Dragon Boat Festival

The Dragon Boat Festival, known as 端午节 duānwǔjié in Chinese, is one the four major traditional Chinese festivals, making it an important Chinese for kids culture for children to learn. The festival falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar, and is a national public holiday in China. In 2019, the festival falls on the seventh of June of the Gregorian calendar, the calendar that we use daily, which is about one month ahead of the lunar calendar). How did the Dragon Boat Festival come to be celebrated each year in the Chinese culture? Let’s find out.


One famous story about the origin of the Dragon Boat Festival is about someone called 屈原 Qū Yuán, who was a minister during the reign of King Huai of Chu. He was accused of treason and banished from the kingdom. His life ended tragically as he jumped into the river. The locals rushed over to save him, racing their boats across the river, throwing rice balls and pouring yellow wine into the river so that the fish would not eat him. To commemorate Qū Yuán, the Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated annually by having dragon boat races, eating rice dumplings, and drinking yellow wine (this is no longer practiced due to health risk).

Dragon Boat Races

Dragon boat races are held during the Duanwu Festival to commemorate Qū Yuán, which dates back 2000 years. As the name suggests, the boat is decorated in the shape of a dragon, a mythical creature which is regarded as the ruler of water on earth. Dragon boat racing is now an international sport. 22 people will race the boat, including one drummer sitting at the head of the boat, and one steerer standing in the back of the boat.

Rice Dumplings

People eat special food during the Dragon Boat Festival, known as 粽子 zòngzi. Zòngzi is rice wrapped in leaves, filled with either sweet or savoury fillings. People in the northern part of China eat sweet zongzi, which is filled with red beans, while people in the southern part of China eat savoury zongzi, which is filled with meat. There are many different regional variations in the making of zongzi.

Traditionally, adults in the household will make zongzi at home. Nowadays, families especially those living in the cities, will just buy zongzi from restaurants or shops for convenience. Restaurant chains such as KFC and Starbucks will sell zongzi during this special occasion.

Other Traditions

As the fifth of the lunar month is considered to be an unlucky month, children will wear a five-color bracelet or perfume sachets stringed with five-colour silk thread to chase bad spirits and illnesses away. The five colors are green, red, white, black and yellow which are considered to be lucky.

An image of the god Zhong Kui is placed at home as a guardian to repel bad spirits. Families will also hang argy wormwood on the door to repel misfortune. The plant is traditionally used for medicinal purposed and to repel insects. Many of these activities are no longer practiced nowadays except in very regional areas.

Happy Dragon Boat Festival! 端午节快乐!