Dragon Boat Festival or ‘Duanwu Jie’ in Mandarin Chinese has a rich history in China and its origins have long been debated. The most popular and accepted tale is that it was derived to celebrate the life of the great patriotic poet Qu Yuan, who was loyal to the state of Chu during the Warring States Period. Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. People in China have three days of holiday to commemorate the festival and many of them will choose to celebrate with friends and family, enjoying traditions such as dragon boat racing and eating ‘zongzi’.
Who Was Qu Yuan?
Qu Yuan was a poet who served the court of Emperor Huai during the Warring States Period (475 – 221 BC). Famed for masterpieces such as Li Sao (The Lament) and Jiu Zhuang (Nine Chapters), he is still regarded today as one of the greatest poets in Chinese history. Legend states that after learning that the Chu State had been defeated by the Qin, his own warnings of the impending danger having fallen on deaf ears, he chose to drown himself in the river.
His death brought so much despair that locals quickly rushed to the river in search of his body. Unable to retrieve it, people threw zongzi, eggs and other food items into the river to feed the fish so they wouldn’t consume his body. He passed away on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, which is the day Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated today. And so began the legend of this popular festival.
Popular Foods of Dragon Boat Festival
Zongzi is the most popular food associated with the festival. Wrapped in bamboo leaf, the special dumplings are filled with all sorts of sweet and savoury treats. Popular flavours include dates and egg yolks. However, particularly in recent years, more exotic flavours have sprung up such as meat and soybean. The most common shaped zongzi are like little pyramids, but they can be found in a variety of shapes and sizes. Most commonly eaten in the south of China, where people prefer salty flavours, zongzi can still be found for sale throughout the country in the lead up to the festival.
What is Dragon Boat Racing?
The story of the origin of dragon boat racing varies from region to region in China, however all involve traditional Chinese virtues such as loyalty, love and honour.
Dragon boat races are now celebrated throughout China, as well as internationally. It has even become extremely popular in the UK, with annual races held throughout the country. Believe it or not, there’s even a British Dragon Boat Racing Association!
Fun fact: Dragon boats are so called because they represent the shape of a traditional Chinese dragon and have the head of a dragon at the stern. Teams can be anywhere between 10 and 50 rowers. Popular folklore suggests that the winning team of the dragon boat race brings a more successful harvest to the village.
By this opportunity, we also would like to wish our Gambian friends here a successful harvest this year!