The Duanwu Festival (also known as “Dragon Boat Festival”) is one of the most conventional festivals in China and has been celebrated for thous and s of years. But what lies behind the festival’s long history?
Having been celebrated for thous and s of years, the traditional Chinese festival comes with numerous tales and legends attached to it. The most famous and widely accepted story of Duanwn’s origin comes with the story of the 3rd century BC poet, Qu Yuan.
Qu’s life is documented in Shiji, or Records of the Gr and Historian, which was written from 109 to 91 BC. According to Shiji, Qu was a highly intellectual and respected royal servant who was also a loyal confidante of the King of Chu State (one of the main states in the Warring States Period of China).
However, he was continually sl and ered by politicians hoping to blacken his name in the court and ultimately he was exiled by the king. Without Qu’s guidance however the state was soon invaded by a neighboring dynasty. Upon hearing this news, Qu Yuan threw himself into the Miluo River.
Legend has it that people living near the river used dragon boats to try to search for and rescue his body, albeit unsuccessfully. They also threw rice balls into the water to ensure the fish didn’t eat him. Eating wrapped up pieces of sticky rice is a tradition that has been kept alive today in the form of Zongzi. Coupled with the dragon boat races around the country the day of Qu Yuan’s suicide has become the Duanwu Festival.
However, it might not be completely accurate to attribute the origin of the festival to solely to Qu Yuan’s suicide. Records show that even before this people marked the day.
The name Duanwu literally means the fifth day of the fifth month in the lunar calendar. According to Chinese myths, this is an ominous day in the ominous month when pestilence and poisonous creatures outbreak actively. It could decide people’s life and death. The myth may also explain why people assumed that distinguished people had died on that day.
In order to protect people from the problems that may arise on this unwelcome day, people traditionally cut branches of wormwood plants, boil them, or hang them above their doors, to repel pests and evil spirits. Some people even bathe in wormwood water, believing it to be a good way to ensure a safe summer free from mosquitoes.
Whether as a day to commemorate the great, or a day to ward off evil spirits, Duanwu has combined many unique traditions and customs over the years, which now give people another good excuse to celebrate. Nowadays, people across China usually eat Zongzi, hold dragon boat racing and drink realgar wine to celebrate the festival.