Chinese Dragon Boat Festival

In 2021, the date of the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival (端午节) falls on June 14, which is Thursday. It is known as the Duanwu Festival in China, falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month every year, which was established to commemorate a notable official and patriotic poet Qu Yuan. 

As the first traditional Chinese festival listed on the World’s Intangible Cultural Heritages, Dragon Boat Festival is one of the three most important lunar festivals in China, along with Spring Festival and Mid-Autumn Festival.

For celebrating this festival, there is a 3-day holiday in China since 2008.

Dragon Boat Festival History

Dragon Boat Festival can be traced back to 2,000 years ago and there’re many legends about this festival, among which the most famous one is about commemorating Qu Yuan, a notable minister, and patriot poet during the Spring and Autumn Periods.

Qu Yuan was an important minister during the Spring and Autumn Periods in the Chu State, which was located in today’s Hubei Province in Central China. During his life he strongly advocated recommending talents from all social levels, enriching the country, and building up the military forces.

However, his advocates were strongly rejected by members of the aristocracy as it would destroy their benefits. Then Qu Yuan was forced to resign and was banished to the remote area of the country, which was the time when he wrote a lot of famous poems to express his loving for the Chu State.

In B.C 278, the capital of Chu State was captured by the Qin Army. Qu Yuan was so grieved that he committed suicide y jumping into the Miluo River after hearing the news on the fifth of the fifth lunar month. Locals were very sad about the death of their respectable poet and state official. Every year on this day people would commemorate him spontaneously.

Top Customs about Dragon Boat Festival

1. Dragon Boat Racing

Dragon boat racing is a must-do custom in the Dragon Boat Festival.

Dragon Boat Racing
Dragon Boat Racing

The origin of the activity is said that in ancient times, when Qu Yuan drowned himself in the river, many fishermen rode their boats on the river, trying to find his body. They tried their best to catch up with the revered minister, but when they reached Dongting Lake, Qu Yuan's body could no longer be found.

Every year later locals would ride dragon boats for commemorating Qu Yuan, hoping to disperse creatures under the river in this way.

  • In the late Qing Dynasty (1736), Taiwan started to hold dragon boat racing matches and later the activity become popular in Hong Kong, too. At the same time, this interesting race was also spread to Chinese neighboring countries like Japan and Vietnam.
  • In 1991, the 1st International Dragon Boat Festival was held in Yueyang City, Hunan Province, which is the second hometown of Qu Yuan. The celebration activities include worshiping the dragon head and dragon boat racing match. After that, the Hunan Province holds the International Dragon Boat Festival regularly.
  • To this day, the racing of dragon-designed boats is very popular in areas near rivers, lakes, or seas.

2. Eating Traditional Food: Zongzi

After Qu Yuan committed suicide in Miluo River, fishermen tried hard to find his body but failed. Some locals threw rice rolls, eggs, and meat into the river to feed creatures under the river, hoping they wouldn’t eat the body of Qu Yuan.

Years later people used leaves to roll the rice rolls and tightened them with colorful threads, which is known as Zongzi (棕子, Chinese Rice Dumpling).

Zongzi
Zongzi

Now eating Zongzi has become an indispensable part of the Dragon Boat Festival celebration. In China, almost every household will eat zongzi when the festival comes. Yet depending on the location and region of China, the taste of Zongzi is different. Generally speaking, people in southern China prefer the salty one while those in northern China like the sweet one.

It is regarded that the most outstanding versions of Zongzi can be found in Jiaxing of Zhejiang Province. Zongzi is not only popular in China, but it has also spread to Korea, Japan, and other countries in Southeast Asia.

Learn more about Chinese Food.

3. Hanging calamus and Chinese mugwort

Hanging calamus, the aromatic underground stem of the sweet flag herb, and Chinese mugwort is an important activity during the Dragon Boat Festival.

The 2 elements are said to be effective in warding off disease, doing among other things keeping insects away and purifying the air.

This is a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation.

Chinese mugwort
Chinese mugwort

4. Wearing Sachets

During Dragon Boat Festival, usually, kids would wear sachets (佩香囊) in the countryside areas. It is believed that doing so helps drive out the evil spirit and avoiding illness. At the same time, people think that kids with sachets look more adorable.

Inside the sachets are some perfumes or herbal medicines like aromatic odor, angelica root, and the rhizome of chuanxiong. The shapes of sachets vary and they are strung together.

Sachets
Sachets

In some cities of southern China, some young people will also use sachets to express their affections for each other.

Top Cities to Celebrate Chinese Dragon Boat Festival

Every year when Dragon Boat Festival comes, in many Chinese cities there will be dragon boat racing. The top places to celebrate the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival are Hangzhou, Hong Kong, Foshan, and Yueyang. Other places in China also celebrate the festival like Beijing. If you are in Beijing, Yangqing Xia Dugong Park and Beihai Park are good options.

1. Hangzhou

Xixi International Dragon Boat Festival held in Hangzhou Xixi Wetland Park on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month is the most famous place to celebrate Dragon Boat Festival in Hangzhou City.

During the festival, visitors can take part in most activities, including watching dragon boat racing matches, tasting traditional festival food, enjoying theater performances, dragon and lion dances, and martial arts exhibitions, etc.

West Lake in Hangzhou
West Lake in Hangzhou
  • Opening Hours: 07:00—17:30 from April 1 to October 31 and 08:30—17:00 for the rest time.
  • Getting there: Take bus 310 to Zhoujiacun Station or take Y13/sightseeing bus 1 to Xixi Wetland Park.

2. Hong Kong

If you live in Hong Kong or just stop over there for several days in June, you may go to Victory Harbor to enjoy Hong Kong Dragon Boat Carnival. It is a significant international Dragon Boat Festival. The festival was started 38 years, which was also the time that introduced Dragon Boat Festival to the world. Every year the event attracts over 200 teams both from Hong Kong and other countries/regions. The entrance fee is free.

Victory Harbor in Hong Kong
Victory Harbor in Hong Kong

Getting there: Take MTR to Tsim Sha Tsui Station (Exit G) and walk east for about 15 minutes. Or take MTR to East Tsim Sha Tsui Station (Exit P1).

3. Shunde

Every year the Foshan City of the Guangdong Province will hold different kinds of activities to celebrate Dragon Boat Festival in different districts. Of these districts, Shunde holds the grandest one.

In 2014, besides traditional dragon dancing and the large competition of dragon boat racing on Lake Guipan, it will add more interactive activities to help newcomers in Shunde adapting to local culture and life as soon as possible. Thus many staff in enterprises will take part in the activity.

It will be a great place to enjoy Dragon Boat Racing Match and experience Dragon Boat Festival culture.

4. Yueyang

Miluo River in Yueyang is a famous river since Qu Yuan committed suicide in it 2000 years ago. Thus it is also the birthplace of Dragon Boat Racing Match and eating zongzi during the festival, which serves as a good spot to enjoy Dragon Boat Festival during the period.

Every year when the day comes, many locals and visitors will flood to the banks of Miluo to watch Dragon Boat Racing Match. The celebration there includes worshiping the head of dragon boats, hanging mugwort leaves and calamus, and making zongzi.

Yueyang is about 157 km away from Changsha City, the capital of the Hunan Province, with about 2 hours of driving time.

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