Dragon Boat Festival

Chinese Culture Index


On the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar in 295 B.C. a virtuous minister named Wat Yuan committed suicide by drowning in the Tung Ting Lake in protest of the decadence of the court. His body was never found in spite of the local people racing out in boats trying to find him whilst, at the same time, scaring the fish with drums and throwing glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves into water to feed the fish.

The day in the calendar is now known as the Dragon Boats Festival and is celebrated by races between specially built Dragon Boats crewed by members of different villages, guilds or other organizations. The races take place in southern China and throughout South East Asia, wherever there are Chinese communities. The crews have about one month's practice before coming together to race each other on the day of the festival.

The Dragon Boats

The boats can be up to 120 feet in length with depth of about two and a half feet crewed by up to 40 paddlers. There is very little freeboard and a boat can easily become swamped. A large drum located in the middle or stern of the boat is beaten to maintain the paddlers rhythm.

The bow of the boat is decorated with a dragon's head and the stern with its tail. These are detachable, and when the boat is not in use, are often kept in the local temple, reflecting the religious significance of the festival.

Special Food

To this day the Chinese people all over the world, even where there are no dragon boat races, celebrate the festival by eating the specially prepared glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves.

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