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Chinese Dragon Boat Festival: Duanwu Food, Legend, Customs

Dragon Boat Festival

Dragon Boat Festival

Dragon Boat Festival 2018 falls on June 18 (Monday). The holiday in China starts from June 16 to 18, 2018.

Dragon Boat Festival, also called Duanwu or Tuen Ng Festival, is a traditional holiday observed annually over 2,000 years in China to commemorate Qu Yuan (340-278 BC), an ancient Chinese patriotic poet. Originated from south China, Dragon Boat Festival enjoys higher popularity in southern areas, such as Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Guangdong and Fujian Provinces.

Chinese: 端午节[duān wǔ jié]
Date: 5th day of 5th lunar month
History: more than 2,000 years
Traditions: eating Zongzi (sticky rice dumplings), dragon boat race

Defined by Chinese lunar calendar, the date of Dragon Boat Festival falls on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month according to lunar calendar, so the Gregorian date varies every year, and hereunder is the holiday schedule from 2016 to 2021.

Year Date Holiday
2017 May 30 May 28 - 30
2018 June 18 June 16 - 18
2019 June 7 June 7 - 9
2020 June 25 June 25 - 27
2021 June 14 June 12 - 14
2022 June 3 June 3 - 5

Why is the Dragon Boat Festival celebrated? With a history over 2,000 years, it used to be a hygiene day when people would use herbs to dispel diseases and viruses. However, the most popular origin is closely related to the great poet Qu Yuan in the Warring States Period (475 – 221BC). To engrave his death on the fifth day on the fifth lunar month, people celebrate the festival in various ways. Great people like Wu Zixu and Cao E also died on the same day, so in certain areas, people also commemorate them during the festival.
As a minister in the State of Chu - one of the seven Warring States, Qu Yuan was a patriotic poet who wrote a lot of works to show his care and devotion to his country. Composing masterpieces like Li Sao (The Lament), he was regarded as one of the greatest poets in Chinese history. After he was exiled by the king, he chose to drown himself in the river rather than seeing his country invaded and conquered by the State of Qin. He died on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, thus people decided to commemorate him on that day every year.
Many traditional customs and activities are held on the specified day by people in China and even by people in neighboring Asian countries. Dragon boat racing and eating Zongzi are the central customs of the festival. In some regions in China, people also wear a perfume pouch, tie five-color silk thread and hang mugwort leaves or calamus on their doors.

Eating Zongzi

ZongziMost Chinese festivals are observed by eating a particular food as a custom, and the Dragon Boat Festival is no exception. Zongzi, a pyramid-shaped glutinous rice dumpling wrapped in reed leaves, is the special food eaten on the day. It has various fillings. In north China, people favor the jujubes as the filling, while the south sweetened bean paste, fresh meat, or egg yolk. Nowadays, Zongzi already becomes a common food, which can be easily found in supermarkets. However, some families still retain the tradition to make Zongzi on the festival day. See How to Make Zongzi.

Read more on Dragon Boat Festival Food, including realgar wine, eel …

Dragon Boat Racing

Dragon Boat RaceDragon boats are thus named because the fore and stern of the boat is in a shape of traditional Chinese dragon. A team of people works the oars in a bid to reach the destination before other teams. One team member sits at the front of the boat beating a drum in order to maintain morale and ensure that the rowers keep in time with one another. Legend holds that the race originates from the idea of the people who rowed their boats to save Qu Yuan after he drowned himself. Now it has turned to be a sport event not only held in China, but also observed in Japan, Vietnam, and Britain.
The best places to experience the dragon boat races during the festival are:
a. Yueyang International Dragon Boat Race: Miluo River Dragon Boat Race Center, Yueyang, Hunan
b. Zigui Dragon Boat Racing: Xujiachong Bay, Zuigui County, Yichang, Hubei
c. Miao People’s International Canoe Festival: Qingshui River, Guizhou
d. Hangzhou Xixi Dragon Boat Race: Xixi Wetland Park

Travel Smart during Festival

The 3-day holiday of Dragon Boat Festival usually gives rise to travel crowds in China. You’d better avoid this period when making a travel plan, or you need to make an early-bird booking for hotels, air and train tickets. To have a worry-free and smooth journey, you are suggested to join a tour with TravelChinaGuide. Hereunder are the bestsellers.

Our Tour Group on Great Wall in BeijingPrivate Beijing One Day Tours

One Day to Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven…

ShanghaiBest of China

8 Days Small Group Beijing - Xian - Shanghai, top three destinations in China

Li River, Guilin
 

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