Culture - 端午节(The Dragon Boat Festival)

by Wendy

端午节(Duān Wǔ Jié) - The Dragon Boat Festival falls on May 5th in the lunar calendar.  It is an important festival combining casting away diseases and evil spirits, playing games and sports, and interpersonal communication.

Among the many customs of the festival mainly are dragon-boat racing, eating of rice dumplings, hanging of calamus and wormwood, drinking of medical liquor, tying silk threads of five colors, pasting pictures portraying the five poisonous creatures, and so on.

赛龙舟(sài lónɡ zhōu) - Dragon-boat racing

Dragon-boat racing is the biggest event of the Festival. The dragon boat is a boat decorated in the shape of dragon because of Chinese people's belief in dragons. In ancient times, the Wuyue nation in South of China would hold a grand ceremony to worship the totem in the fifth lunar month every year because they were constantly threatened by floods and droughts and regarded the dragon as their ancestor and patron. People would put the food in the bamboo tube or leaves into the water so that the totem god could eat it. In order to delight the god, people also raced dragon boats in the river amid the rushing beating of drums.

吃粽子(chī zònɡ zi) - Rice Dumplings

In regard to the origin of eating rice dumplings in the Festival, the widespread belief among people is that it is to commemorate Qu Yuan, a great patriotic poet of the Chu State during the Warring States Period (475-221 BC). He drowned himself into the Miluo River when his home country was occupied by the enemies. After that, people missed him very much and put rice in bamboo tubes and threw them into the river. Later, this custom was transformed into the making of rice dumplings - 粽子(zònɡ zi).

People traditionally wrap 粽子 Zongzi in leaves of bamboo, lotus, or banana forming a pyramid shape. The leaves also give a special aroma and flavor to the sticky rice and fillings. Choices of fillings vary depending on regions. Northern regions in China prefer sweet or dessert-styled Zongzi, with bean paste, dates and nuts as fillings. Southern regions in China prefer savory Zongzi, with a variety of fillings including marinated pork belly, sausage and salted duck eggs.

Hanging of wormwood, and drinking medical liquor

The fifth lunar month is considered an unlucky month. People believed that natural disasters and illnesses are common in the fifth month. In order to get rid of the misfortune, and to exorcise evil spirits people would hang calamus - 菖蒲(chānɡ pú) and wormwood - 艾草(ài cǎo) above the doors in the fifth of May.  

It is also believed that the fifth day of the fifth month coincides with the height of summer and yang's force for the year. Adults were advised to consume 雄黄酒(xiónɡ huánɡ jiǔ); children too young to consume alcohol would wear an amulet containing realgar or have a  ("king") drawn on their forehead or chest with realgar slurry left over from the production of the liquor to protect them.

5-colored silk-threaded braid

In the festival, parents braid silk threads of 5 colors and put them on their children's wrists. People believe that this will help keep bad spirits and disease away. The threads of  5 colors can not be broken off or discarded but should be thrown into the river in the summer rain or while bathing, meaning that the river will wash away plagues and diseases.

More than the thread, people, adults and kids, also wear 香囊(xiānɡ nánɡ) - a traditional hand-made personal adornment filled with perfumes or herbal medicines to keep from the evils.

Pasting pictures of the five poisonous creatures

The five poisonous creatures - 五毒(wǔ dú) - refer to scorpions, vipers, centipedes, house lizards and toads. In the era with underdeveloped science and culture, pasting pictures of the five poisonous creatures aimed to removing ill fortune and praying for good fortune. With the development of modern civilization, these old customs gradually faded and the festival became an opportunity for eating, entertaining and social intercourse more than ever before.

Hanging Portrait of Zhong Kui

Hanging portrait of Zhong Kui has been a tradition since Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 AD). It is said Li Longji, the then emperor, had fallen in illness for a month. He dreamed of Zhong Kui catching a ghost who stole his jade flute, then he quickly recovered when he waked up. The emperor demanded a painter to paint a portrait of Zhong Kui. Later, hanging portraits of Zhong Kui became a Dragon Boat Festival tradition.



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