The Dragon Boat Festival or Duanwujie is upon us! This traditional holiday that commemorates the famous Chinese Scholar Qu Yuan, known as China’s first poet, takes places on the fifth day of the fifth month of the traditional Chinese lunar calendar. This date is also the source of the alternative name used to refer to the Dragon Boat Festival, the Double Fifth Festival.
Like any other festival in China, the Dragon Boat Festival has its traditional foods and snacks, but the main happening of the day are the dragon boat races.
To mark the occasion, Lao Guo has written an article about this tradition, its history and how to celebrate it. Find the Chinese version at the bottom.
Dragon Boat Festival
The Dragon Boat Festival, one of the 4 most important Chinese festivals (the other three festivals are Spring Festival, Qingming Festival, Mid-autumn Day), also known as Duanwu Festival, is a traditional and statutory holiday originating in China. The festival now takes place on the 5th day of the 5th month of the traditional lunar calendar (the 9th of June 2016), which is the source of its alternative name, the Double Fifth Festival. The focus of most celebrations involves eating zongzi (sticky rice treats wrapped in bamboo leaves), drinking realgar wine (雄黃酒, xiónghuángjiǔ), and racing dragon boats.
The story best known about Duanwu Festival in modern China holds that the festival commemorates the death of the poet and minister Qu Yuan ( 340–278 BC) of the ancient state of Chu during the Warring States period of the Zhou Dynasty. A cadet member of the Chu royal house, Qu served in high offices. However, when the king decided to ally with the increasingly powerful state of Qin, Qu was banished for opposing the alliance and even accused of treason. During his exile, Qu Yuan wrote a great deal of poetry. Twenty-eight years later, Qin captured Ying, the Chu capital. In despair, Qu Yuan committed suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo River.
It is said that the local people, who admired him, raced out in their boats to save him or at least to retrieve his body. This is said to have been the origin of dragon boat races. When his body could not be found, they dropped balls of sticky rice into the river so that the fish would eat them instead of Qu Yuan’s body. This is said to be the origin of zongzi.
Interested in reading more about Chinese culture? See our post on one of the biggest holidays in China, The National Day of China. For more information read our post on the origins of the Chinese zodiac signs, or read about how to celebrate Chinese Lantern Festival.