The Dragon Boat Festival, also known as Duanwu Festival, is a traditional holiday in China with a history of over two thousand years. It is the first Chinese festival to be included in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
Duanwu Festival, which falls on the 5th day of the 5th month of the lunar calendar, is a highly regarded and lively celebration. It is characterized by dragon boat races, where participants compete not only in speed but also in various dragon boat performances. Eating zongzi (sticky rice dumplings) is also an important part of the festival, and there is a famous debate among food enthusiasts about the preference between sweet and savory zongzi. Every year during Duanwu Festival, the story behind the festival is often mentioned, commemorating the poet Qu Yuan and praising his loyalty to the country.
It is important to educate children about the Dragon Boat Festival, its long-standing traditions, and the rich cultural heritage associated with it. These excellent aspects of traditional Chinese culture are worth passing down to future generations.
Duanwu Festival is a folk festival that combines activities such as worshiping gods and ancestors, seeking blessings and warding off evil spirits, as well as joyful entertainment and food.
Duanwu Festival has the most diverse names among all traditional Chinese festivals, with more than twenty different names, such as Dragon Boat Festival, Chongwu Festival, Duanyang Festival, Duanwu Festival, Chongwu Festival, Danwu Xun, and Tianzhong Festival.
The origin of this ancient traditional festival is related to primitive beliefs, sacrificial culture, celestial phenomena, and calendars.
For example, the most primitive forms of ancient beliefs were the worship of heaven and earth and the worship of ancestors. Many ancient festivals were formed through activities of offering sacrifices to express gratitude to the gods, ancestors, and their blessings.
Worship of Celestial Phenomena:
The Dragon Boat Festival originated from the worship of celestial phenomena and evolved from the ancient practice of worshiping the totem of the dragon. The customs of dragon boat racing during Duanwu Festival are related to primitive beliefs, sacrificial culture, the Chinese zodiac calendar, and the astronomical phenomenon of the Azure Dragon (one of the Four Symbols of Chinese constellations) being in the southern zenith.
Scholar Wen Yiduo believed that Duanwu Festival was originally a festival of totem worship practiced by the ancient Baiyue people. The dragon was the totem of this ethnic group and later evolved into the totem worship of the entire nation. The custom of paddling dragon boats gradually emerged during the dragon worship ceremonies. They worshipped the dragon as their totem and held grand totem worship ceremonies every year during Duanwu Festival. One of the activities was racing dragon-shaped canoes on the water to pay tribute to the Dragon God while enjoying themselves. This is the origin of the dragon boat racing custom.
There are various viewpoints regarding the historical figures commemorated during the Dragon Boat Festival. Some believe it originated from the commemoration of Qu Yuan, while others associate it with Wu Zixu, Cao E, and Jie Zitui.
There are also other interpretations such as taboo beliefs, the summer solstice theory, the use of orchids and bathing, and the military training of King Goujian.
The word “Duan” in “Duanwu” means “upright” or “correct,” and “Wu” represents the fifth day of the month. Therefore, the term “Duanwu” signifies the right and auspicious day of the fifth month.
Dragon boat racing, hanging herbs (Artemisia and calamus), flying kites, tying colorful threads around wrists, gifting fans, worshiping gods and ancestors, performing the Zhongkui dance, washing the dragon boat, and drawing evil-warding symbols on doors, among others.
Duanwu Incident” by Song Dynasty poet Wen Tianxiang.
On the fifth day of the fifth month, at noon,
A branch of mugwort given to me as a boon.
Unable to see my old friend’s face,
New acquaintances made in a distant place.
The red heart reflects the days of yore,
My temples bear the marks time bore.
Yearning to accompany Lingjun on the way,
Three rivers separate us, the Liaohai in the bay.