It is held the fifth day of the fifth month each lunar year, and has several possible origins. By far the most popular tale is that of Qu Yuan.
Qu Yuan was a minister of the state of Chu, but when Chu aligned with the increasingly powerful Qin (the Terracotta Army, before they were terracotta), Qu was dubbed a trader and sent into exile. It was during his exile that he wrote what is largely considered China’s first great poetry.
When the Qin dynasty eventually conquered Chu, legend has it that Qu, out of distress or protest, waded into a river with a large rock and drowned.
A common activity during the Dragon Boat Festival is to tie on a bracelet/anklet made of five different coloured strings. The bracelet is worn until the first rain following the event, at which time it is thrown into a river — presumably to resemble a dragon on the river.
The custom of eating zòng zi (a reed-wrapped triangle of glutinous rice, see photo above) is said to come from attempts made by the villagers to send Qu Yuan food at the bottom of the river. Because the fish would eat the regular grains of rice, the zongzi was wrapped and made denser to secure its journey to the bottom of the river. Variants of the legend also state that the zongzi were in fact used to “bribe” the fish and evil spirits into leaving Qu Yuan’s body be.
The dragon boat races that have become the hallmark of the holiday in Chinese communities around the world, is to commemorate the rush of the villagers in their boats to search for Qu’s body.
Until recently, the Dragon Boat Festival was not “officially” celebrated in the People’s Republic of China, as traditional holidays had been one of the things the communist government did away with when taking power and forming the PRC in 1949.
However, after China’s May Holiday Golden Week was scaled back in 2007, three traditional holidays were brought back onto the official holiday calendar: Qingming Festival, Dragon Boat Festival, and Mid-Autumn Festival.
Upcoming Dragon Boat Festivals
- 2010: June 16
- 2011: June 6
- 2012: June 23
- 2013: June 12
- 2014: June 2
- 2015: June 20