Traditional Chinese Festival: Dragon Boat Festival or Duanwu Festival

Updated:Sat, Dec 15, 2012 02:34 AM    Related:Dragon Boat

Dragon Boat

The Dragon Boat Festival is a celebration where major part of Chinese eat rice dumplings (粽子, zongzi), and race dragon boats (赛龙舟).

The Dragon Boat Festival is also known as Duanwu Festival or Danwujie or Double Fifth Festival. It is a traditional Chinese festival that commemorates the life and death of the ancient patriot and poet Qu Yuan. The festival occurs on the fifth day of the fifth month on the Chinese lunar calendar.


The Dragon Boat Festival is also known as the Duanwu Festival in China. Duanwu Festival, together with Chinese New Year and Mid-Autumn Festival forms one of the three major Chinese holidays. Since the summer is a time when diseases most easily spread, Dragon Boat Festival began as an occasion for driving off evil spirits and pestilence and for finding peace in one's life.

The Dragon Boat Festival is a celebration where major part of Chinese eat rice dumplings (粽子, zongzi), and race dragon boats (赛龙舟). Other activities include drinking realgar wine (xionghuangjiu, 雄黄酒), hanging icons of Zhong Kui (a mythic guardian figure), hanging mugwort and calamus, taking long walks, writing spells and wearing perfumed medicine bags.

In Taiwan, the festival was also celebrated as "Poets' Day" in honor of Qu Yuan, who is known as China's first poet. Chinese citizens traditionally throw bamboo leaves filled with cooked rice into the water and it is also customary to eat Zongzi and rice dumplings.

The festival was long marked as a cultural holiday in China. However, it wasn’t until 2008 that the Dragon Boat Festival was recognized as a traditional and statutory public holiday in the People's Republic of China.

Background of Dragon Boat Festival

There are many legends about the evolution of the festival, the most popular of which is in commemoration of Qu Yuan (屈原, 340-278 BC). Qu Yuan was minister of the Warring State of Chu (楚国) and one of China's earliest poets. In face of great pressure from the powerful Qin State, he advocated enriching the country and strengthening its military forces so as to fight against the Qin. However, he was opposed by aristocrats headed by Zi Lan, and later deposed and exiled by King Huai. In his exiled days, he still cared much for his country and people and composed immortal poems including Li Sao (The Lament), Tian Wen (Heavenly Questions) and Jiu Ge (Nine Songs), which had far-reaching influences. In 278 BC, he heard the news that Qin troops had finally conquered Chu's capital, so he finished his last piece Huai Sha (Embracing Sand) and plunged himself into the Miluo River, clasping his arms to a large stone. The day happened to be the 5th of the 5th month in the Chinese lunar calendar. After his death, the people of Chu crowded to the bank of the river to pay their respects to him. The fishermen sailed their boats up and down the river to look for his body. People threw into the water zongzi (pyramid-shaped glutinous rice dumplings wrapped in reed or bamboo leaves) and eggs to divert possible fish or shrimp from attacking his body. An old doctor poured a jug of reaglar wine (Chinese liquor seasoned with realgar) into the water, hoping to turn all aquatic beasts drunk. That's why people later followed the customs such as dragon boat racing, eating zongzi and drinking realgar wine on that day.

Activities of Duanwu Festival

Three of the most widespread activities for Duanwu Festival are eating (and preparing) the rice dumplings zongzi (粽子), drinking realgar wine (雄黄酒), and racing dragon boats (赛龙舟).

Dragon boat racing is an indispensable part of the festival, held all over the country. A dragon boat is a human-powered boat or paddle boat that is traditionally made of teak wood to various designs and sizes. They usually have brightly decorated designs that range anywhere from 40 to 100 feet in length, with the front end shaped like open-mouthed dragons, and the back end with a scaly tail. Dragon boat racing is a semi-religious, semi-entertaining program originating from the Warring States Period (475-221 BC). Now dragon boat racing has developed into an aquatic sports item which features both Chinese tradition and modern sporting spirit.

Zongzi is an essential food of the Dragon Boat Festival. The zong zi is a glutinous rice ball with a filling and wrapped in corn leaves. The fillings can be egg, beans, dates, fruits, sweet potato, walnuts, mushrooms, meat, or a combination of them. They are generally steamed. Zongzi was originally eaten in memory of the patriot Chu Yuan, but gradually evolving into a snack eaten during normal occasions as well.

Drinking realgar wine was once an important part of the activities on Duanwujie. The realgar wine is made of rice. It's a tonic wine and not good for children. Therefore adult just wipe the children forehead with the realgar wine. They believe that will make children healthier and won't catch the 5th lunar month disease.

The hanging of calamus and moxa on the front door, the pasting up pictures of Chung Kuei, drinking Xionghuang wine and holding fragrant sachets are said to possess qualities for preventing evil and bringing peace.




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