The Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated in Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and elsewhere around the world. The people of China generally receive a three-day break from work in order to celebrate with friends and family.
It is common to see impressive crowds in cities such as Beijing and Guangzhou.
The Dragon Boat Festival goes by many names in China and across the world. In Mainland China, the Dragon Boat Festival is referred to as the Duanwu Festival. The Duanwu Festival is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month on the lunar calendar. Because of this, the holiday is often called the ‘double fifth’ festival.
The Dragon Boat Festival originated from the events of China’s Warring States Period. According to the old stories, there was a Minister of the state of Chu who supported the decision to wage war against the oppressive state of Qin. This minister’s name was Qu Yuan.
At first the people of Chu and other Chinese states supported Qu Yuan, but as time passed, the King of Chu disapproved. To express his distaste for the war plan, the King exiled Qu Yuan. During his exile, Qu Yuan wrote various patriotic poems that expressed his love and vision for China. Among these poems written by Qu Yuan is the world famous “The Lament”.
When the state of Qin began to gain ground and take over China, Qu Yuan drowned himself in the Miluo River in 278 BCE. It is said that Qu Yuan loved China so much that he would rather die than see it fall into the hands of the Qin. After his death, the works of Qu Yuan were circulated. Having gained prestige as an author and a patriot, the Dragon Boat Festival began to commemorate his death in the river.
To honor the life and work of Qu Yuan, boat races are held on various waterways throughout China each year. While regular people participate in these races, there are also teams of racers who train for months leading up to the events. Prizes and medals are sometimes awarded to winners, but traditionally, the winning team earns a year of happiness and good fortune. The canoes and long boats used in these races are painted with elaborate dragon designs and colors to celebrate the holiday. People who visit these events can expect to hear loud rhythmic drums that help teams paddle in sync with each other.
Hanging Chinese mugwort and calamus during the Dragon Boat Festival is an old practice that is not common in cities, but it is still used in many of China’s rural areas. These fragrant plants are placed into pouches and hanged on the wall or door of a home. These pouches of mugwort and calamus are intended to keep evil spirits out of the home. In addition to this, the hanging of these plants is also intended to bring happiness and good luck through the rest of the year. More conventional uses include keeping away mosquitoes and other insects.
The wearing of perfume pouches is another tradition of warding away evil. Traditionally, both parents and children wore a perfume pouch to keep evil spirits at bay. Perfume pouches are often made out of silk and filled with herbal medicines or perfumes.
During the Dragon Boat Festival, you may enjoy a variety of cuisine that has been created just for the holiday. Zongzi (粽子) is one of the most common treats. These are sticky rice dumplings that are filled with rice, beans, and other ingredients. They are sometimes wrapped in bamboo or rice paper. The flavor and texture of zongzi vary greatly depending on region and chef. In Gansu Province, people commonly enjoy mianshanzi, a flour-based food that is shaped like a fan. The fan is made of five overlapping layers of thin flour dough that are sprinkled with peppers or other light seasoning.
Mianshanzi is brightly colored to celebrate the liveliness of the Dragon Boat Festival. In Whenzhou, it is a common custom for families to eat paper-thin white wheat pancakes stuffed with leeks, meat, mushrooms, and other fillings. Eels are a traditional Dragon Boat Festival cuisine in Wuhan. They are regarded for their nutrition and flavored in many different ways depending on preference and the cook. It is also a common practice to drink realgar wine during one of the Dragon Boat Festival meals. Traditionally, this alcoholic beverage drives away evil spirits and repels disease.