders of others with horned masks on their heads). Stilts, football, dice-throwing, boat-racing, dog-racing, cock-fighting, kite-flying, as well as singing and dancing marionettes, afforded recreation and amusement.