The Dragon Boat Festival, also called the Duanwu Festival, is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month according to the Chinese calendar. For thousands of years, the festival has been marked by eating zongzi (glutinous rice wrapped to form a pyramid using bamboo or reed leaves) and racing dragon boats. If you learn Chinese in China, you can focus on Philosophy and Folk Customs course to know more Chinese Customs
Q&A —What’s the connection between Qu Yuan and Dragon Boat Festival?
The Dragon Boat Festival has been celebrated for about 2000 years, but its origin is a bit sad as it is based on the drowning suicide of Qu Yuan, one of ancient China’s most important poets. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Qu was born in 339 B.C.E and living during the Warring States period. He was a member of the ruling class in the Chu state of the Yangtze River’s central valley. Unfortunately, during his 20s his enemies banished him from his home, and he wandered southern China, writing poetry and participating in local lore and rituals. In 278 B.C.E, despondent over being exiled, Qu drowned himself in the Milou River, a tributary of the Yangtze. Legend has it that Dragon Boat Festival originated in the villagers’ attempts to find his body. Beating drums and churning the water with their dragon boats, the searchers hoped to keep evil spirits away. It is has also been suggested that people threw rice into the river to lure the fish from Qu’s corpse. Dragon Boat Festival falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar.
Q&A —Why Chinese people eat zongzi to celebrate this festival?
The people of Chu who mourned the death of Qu threw rice into the river to feed his ghost every year on the fifth day of the fifth month. But one year, the spirit of Qu appeared and told the mourners that a huge reptile in the river had stolen the rice. The spirit then advised them to wrap the rice in silk and bind it with five different-colored threads before tossing it into the river.
During the Duanwu Festival, a glutinous rice pudding called zongzi is eaten to symbolize the rice offerings to Qu. Ingredients such as beans, lotus seeds, chestnuts, pork fat and the golden yolk of a salted duck egg are often added to the glutinous rice. The pudding is then wrapped with bamboo leaves, bound with a kind of raffia and boiled in salt water for hours.
Q&A —Why Chinese people hold dragon boat races to celebrate this festival?
The dragon-boat races symbolize the many attempts to rescue and recover Qu’s body. A typical dragon boat ranges from 50-100 feet in length, with a beam of about 5.5 feet, accommodating two paddlers seated side by side.
A wooden dragon head is attached at the bow, and a dragon tail at the stern. A banner hoisted on a pole is also fastened at the stern and the hull is decorated with red, green and blue scales edged in gold. In the center of the boat is a canopied shrine behind which the drummers, gong beaters and cymbal players are seated to set the pace for the paddlers. There are also men positioned at the bow to set off firecrackers, toss rice into the water and pretend to be looking for Qu. All of the noise and pageantry creates an atmosphere of gaiety and excitement for the participants and spectators alike. The races are held among different clans, villages and organizations, and the winners are awarded medals, banners, jugs of wine and festive meals.