Dragon Boat Festival

June 14, 2021

The Dragon Boat Festival [Duānwǔ Jié] was originated in ancient China (during the ruling of the Zhou Dynasty), following tragic death of the famous patriotic poet and politician Qu Yuan (340–278 BC).

Qu Yuan died at the age of 61 by attaching himself to a heavy stone and jumping into the Miluo River in Hunan Province. The most reasonable explanation of his suicide was the fact that his beloved Chu State, to which he devoted his life and poetry, was taken over by the State of Qin. Local people desperately tried to save him - they took their boats and kept looking for Qu Yuan until they realized that it was too late.

Nowadays the Chinese people still honor memory of Qu Yuan - so on the 5th day of 5th lunar month they build "Dragon boats" and throw races in lakes and rivers. People from the winner boat are believed to bring luck and prosperity to their families and villages.

A legend also tells that soon after Qu Yuan’s death his spirit communicated that the actual reason of his death was a “river dragon” and asked people to throw wrapped rice in the river in order to protect Qu Yuan’s body from the dragon and other river creatures.

This explains both the shape of boats which people build and paddle for that special day, and also a tradition of crafting and eating “zòngzi” - envelopes made of sticky rice with various fillings wrapped in bamboo leaves. There is even a belief that eating zòngzi can increase one’s immunity towards bad energy and evil spirits, same way as folded rice can scare off river inhabitants.

Another tradition - wearing fragrant incense bags during the month of the Festival because there is a belief that many contagious and dangerous diseases are being originated, and in order to protect the weakest members of society - children - from catching them, it is recommended to put little sachets filled with powders of calamus, wormwood and realgar on their necks and hands .

Dragon Boat Festival.jpg

Written by Yulia Chiaradia for IMCPI