The Dragon Boat Race Festival, or the Duanwu Festival as it is called in Mandarin, is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar, which this year happens to be 9th June.
The festival is a traditional and mandatory holiday in China and is one of great significance, with a history spanning more than 2000 years. Most of us have seen or even taken part in the longboat racing but many don’t know the legend behind its ancient origins.
It is believed to have originated from the fisherman who raced to save a man called Qu Yuan, a well respected patriotic poet who committed suicide in the Miluo River. Qu Yuan was a loyal official of the state of Chu (one of the warring seven states), he served the high offices and dedicated his life to his king and to building Chu into a stronger state. He advised the king to form an ally with another state called Qi, to help fight against the state of Qin, which was considered by far the most powerful of all the states. Corrupt officials, jealous of Qu’s close ties with the king, slandered Qu’s name and accused him of treason. Believing these charges, the king dismissed and and exiled Qu Yuan. It was during this time that the banished Qu became a true poet, it was also when he discovered that his beloved kingdom of Chu have been invaded and overthrown by the state of Qin. In his despair he walked into the river Miluo and into his watery grave.
It is said that the local people, who greatly admired Qu Yuan raced out in their boats in a frantic attempt to save him. When his body could not be found, they used the splashing of their paddles and beating of drums to scare off the fish. The local people also threw sticky rice into the river so that the fish would eat them instead of Qu Yuan’s body.
Today, traditional sticky rice dumplings (or zongzi) made with glutenous rice, stuffed with different fillings and wrapped in bamboo leaves are eaten during the festival and enjoyed with realgar wine, all to commemorate Qu Yuan, who is known as China’s first poet. Dragon boat racing is enjoyed all over the world, to catch some of the action yourself, the London Dragon Boat Festival is being held this year on June 26th. So why not head down, cheer on a team and enjoy the festivities and food.