Legend says that festival is held since at least 278BC when Qu Yuan a famous Chinese poet committed suicide because of love of his country. He was poet, politician, idealist and diplomat. He served in state of Chu during Warring States Period. It happened when Chu  state was defeated by Qin state.  After that Qu Yuan understood that his state is about to collapse and he didn’t want to be captured neither to serve others. Therefore Qu Yuan took stone and jumped into Miluo river( todays Hunan province).  Today he is referred as real patriot and is admired.

qun yuan
Qun Yuan and search of his body,

Legend goes that villagers came on boats trying to save Qu Yuan but it was too late. In order to protect his body from fishes and evil spirits villagers came back with zongzi( dumplings filled with rice) and were throwing them into water so fishes and evil spirits wouldn’t eat his body. Also they were beating the drums and splashing water with paddles in order to chase spirits. Still they were racing around river to find his body but unsuccessfully. One night Qu Yuans his spirit appeared in front of his friends and he told them that they must throw every year zongzis in order to calm the dragon of the river. Since that time his day is celebrated as Dragon Boat Festival which is also known as Poets Day.

Dragon Boat Festival falls on 5th day of 5th lunar month and this year it is 30th May of 2017.  It is celebrated in various parts of China but also in Korea and Vietnam. These special boats have a shape of the dragon. There are 3 functions of its use during festival/ ceremonial, commemorative and competitive. So one of most important actions on this festival are Dragon races. People get into dragon shaped boats and race. They race in terms of ceremony and showing respect to the dragon a most important mythological being of China. Also they commemorate event of searching Qu Yuans body like it was more than 2000 years ago. Since end of 1970ies race became a competition too as kind of sport competition and thus became even more popular.

dragon boat bj

Crew is composed of paddlers, drummer and sweep.  Paddlers logically have job to move the boat while drummer beats the drums in order to guide frequency and synchronize movements of paddlers. Also drummers function is symbolic since it more than 2000 years ago each boat had a drummer in order to chase evil spirits from Qu Yuans body.  Sweep is today usually professional coach and is responsible for managing direction of boat and taking care of safety of the whole crew, Each boat has the same crew composition.


Before the race there are various worships of gods and of dragon. Symbolically often two paper roosters are put on boat as it is believed that they protect the crew.


Festival is much more than race and it includes other customs related to worship and pray for better fortune. Still since ancient times on this day people hang calamus and wormwood on the door frames because of pleasant aroma. Prior function was not only because of aroma but because of belief to chase away evil spirits. Today it is still practiced in order to attract good luck and have pleasant aroma. People used to put perfume pouches on that day in their pocket. Perfume pouche is a small cloth bag stuffed with herbs and flower petals which make pleasant smell. Primary use of this small bags is attracting good fortune.  In past it was a must but today it is still often practiced is a wearing five color bracelet. Usually children wear it since sunrise of the Dragon Boat Festival. Bracelet has red, yellow, black, green and white colors for different 5 mysterious powers which are supposed to chase away 5 misfortunes. Usually they are supposed to wear it until first rain after Dragon Boat and than throw it away.


dragon boat meal
Zongzi, source:

As an every festival in China rich cuisine is part of Dragon Boat http://young.hyundai.com/magazine/campus/detail.do?seq=12363Festival too. Among various Chinese meals most important is Zongzi a special dumplings with rice filling wrapped in bamboo leafs. During Spring and Autumn Period( 771BC-476BC) it served exclusively for worshiping deities and ancestors and was put in their altars.  Zongzi were thrown into water in order to feed fishes and evil spirits while searching for Qu Yuan. Since that day people eat Zongzi on that festival. Drinking strong wine is also typical on Dragon Boat Festival as on many Chinese occasions it is typical on this one too.

In rural China there are even more specific beliefs related to this festival. One of such customs is bathing in herbs. People boil specific herbs in water and than they take a bath in that water with belief that this herbs protect their health.  Also in rural China people at noon go to pick herbs in mountain believing that they have special healing power on this day. Most of village people take a shot of wine for a healthy day on Dragon Boat Festival. After the race in rural China many people wash their faces with river or sea water in order to wash away misfortune.

ENjoy China 😉

source of cover image



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