What is the Dragon Boat Festival and Why is it Celebrated?


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The Dragon Boat Festival, also known as Duanwu Jie, is a traditional Chinese holiday that occurs on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar, which corresponds to late May or June in the Gregorian calendar.


The Dragon Boat Festival has a history dating back over 2,000 years.  The festival is rich in cultural significance, folklore, and unique traditions.

Dragon Boat Festival/ Image Credits:
Dragon Boat House

The festival commemorates Qu Yuan, a beloved prime minister of the southern Chinese state of Chu during the Warring States Period, about 600 B.C. to 200 B.C. Qu Yuan was known for his patriotism and contributions to classical poetry.

Qu Yuan served the state of Chu and was known for his loyalty and wisdom. However, he fell out of favor with the king and was exiled due to political intrigue and slander.

During his exile, Qu Yuan wrote many poems expressing his love for his country and despair over its corruption. When he learned that the state of Chu had been conquered by the Qin state, he was heartbroken and drowned himself in the Miluo River on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month.


The local people, who admired Qu Yuan, raced out in their boats to try to save him or recover his body. They beat drums to scare away fish and evil spirits and threw rice dumplings (zongzi) into the water to keep the fish from eating Qu Yuan’s body. This is said to be the origin of dragon boat racing and the custom of eating zongzi during the festival.

Dragon Boat Festival/ Image Credits:

The festival is celebrated by holding dragon boat races and eating sticky rice dumplings called zongzi, which were southern Chinese traditions. The festival integrates praying for good luck and taking respite from the summer heat.

In September 2009, UNESCO officially approved its inclusion in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, becoming the first Chinese holiday to be selected.

In addition to Chinese mainland, many other Asian countries and regions also celebrate this festival. In Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and Taiwan, China, it is known as Bak Chang Festival (‘Dumpling Festival’).


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