Culture: Exploring the Dragon Boat Festival

What is the Dragon Boat Festival?

The Dragon Boat Festival (listen 端午节 Duān Wǔ Jié) is a traditional festival in China to commemorate the life and death of Qu Yuan.

The legend goes that Qu Yuan served in high offices and wrote a lot of poetry about China while banished from the country.

Following his death in a river, people rowed out in boats to try and find him but couldn’t.

When is the Dragon Boat Festival?

The Dragon Boat Festival, also called the Double Fifth Festival, falls on the fifth day of the fifth month in the Chinese lunar calendar - the date of Qu Yuan’s death.

During this time, try saying in Mandarin:

listen 端午节快乐! Duān Wǔ Jié kuà lè! - Happy Dragon Boat Festival!

Qu Yuan

How do Chinese people celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival?

Chinese dragon boats

The most obvious tradition of the Dragon Boat Festival is dragon boat racing.

The racing of these boats is linked to the legend of Qu Yuan, commemorating his life and death.

The boats are shaped like dragons (listen lóng) and vary in sizes - the bigger the boat, the more people on board, having up to 80 rowers.

Each team is led by a drummer, who set the pace that the team paddles to.

Another tradition for the Dragon Boat Festival is wearing five-coloured string bracelets, usually called five-coloured braids.

Green (listen 绿色 lǜ sè), red (listen 红色 hóng sè), white (listen 白色 bái sè), black (listen 黑色 hēi sè) and yellow (listen 黄色 huáng sè) are seen as lucky colours.

In some parts of China, parents put them on their children’s wrists to keep bad luck away.

What do Chinese people eat for the Dragon Boat Festival?

One of the most popular foods for the Dragon Boat Festival are rice dumplings (listen 粽子 zòng zi).

粽子 Zòng zi are made of glutinous rice stuffed with different fillings, which are wrapped in banana or other leaves and steamed.

They are considered as a symbol of luck and the eating of them is linked to the legend of Qu Yuan - when he could not be found, balls of rice were dropped into the river to feed the fish.

Chinese rice dumplings
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