What is the Dragon Boat Festival?

Dragon Boat Festival, or Duanwu Festival, falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month each year. In September 2009, the festival became China’s first to be chosen for UNESCO’s world intangible cultural heritage list. There are a wide variety of celebrations which demonstrate athletic prowess and local folk traditions.

Jié rì (节日): n. Festival


Duān wǔ jié shì zhōng guó zuì zhòng yào de jié rì zhī yī.
端       午 节  是   中       国  最     重     要   的 节 日 之 一。
The Dragon Boat Festival is one of the most important festivals in China.

On the day of the Dragon Boat Festival, people greet each other by saying “端午节安康” (duān wǔ jié ān kāng), which means wishing you peace and health for Dragon Boat Festival. You can also say this to your Chinese friends on the upcoming festival!


Duān wǔ jié ān kāng.
端       午 节 安   康。
Wishing someone peace and health for Dragon Boat Festival.

There are various legends about the festival, but the most widely-accepted one is about Qu Yuan, a patriotic poet of the State of Chu during the Warring States Period (475-221B.C.).

Qu Yuan was a patriotic poet and exiled official during the Warring States Period of ancient China. He drowned himself in the Miluo River on the 5th day of the 5th Chinese lunar month, when his beloved Chu State fell to the State of Qin.

Locals then paddled to the river to search for him, and threw jiaoshu (or zongzi, a kind of sticky rice dumpling) and other food into the river to keep fish and other creatures in the water from devouring Qu Yuan’s body.

Later, to commemorate this patriotic poet, people commemorate Qu Yuan every year on lunar May fifth by dragon boat racing and eating zongzi, which is the origin of Dragon Boat Festival and two most important customs of the festival.

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Chuán tǒng(传统): adj./n. Traditional/ tradition


Duān wǔ jié shì zhōng guó de chuán tǒng jié rì.
端       午 节 是     中     国   的    传      统   节 日。
The Dragon Boat Festival is a traditional Chinese festival.

The most traditional food to eat on the day of the Dragon Boat Festival, of course, is zòng zi (粽子), which evolved gradually from the food for worship. Zongzi is usually wrapped in triangular or rectangular shapes with bamboo leaves. It’s made with glutinous rice with sweet or savory fillings.

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Zòng zi(粽子): n. Traditional Chinese rice-pudding


Duān wǔ jié chī shén me?
端       午 节 吃    什   么?
What do people eat on the Dragon Boat Festival?

Duān wǔ jié chī zòng zǐ.
端       午 节 吃    粽   子。
People eat zongzi on the Dragon Boat Festival.

Besides eating zongzi, during the holidays of the Duanwu Festival, people would hang mugwort and calamus on the door, drink realgar wine or xióng huáng jiǔ (雄黄酒) in Chinese, wear five-color threads on their wrists, and carry incense bags with them. All of them have the wisdom and experience of the ancient virtues.

Among the customs, drinking realgar wine on the day was extremely popular in the Yangtze River Basin area in the past. Realgar wine is a kind of liquor or yellow rice wine with realgar powder. Realgar can be used as an antidote and insecticide. Ancients believed that realgar could restrain snakes and scorpions and other kinds of insects. On the morning of the Dragon Boat Festival, people also rubbed realgar wine on children’s nostrils and earholes to sterilize the area and avoid insect bites.

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Xióng huáng jiǔ (雄黄酒): n. Realgar wine


Duān wǔ jié hē shén me?
端       午 节 喝    什   么?
What do people drink on the Dragon Boat Festival?

Duān wǔ jié hē xióng huáng jiǔ.
端       午 节 喝    雄       黄    酒。
People drink realgar wine on the Dragon Boat Festival.

Grand dragon boat race is held every year on every Dragon Boat Festival across China. This folk activity has been passed down from generation to generation, dating back more than 2,000 years. Today, China’s dragon boat racing has developed from local activity into a grand sports event and even became an international sporting event. There are more than 85 countries and regions in the world that hold dragon boat races annually.

Dragon boats are long and thin. Although the size of the boats and their crews can vary, in most cases, the crew consists of 20 paddlers who sit side-by-side in pairs facing the bow. There is also a drummer who sits at the bow of the boat facing the paddlers.

During a race, the drummer leads the paddlers by beating rhythmically on a drum. In addition to the drummer, there is also a steerer who sits in the back of the boat and helps to steer it using a long steering oar.

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Sài lóng zhōu (赛龙舟): n. Dragon boat race


Duān wǔ jié zuò shén me?
端       午 节 做    什   么?
What do people do on the Dragon Boat Festival?

Duān wǔ jié sài lóng zhōu.
端       午 节 赛    龙    舟。
People participate in dragon boat races on the Dragon Boat Festival.

Dragon Boat Festival is just one of many fascinating Chinese holidays with roots stretching back into the distant past. If you’d like to learn more about China’s many ancient holidays and traditions, you can also explore other traditional holidays like the Qingming Festival (Tomb-Sweeping Day) and the Qixi Festival (Chinese Valentine’s Day). Learning about these traditional festivals is a fun and interesting way to enrich your understanding of Chinese culture.

You May Want to Learn More :
“The Chinese Boat with a Dragon’s Heartbeat”
“Don’t Say Happy Dragon Boat Festival!”
”Chinese Dragon Boat Festival”
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