Qu Yuan [Chu Yuan] - The Great Poet

   Chu Yuan [Qu Yuan ] (340?-278 b.c.), the chief poet in the Songs of Chu, was a member of the ruling house, a stateman and diplomat. In his youth, he has a brilliant official career and was made a court minister and at one time the Chu envoy to Chi (in Shantung), a great neiboring state. But Chu Yuan's comet-like success incurred the jealousy of his fellow ministers, who slandered and intrigued against him. In consequence Chu Yuan lost the king's favor and was dismissed from office. There were several ups and downs in his career - for after each banishment he was recalled to court, only to be again rebuffed and disgraced. In the meantime, his country was in danger. Failing to heed Chu Yuan's advice, the king of Chu foolishly went to a conference with the king of Chin (in Shensi), the most powerful military state in that period; he was held there by the Chin army and died in captivity. His son, the new king, instead of avenging his father's death, made a humiliating peace with his enemy. This, however, did not deter Chin's aggressive designs against Chu, and Chu Yuan, who had started his exile as a result of his political failure, lived long enough to see the capital of his state plundered and ruined by the conquering army of Chin in 278 b.c. At that time, Chu Yuan was already an old man of over sixty, and the fall of the Chu capital was the last blow to his patriotic hope. He does not seem to have long survived his diaster, for the next we hear of him is that he had drowned himself in the river Mi-lo.

Tradition says that his death occurred on the fifth day of the fifth moon (month). Ever since, the day is celebrated as the Day of Dragon Boat Festival to commemorate his drowning.

As the first known great poet in China, Chu Yuan has been called the father of Chinese poetry and has become, in the opinion of some, a national culture hero.

-- From Liu Wu-chi, "An Introduction to Chinese Literature", Indiana University Press