The Dragon Boat Festival

the Dragon Boat Festival

The Dragon Boat Festival is also called the Duanwu Festival.  It is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month according to the Chinese lunar calendar. So it earns another name – Double Fifth Festival.  Actually, it has a variety of names in Chinese: 端午节、龙舟节、午日节、五月节、浴兰节。

It is a popular and traditional festival celebrated by the Hans, Koreans, Mongolians, Huis, Yis, Bais, Miaos, Zhuangs, and others, altogether 27 of the 56 nationalities in China. And now the Asian people, including Japanese, Vietnamese, etc.

the origins of the Dragon Boat Festival

There are a great many of legends about the origins of the Dragon Boat Festival. The origin of the Dragon Boat Festival originated from the commemoration of Qu Yuan. The story about Qu Yuan has been deeply rooted in and this festival, so it is definitely a very important factor for the origin of the festival.

Dragon Boat Festival
Dragon Boat Festival

Qu Yuan was a minister of the State of Chun situated in present-day Hunan and Hubei provinces, during the Warring States Period (475—221BC).  He was upright, loyal and highly esteemed for his wise counsel that brought peace and prosperity to the state.  However, when a dishonest and corrupt prince vilified Qu Yuan, he was disgraced, dismissed from office, and eventually exiled.  During his exile, Qu Yuan did not give up.  He traveled extensively, taught and wrote about his ideas, His works, the lament, the nine chapters, are masterpieces and invaluable for studying ancient Chinese cultures.

He saw the gradual decline of his motherland, the Chu State. And when he heard that the Chun State was defeated by the strong Qin State, he has so despaired that he ended his life by flinging himself into the Miluo River.

the Chu State
the Chu State

It was said that after people heard he drowned, they were greatly dismayed. Fishermen raced to the spot in their boats to search for his body. Unable to find his body, people threw rice dumplings, eggs, and other food into the river to feed fish, hoping to secure his corpse. Since then, people started to commemorate Qu Yuan through dragon boat races, eating rice dumpling and other activities, on the anniversary of his death, the 5th of the fifth month.

How do you celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival?

Rice dumpling is a pyramid dumpling made of glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves. The people of Chu who mourned the death of Qu Yuan threw rice balls into the river to feed fishes, so the fishes wouldn’t eat his body, every year on the fifth day of the fifth month.  But one year, the spirit of Qu Yuan appeared and told the mourners that a huge reptile in the river had stolen the rice.  The spirit then advised them to wrap the rice in silk and bind it with five different-colored threads before tossing it into the river. Ingredients such as beans, pork, and chestnuts are often added to the glutinous rice.

Rice dumpling
Rice dumpling

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The dragon-boat races

The dragon-boat races symbolize the many attempts to rescue and recover Qu’s body. A typical dragon boat range from 50-100 feet in length, with ad beam of about 5.5 feet, accommodating two paddlers seated side by side. Along the Miluo River in Hubei Province, the festival celebrators hold a grand opening ceremony before the race starts. At the ceremony, dozens of men in new clothes, with burning candles in hands, walk around boats three times to show worship of Lu Ban. Then they carry, on their shoulders, an image of a dragon’s head to the Temple of Qu Yuan. Finally, they the red ribbons to the boats and pull them into the river for the race. At the crack of a signal gun, the boats race ahead like discharged arrows fitted to bowstrings.

The dragon-boat races
The dragon-boat races
Hanging mugwort plants

It is said that hanging mugwort plants can protect people from ill fortune. The custom hands an interesting folk tale. Towards the end of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) a nation-wide peasant uprising took place. One day, the leader Huang Chao, commanding his army, came to present Dengxian Country of Henan Province to survey the terrain from a battle.

Huang came across a panic-stricken woman. This woman held a child about six years old in one arm and took a child about three years old by the hand. Puzzled, Huang dismounted from his horse and asked why she behaved so. The woman replied in a plaintive voice, “the older is an orphan and the younger is my own son, in case we run into Huang Chao’s soldiers, I would flee with the older alone at the sacrifice of my own son.”  Huang was moved by the reply, pulling up two mugwort plants at the roadside immediately and gave to her. Huang added: “tell the poor residents in Dengzhou city hang this kind of mugwort plants on their doors. Seeing this sign, my soldiers will not kill them.”

The next day, Huang Chao’s army captured Dengzhou city. They killed the magistrate and then distributed grain from the official granaries to the poor. That day happened to be the Dragon Boat Festival; hence the custom of hanging mugwort plants on doors.

Is this the analogy between Chinese and western cultures? Because you also could find the similar story or custom in Bible, Exodus 12:7 Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs.

Hanging mugwort plants
Hanging mugwort plants
Drinking realgar wine

It is said that an old practitioner of Chinese medicine poured a jar of realgar win into the Miluo River. It is supposed to make drunk the dragon and other aquatic animals which might devour Qu Yuan’s corpse. Yet the present custom is a little different from what it used to be. At the festival, adults of a family drink it as a prevention against vermin and children, who are unfit to drink wine, have some of the wine applied to their noses and ears for the same purpose.

Drinking realgar wine
Drinking realgar wine

The Dragon Boat Festival is a world heritage site. It includes ritual, dance, performance, games, food and drinks preparation. The Dragon Boat Festival has a harmonious atmosphere. It is the development of social cohesion and part of our cultural identity in the Chinese generation.

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