History of the Dragon Boat Festival

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By Cathy Huang
I joined Gale, a part of Cengage Learning, in August 2015, as a new member of our China team. I’m very happy to work together with the team and it feels like a family. I’m very willing to contribute my skills to help increase awareness of Gale resources and hope more and more researchers worldwide discover Gale’s rich Primary Source collections.

Today marks the annual Dragon Boat Festival, commemorating the dead, observed primarily in central and southern China. It occurs on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month and falls between 28 May and 25 June in the Western calendar. During this festival, people along the sea coasts and major rivers compete in races in boats made from wooden planks and carved with dragon heads and tails.

A team of young adult males row the boats, directed by a team leader who synchronizes their action with a big drum. While racing dragon boats in the competition, the competitors occasionally toss triangular-shaped rice cakes, typically made from glutinous rice with meat or sweet bean paste stuffing and wrapped in bamboo leaves, into the water. Popular folktale attributes this festival to the patriotic poet Qu Yuan, who lived in the third and second centuries BCE in the southern kingdom of Chu during the late Zhou dynasty (1045–246 BCE). According to legend, Qu was dissatisfied with the ineptness of the Chu king, and when the king spurned his advice repeatedly, Qu threw himself into a river in today’s Hunan Province. The boat racing is said to have originated from the attempt to recover his body. Throwing rice cakes symbolizes a sacrificial offering to Qu.

Crew members prepare to race in the Dragon Boat Festival while drummers beat their drums. The Dragon..." Countries and Their Cultures. Ed. Carol R. Ember and Melvin Ember. Vol. 2. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2001. World History in Context. Web. 26 May 2016.

Crew members prepare to race in the Dragon Boat Festival while drummers beat their
drums. The Dragon…” Countries and Their Cultures. Ed. Carol R. Ember and
Melvin Ember. Vol. 2. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2001. World History in
Context. Web. 26 May 2016.

To find out more about this festival, request a free trial to Encyclopedia of Modern Asia, 2003 (below) on Gale’s ebook platform, GVRL.

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