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Dragon Boat Festival 2019

The Dragon Boat Festival is one of the busiest travel holidays in China. During this time, people visit cities to enjoy the various festivities associated with the holiday. It is common to see massive 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. In 2019, the festival falls on Friday the 7th of June, so the celebrations are on the  7-9th of June.

We have outlined information regarding the holiday’s history, culture, food and traditions. 

History of the Dragon Boat Festival

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Dragon boat racing is one of China’s most colourful, competitive summer events. This traditional Chinese watersport is held during the Tuen Ng Festival, occurring annually around May or June on the Western calendar. A dragon boat is long and narrow with a decorative Chinese dragon head, tail and scales printed on the hull. During races, teams of paddlers paddle furiously to the beat of a drum, providing spectators with a spectacularly exciting and colorful sight

Dragon boat racing emerged as far back as 2,500 years ago, during the Warring States Period (402-221BC). Originating among fishing communities along the Yangtze River in Southern-Central China, it was initially a folk ritual designed to appease the rain gods, encourage rainfall and celebrate the summer rice planting.

The Tuen Ng Festival is associated with the myth of Qu Yuan, which emerged in written form as early as the 7th century AD. Qu Yuan was a poet and high-ranking official of the Warring States Period who was exiled from his state by a corrupt king. When he heard that his court had been destroyed by enemies, he drowned himself out of sorrow. It is said that villagers went out in the river with boats and drums to try to rescue his body and threw sticky rice dumplings (zongzi) into the water to prevent fish from eating his corpse, but they were unable to find him. The date of Qu Yuan’s suicide was the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, the same day that the Tuen Ng Festival is celebrated. In addition, zongzi are traditionally eaten on this day.

However, dragon boat racing fell out of fashion during the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). The practice was associated with feudal superstition and deemed an outdated custom that aligned poorly with the revolutionary spirit of the time. Chinese dragon boat racing became banned for a while and its popularity was severely diminished.

It wasn’t until 1976 that dragon boat racing was revitalized, starting when the Hong Kong government (then under British rule), began to promote the sport in order to boost tourism. Thus began the modern era of the celebration. In 1991, the International Dragon Boat Federation (IDBF) was established along with a set of institutional rules and regulations governing the sport. Now, dragon boat racing is practised in over sixty countries around the world, including China, who boasts 50 million dragon boaters. The Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival draws thousands of athletes from different countries every summer.

Food

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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.

Traditions

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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.

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