To Stephen Yeap Weller, an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan-Shanghai Jiao Tong University Joint Institute (UM-SJTU JI, JI hereafter), the recently celebrated Dragon Boat Festival, or Duanwu, was a dream come true. He engaged in various cultural activities in China during the festival week.

Stephen (in the middle) learns to make herbal sachet under the guidance of a SJTU professor in a laboratory.

Stephen is a Malaysian of Chinese-American descent. Driven by a desire to reconnect with his Chinese heritage while pursuing a Western-style education in China, he came to Shanghai and joined JI in 2021. Over the past few days, Stephen joined a group of international students and faculty members from JI in Dragon Boat Festival-themed activities, including dragon boat racing, making sticky rice dumplings, and crafting herbal sachets. “It’s wonderful to see this piece of cultural history being preserved so well in China,” he said.

JI faculty and students attend a Duanwu event on June 5.

On June 5, JI international faculty members and students were invited to the Faculty & Staff Club at Long Bin Building, where they learned to make zongzi, or sticky rice dumplings, while listening to a lecture on Duanwu.

JI team row the boat in a race against other universities at Meilan Lake.

On June 7, over 20 JI faculty and students were invited by the Shanghai Overseas Returned Scholars Association to participate in the 2024 Meilan Lake International Student Dragon Boat Race and Dragon Boat Folk Culture Experience Day. Through activities such as rowing dragon boats and enjoying cultural displays on the lake in eastern Shanghai, the event aimed to share Chinese culture and promote mutual exchange and understanding.

The Dragon Boat Festival falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar, which is June 10 this year. It is one of the oldest festivals in China, with a history of more than 2,000 years. The Dragon Boat Festival commemorates the death of Qu Yuan, a Chu state official and poet who lived during the Warring States Period (475-221 BC) before the reunification of China under the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC). He was exiled after opposing his king’s decision to ally with the neighboring state of Qin, and when Chu was finally conquered by Qin, he committed suicide by drowning in the Miluo River of Hunan Province on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month.

The Chu people, who admired Qu Yuan for his loyalty and integrity, threw rice dumplings into the river to feed the fish so they would not eat the body of their poet hero. People then started dragon boat racing to scare off the fish. Therefore, boat racing and eating sticky rice dumplings have become two of the most prevalent traditions for people to commemorate the festival and Qu Yuan. On the Dragon Boat Festival, many Chinese people, especially children, wear scented sachets threaded with five-color silk strings to ward off evil. A scented sachet is an ornament worn on the front of the dress.

Source: SJTU JI

Editor on Duty: Yan Cheng

Responsible Editor: Jiang Qianqian, Li Xinyu