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Legend of the Dragon Boat Festival


Dragon Boat Festival, in China also known as Duanwu Jie 端午节 is a national holiday in China, in this year it falls on June 25th. The festival falls on the 5th day of the 5th month of the lunar calendar.

The English name of the festival translates more or less to Longchuan Jie which is another name for the festival in China along with the name Double Fith Festival because of its occurrence on the 5th day of the 5th month.

There are different origin stories for this holiday, but it is widely thought that the holiday commemorates the death of the poet and minister Qu Yuan. During the time of the warring states in ancient China, Qu Yuan worked as a minister in the ancient state of Chu. There were 7 other states all fighting for control of China and Qu Yuan wanted his king to engage in war with the state of Qin, a powerful and formidable opponent. The king, however, decided to ally with them, rather than fight and lose. Publicly opposing his Kings decision, Qu Yuan was exiled and accused of treason.

But Qu Yuan had such love for his country, that during his exile he wrote countless poems about his home.  Twenty-eight years later, the state of Qin declared war on Chu and captured the city of Yin, the capital of the Chu state. Upon hearing the news and overwhelmed with sadness, Qu Yuan threw himself in the river.

Dragon boat racing during Dragon Boat Festival

Dragon boat racing during Dragon Boat Festival

The legend goes that the locals where he lived admired him so much that they all tried to save him. Racing on their boats to try and rescue him from drowning, or, at the least, retrieve his body. But when they couldn’t find him, they started throwing balls of sticky rice into the river for the fish to feed on to leave his body alone. The race to retrieve his body is said to be the origin of the Dragon Boat Racing and the sticky rice balls are similar to the Zhongzi we now eat during the Dragon Boat Festival. The zongzi is a sticky glutinous rice ball wrapped in leaves and you can find them just about anywhere in China during the holiday.

Zongzi during the Dragon Boat Festival

In modern-day China, the festival is celebrated in some places by racing dragon boats and eating zongzi. It is also believed to be a time to strengthen your body, cleaning your house, and doing what you can to prevent getting sick during the hot summer.


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