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Double Fifth Day: Chinese Dragon Boat Festival

Updated on January 3, 2014
Dragon Boat Festival
Dragon Boat Festival | Source
Qu Yuan
Qu Yuan | Source

The May fifth in Chinese lunar calendar (June 23rd of this year in solar calendar) is another important Chinese traditional festival, i.e. Dragon Boat Festival or Double Fifth Day. The festival originated from a historic event 2,000 years ago. In warrior time (475 B.C. - 221 B.C.), there were seven countries in present Chinese land. Of course, wars kept going, and lots of heroes and talents stood out. Qu Yuan, a great Romantic poet and also the first famous poet whose name was recorded in history of China, was the Premier of Chu Country. He was capable for his position and so loved his country. The King really trusted and relied on him. However, some others, including one of princes and the lover of the King, hated him, and so they laid their heads together and devised a plan for destroying him. Finally, they stood between Qu Yuan and the King, and Qu Yuan suffered banishment as the victim of a court intrigue. Subsequently, the King was prisoned by Qin country and died. The new king continued persecuting Qu Yuan, and exiled him to another place cut off from civilization by high mountains. When Qin country annihilated Chu, Qu Yuan was disillusioned in his ideal and ambition, then he drowned himself in Miluo river on May fifth. Qu Yuan was both a great poet in romanticism and a powerful leader in patriotism. His people so loved him. So, after he died, people went to the river and threw rice balls into water, so that fishes would have enough food and would not eat the body of Qu Yuan. Since then, people went to the river on May fifth every year in honor of their hero, and they usually rowed boats on the river to feed fishes with rice balls. With time, the day became a severe public festival, which had become popular across the whole Chinese land after Qin wiped out all other countries and established the first united monarchical nation. Accordingly, the activity of sailing on the river was developed into a necessary entertainment game: Dragon Boat Racing, while the rice ball became a popular food for humans: rice dumpling.

Dragon Boat Racing

Dragon Boat Racing is the indispensable program on the Day, entertaining but a serious contest. Players do their utmost to win. As the name implied, the boat in race is in the shape of a Chinese dragon. The boat is long and narrow, dragon head in the bow, tail in the stern, and colorful scale-like decoration on both sides. In China, the ceremony could be very serious. In some places, such as in Guangdong province, players should worship the Dragon king and the river god in seriousness before the racing game begins. The sporting contest is usually very fierce, not only the behavior of players but the attitude of the spectators on banks. Except this official game on the water, there is another Dragon Boat activity on the ground, which is simply an entertainment, actually a dance, in which the boat has no bottom, so dancers stand in it and hold the boat with hands on both sides. Unlike Dragon Boat Racing in which players are commonly males, the players in the boat dancing can be males or females, who are in ancient clothes dancing and singing. Sometimes, different groups do contest each other if they play in the same place. They contest in their dancing appearance and singing voice.


Rice Dumplings

Rice dumplings are the necessary food on the day. People should get up very early to go to buy them. Otherwise, there could be no rice dumplings available for them. All shops and vendors could sell them out in early morning. Nowadays, rice dumplings are in various brands and various tastes and styles in different places. Necessarily, they are made from sticky rice packed with bamboo leaves in the shape of cones, but with different additional ingredient in them, including candied dates, longans, preserved fruits, lotus-nut paste, or salt eggs, sauekraut, ham, meat, while the taste could be sweet, salty, sour, spicy. Personally, I only eat plain or candied date kind.

scent bags
scent bags | Source

Other folk customs

Besides Dragon Boat racing and eating Rice Dumpling, there are various folk customs in different parts of the country. For example, women in Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces wear a special jewelry, which is made from spun gold or silver or cobber and into different shapes, such as a clock or a bell or a little people riding on a tiger, etc. Parents use realgar wine to draw a Chinese word "wang" on the forehead of children to drive devils away (the term of "wang" means the king, and here mainly means a tigher). Scent bag is a beautiful folk art. It's a small bag with colorful embroidery and tassels on it. People put some fragrant plants and the sweet scent can gets rid of odor and drives some insects, like mosquito, away. People usually wear it on Double Fifth Day. In some places, people hang Ay Tsao on the front door. Ay Tsao is a grass plant, which is used in Chinese medicine and acupuncture. So, ancient people believe that it can deter devils. There are a lot others, such as long live threads, drinking realgar wine, other unique jewelries, different from place to place.

Gangneung Double Fifth Festival Worship Ceremony
Gangneung Double Fifth Festival Worship Ceremony | Source

In Japan

After Japanese Heian Period (794 A.D-1192 A.D), Dragon Boat Festival was introduced into Japan, and was developed as a Day for boys. On the day, people hang a flag in the shape of carp in front of gates, and families eat rice dumplings and leaf cakes to celebrate and wish boys grow up as healthily as happy carps, which also implies that they have high hopes on those male children as Chinese do.

In Korea

Korean Dragon Boat Festival Worship Ceremony is really an impressive scene. Every Double Fifth Day, a million people on average from all over the world to Korean visit Gangneung city, which holds the Worship ceremony, including the sacrifice to gods and various group performance and contests, such as magical playing and fake mask production. Korean Dragon Boat Festival is at the resource of Chinese culture, but it has got rich local colors and apparently Korean people lay much emphasis on such a traditional inheritance.


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    • Hui (蕙) profile imageAUTHOR

      Hui (蕙) 

      6 years ago

      Thank you for coming by and for liking this oriental tradition and culture. We all learn from each other on hubpages. Thanks again!

    • greeneryday profile image


      6 years ago from Some tropical country

      Wonderful tradition and culture, I have learned something new today. Well written and very informative hub... voted up for awesome..

    • Hui (蕙) profile imageAUTHOR

      Hui (蕙) 

      6 years ago

      I see what you mean, but all those things are far away behind. I don't know if you've ever been in Shanghai, which is as modern and fashionable as any other international city, and maybe higher. All those traditions are just heritages, and people have to try hard to keep them in life.

      I have one question for you here, my friend. Since you feel you like those old things so much, and kinda hate or even despise modern life, would you live that life if the time could go back then? I don't think I can, even I really appreciate and cherish all those old wisdom. So, I appreciate modern civilization either. Some experts remind people that they are deprived of necessities by gigantic constructions, which only appear in our modern time, but I would ask whether experts realize that wild species are deprived of necessities when people have expanded into their homelands to seek for being harmonious with real nature!

    • WD Curry 111 profile image

      WD Curry 111 

      6 years ago from Space Coast

      Good? I like it simple, pure order, like the old Chinese farms and Native American connection with the natural world. We would do well to follow their wisdom and leave a soft footprint on the earth.

      Bless you and your sweet spirit.

    • Hui (蕙) profile imageAUTHOR

      Hui (蕙) 

      6 years ago

      Thanks for this lovely comment, WD. And it is a beautiful and meaningful festival. I like it. It is true that western history is not as rich as ours, but we have to admit that western culture basically created the present civilization. We are all good!

    • WD Curry 111 profile image

      WD Curry 111 

      6 years ago from Space Coast

      Hey! Why don't we have a festival like this? I am going to protest, sleep in the park, hold up signs and write to the people in public office until we get a Dragon Boat festival and pretty art like you show here!

      Maybe the reason why, is because our history is not as rich as yours. There has been plenty of intrigue and betrayal, though.


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