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All you need to know about 端午节 - Dragon Boat Festival

Sep.23, 2022


Immediately following the good news that Shanghai has lifted the 2-month lockdown, Dragon Boat Festival - 端午节/Duānwǔ Jiéis on the way! As one of the four most important festivals in China (the other three are Spring Festival, Qingming Festival and Mid-Autumn Festival), 端午节 falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month and this year it's happening on June 3rd!

In this article, let's talk about everything you need to know about Dragon Boat Festival - 端午节/Duānwǔ Jié!


In Chinese, "端/duān" originally means regular, proper and "午/wǔ" originally means middle, center. So "端午" literally means properly right in the center.

Meanwhile according to the ancient Chinese astrological tradition, during the Dragon Boat Festival the "Dragon Star" is in the center position of the sky, which is called "飞龙在天 - Flying Dragon in the Sky". It's believed to be one of the best star signs!

Since Chinese people value neutrality and regualrity, in addition, people have strong reverence for the dragon, "端午". Gathering both elements, is bound to be a special day of great fortune! Therefore, on this day, many celebrations and rituals began in ancient China.


The story of Quyuan - 屈原

Talking about 端午节, there is one person we have to mention - 屈原/Qū Yuán. 屈原 was an outstanding patriotic poet in ancient China. He wrote many masterpieces which have laid the foundation of ancient Chinese literature. The most famous one is "离骚/Li Sao". In his poems, he expressed a strong love for his country and people. But his life story, however, is very tragic.

(Qu Yuan, B.C.340 - B.C.278)

屈原 was a minister of 楚怀王 (King of Kingdom Chu, Kingdom Chu was located in Yantze River Basin, Central China). Because he was highly regarded by the king, he aroused the jealousy of other officials, who slandered him in front of the king. The king gradually distanced himself from 屈原 and stopped accepting his advice, and even banished him in the end. Filled with grief and anger, 屈原 threw himself into the 汨罗江 - Miluo River. Several decades after 屈原's death, kingdom Chu was finally destroyed by kingdom Qin due to the misconduct of slanderous officials (B.C.225 - B.C.223).

But 屈原 still lives in the hearts of people. It is said that after 屈原's death, the people of Kingdom Chu mourned and flocked to the Miluo River to pay their respects to 屈原. Fishermen set up boats to retrieve his body from the river. People threw food into the river, thinking that if the fish ate them, they would not bite 屈原's body. An old doctor even poured a jar of wine into the river, intended to poison the dragon in the river, to save 屈原's body from it.

Watch this video to know more about 屈原↓


What to eat/drink in 端午节

The day 屈原 threw himself into the river was the fifth day of the fifth Lunar Month - 端午节. Since then, many new customs for this festival emerged in memory of this patriotic poet.

  • 吃粽子/Chī zòngzi - Eating traditional Rice Dumplings

It is said that 粽子 is the food that people threw into the river to feed fish so as to save 屈原's body. Now it has become a must-eat food for Dragon Boat Festival. It's made of glutinous rice stuffed with different kinds fillings like red bean paste, jujube paste, salted egg yolks or cured meat, and all wrapped in reed leaves. You boil them in water or steam them before eating.


People in different regions of China make rice dumplings in different ways. Here I will list some common types of 粽子:

(Different ways of making 粽子)

Many brands nowadays also offer new types of 粽子 that cater to the preferences of young people. Take Starbucks as an example: they launched crystal 粽子 couple years ago and it has become a very popular option for family and friends as Dragon Boat Festival gifts.


  • 喝雄黄酒/Hē xiónghuángjiǔ - Drink Xionghuang wine

Xionghuang Wine is the wine that people used to pour into the river to stop the dragon biting 屈原's body. Drinking Xionghuang wine is also Dragon Boat Festival's tradition for long time. Xionghuang is realgar. Xionghuang Wine is a white or yellow wine mixed with ground realgar. Xionghuang wine has the effect of sterilization and insect repellent, and it is also used in Chinese medicine to treat skin diseases.



What to do in 端午节

  • 划龙舟/Huá lóngzhōu - Row Dragon Boat

If you come to southern China during the Dragon Boat Festival, you will have a high chance of witnessing dragon boat racing! Rowing Dragon boats used to be just a festival custom for remembering 屈原, it has now gradually became a water sport. In 2020, dragon boat racing has become an official event in the Asian Games.


  • 打马球/Dǎ mǎqiú - Play polo

For northern Chinese people, there is no enough water for dragon boat racing. Instead, people play polo instead during this festival.


  • 挂艾草/Guà àicǎo - Hang mugwort leaves

The fifth lunar month is considered an unlucky month. People believed that natural disasters and illnesses are common in the fifth month. In order to get rid of the misfortune, people would put calamus, artemisia, pomegranate flowers, Chinese ixora, and garlic above the doors on Dragon Boat Festival. Since the shape of calamus is like a sword, and with the strong smell of the garlic, it is believed that they can remove the evil spirits.

Furthermore, mugwort leaves can release a special serum which has the effect of repelling mosquitoes and other insects. People also like to make scented bags hanging in the house in order to prevent insect bites.


  • 系五色绳/Jì wǔsèshéng - wear the five-colored rope

In ancient China, colour green, red, white, black and yellow are considered auspicious colors. People believe that making a rope with these colors and wearing it can bring good them luck to them.


I hope this article can help you understand more about the history and culture behind the Dragon Boat Festival - 端午节/Duānwǔ jié!

Last but not the least, I would like to introduce a special greeting that you can use during 端午节 holiday:

端午安康! Duānwǔ ānkāng!
I wish you a peaceful and sound Dragon Boat Festival!

As I said earlier, the fifth lunar month is regarded as a sinister month in terms of health. That's why, instead of wishing people "happy", it's more common to wish people health on 端午节.

Enjoy your holiday! See you next time!

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All you need to know about 端午节 - Dragon Boat Festival