This Friday, June 7th, your favorite relocation partner office in China will be closed due to a national day off. The Dragon Boat Festival is taking place each 5th day of the 5th month of the Chinese lunar calendar. ASI Movers will tell you the history behind this day, and how people used to celebrate this event in China.
The History Behind The Festival
This day has been a national holiday break for a while now, more than 2,000 years. Originally, this day aims to prevent the population from diseases, by using herbs and medicine. Herbs and ointment used to be sacrificed to the spirit on a dragon boat.
Later, an important public figure died during this day: Qu Yuan. Qu Yuan was a poet and minister of the King of Chu. As a clever and wise man, always putting the country and its people first, he was the source of good advice for the King but also created jealousy among his peers. Some officials were plotting to make him exile. He composed his Exile one of the most famous poems of Chinese Literature: 離騷 (Lí Sāo) – Encountering Sorrow. This poem narrates its own life, its fall from the King’s grace, and also its travel around the Chu kingdom after being exiled.
Photo by Wang Qi. Image available under a Creative Commons license.
How well I know that loyalty brings disaster;
Yet I will endure: I cannot give it up.
I called on the ninefold heaven to be my witness,
And all for the sake of the Fair One, and no other.
There once was a time when he spoke with me in frankness;
But then he repented and was of another mind.
I do not care, on my own count, about this divorcement,
But it grieves me to find the Fair One so inconstant.
Source: From Anthology of Chinese Literature, Volume I: From Early Times to the Fourteenth Century, edited by Cyril Birch (New York: Grove Press, 1965), 51-62.
When he learned that the kingdom was taken by the Qin, exactly in 278 BCE, he jumped into the Miluo River to drown himself, exactly on the 5th day of the 5th month. Respected and appreciated by many locals, the people of Chu were looking into the river with their boat to save him. They were also throwing some cooked rice and poured wine, to feed the fish and avoid them from eating his body.
Celebrating Dragon Boat Festival
To commemorate this day and the spirit of Qu Yuan, people are now eating some Zongzi, sticky rice commonly wrapped in reed leaves (bamboo leaves sometimes), and drinking wine. There is a Zongzi for every taste: they can be filled with date as well as red bean, meat, egg yolk, and ham. You can find all around the country some delicious and colorful Zongzi.
The old tradition of preventing disease has not been forgotten. The elders still wear odorous herb bags on themselves or hanging in the house as well as some other charms.
The most popular activity during this day is the dragon boat racing. This really large boat has the shape of a long traditional Chinese dragon (sufficiently long to have sometimes as many as 60 rowers!), opening largely its mouth. The race cannot start without performing a ceremony where rowers paint the dragon’s eye to make it “alive”. A drummer is sitting at the front of the boat, to give rhythm to the rowers. The race illustrates the attempt to save Qu Yuan, and the winner is the team managing to reach first the destination point. The most famous dragon boat races are taking place in the Miluo River at Yueyang (Hunan province), Hong Kong, or Hangzhou in the Zhejiang province. But nowadays, we can see this kind of race overseas! This event has become more and more popular overseas, in countries where Chinese communities and ethnic groups are strongly present (e.g. Japan, South Korea, Australia, and Vietnam) or where rowing is already a popular sport (e.g. Britain). Wherever you are in China or anywhere else around the Globe, do not hesitate to take part in this race. It is a good occasion to practice a team sport and enjoy a day off.
ASI Movers team wishes you a good week-end, and we hope you will enjoy and make the most of this moment, eating some good Zongzi or discovering a fabulous dragon race boat!