The Dragon Boat festival is a traditional festival falling on the 5th day of the 5th month of China’s lunar calendar and has been celebrated in China for over 2000 years. It has only been recognized as a public holiday in mainland China since 2008. The Dragon Boat Festival is mostly about eating a sticky rice dish called Zongzi, drinking an orange wine and watching Dragon Boat races.
There are many legends on the origin of this festival and the most strongly held legend is of the patriotic poet and minister Qu Yuan.
Qu Yuan was born on 340 BC lived during the Warring States period in China (475 – 221 BC) where seven large and a number of smaller kingdoms were vying for supremacy. Qu Yuan was a minister for the state of Chu and opposed his King’s decision to ally with the powerful kingdom of Qin. Qu Yuan was banished for his opposition to the alliance and accused of treason. Qu Yuan spent the next 28 years in exile writing great works of poetry that showed his love and passion for his country Chu.
In 221 BC when the Qin kingdom captured the Chu capital and united China, Qu Yuan was in despair and committed suicide by drowning in a river. The local fishermen who greatly admired Qu Yuan raced their boats to the site of his suicide to either save him or retrieve his body. When the fishermen could not find Qu Yuan’s body, they threw sticky balls of rice into the river so the fish would eat the rice balls not Qu Yuan’s body. This fish feeding is the origin of the Chinese dish zongzi.
Festival Date Public Holidays
2014 2 June 31 May – 2 June
2015 20 June 20 June – 22 June
2016 9 June 9 June – 11 June
2017 30 May 28 May – 30 May
Dragon Boat Racing
A dragon boat is built in the shape of a traditional Chinese dragon with a dragon’s head as the prow (front) of the boat and a dragon’s tail as the stern (back) of the boat. The boats are normally over 10 meters long and have a crew of 20 to 22 paddlers with a steer’s person at the back and a drummer at the front.
Dragon boat racing is now an international sport and draws teams from all over the world who compete in races that range from 200 meters to 2000 meters in duration. You will not find dragon boat racing in the north or north east of China e.g. Beijing and it is most popular in southern cities like Guangzhou and especially Hong Kong.
For pictures and information on Dragon Boat racing in Hong Kong, click here
Zongzi or 粽子 is a bite sized dish were sticky or glutinous rice is mixed with various fillings and traditionally wrapped in bamboo leaves. Zongzi can be steamed or boiled and the steamed type normally tastes better.
In north and north east China zongzi have a tetrahedral or pyramid shape while in the south of China zongzi is shaped like a long thin cone. Like Jiaozi or dumplings making zongzi is traditionally a family event.
Tip for Dragon Boat Festival and Travel in China
Go to Hong Kong – Even though the Dragon Boat festival is celebrated and enjoyed all over China, the best place to celebrate this festival when travelling in China is Hong Kong. In Hong Kong you can see international dragon boat teams racing on Victoria harbour while the city comes to a virtual standstill for the celebrations which are an awesome site.
Second choice would be one of the other Pearl River Delta cities such as Guangzhou, Macau or Zhuhai that have a long history and passion for dragon boat racing.
Try Different Types of Zongzi – Zongzi has many different types of fillings that range form salted duck eggs and Mung beans to BBQ pork and Chinese sausages. To fully experience the pleasure of eating Zongzi, try eating as many different types as you can.