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Dragon Boat Festival
Qing Dynasty Dragon Boat Festival.jpg
Dragon Boat Festival (18th century)
Observed by Chinese
Type Cultural
Observances Dragon boat racing, consumption of realgar wine and zongzi
Date Fifth day of the fifth lunar month, May 5th of the Chinese Calendar
2023 date 22 June
2024 date 10 June
2025 date 31 May
2026 date 19 June
Frequency Annual
Related to Tango no sekku, Dano, Tết Đoan Ngọ, Yukka Nu Hii

The Dragon Boat Festival (traditional Chinese: 端午節; simplified Chinese: 端午节; pinyin: Duānwǔ Jié) is a traditional Chinese holiday which occurs on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese calendar, which corresponds to late May or June in the Gregorian calendar.

A commemoration of the ancient poet Qu Yuan, the holiday is celebrated by holding dragon boat races and eating sticky rice dumplings called zongzi. The Dragon Boat Festival is a folk festival integrating worship of gods and ancestors, praying for good luck and warding off evil spirits, celebrating, entertainment and eating.

In September 2009, UNESCO officially approved its inclusion in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, becoming the first Chinese holiday to be selected.


The English language name for the holiday is Dragon Boat Festival, used as the official English translation of the holiday by the People's Republic of China. It is also referred to in some English sources as Double Fifth Festival which alludes to the day on which the festival is celebrated, according to the Chinese calendar.

Chinese names by region

The Chinese name of the festival (simplified Chinese: 端午节; traditional Chinese: 端午節) is pronounced differently in different Chinese languages.

The Mandarin Chinese pronunciation used in Mainland China and Taiwan is rendered in pinyin as Duānwǔjié (Wade–Giles: Tuan1-wu3-chieh2).

Duanwu (Chinese: 端午; traditional Chinese: 端午; pinyin: duānwǔ; Wade–Giles: tuan2-wu3) literally means "starting/opening horse", i.e., the first "horse day" (according to the Chinese zodiac/Chinese calendar system) to occur in the month; however, despite the literal meaning being , "the [day of the] horse in the animal cycle", this character has also become associated with (Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: ; Wade–Giles: wu3) meaning "five", due to the characters often having the same pronunciation. Hence Duanwu, the festival on "the fifth day of the fifth month".

In Cantonese, it is romanized as Tuen1 Ng5 Jit3 in Hong Kong and Tung1 Ng5 Jit3 in Macau. Hence the "Tuen Ng Festival" in Hong Kong, and Tun Ng (Festividade do Barco-Dragão in Portuguese) in Macao.



The fifth lunar month is considered an unlucky and poisonous month, and the fifth day of the fifth month especially so. To get rid of the misfortune, people would put calamus, Artemisia, and garlic above the doors on the fifth day of the fifth month. These were believed to help ward off evil by their strong smell and their shape (for instance, calamus leaves are shaped like swords).

What people did in the Dragon Boat Festival
Hanging wormwood leaves on top of a door to deter insects.

Venomous animals were said to appear starting from the fifth day of the fifth month, such as snakes, centipedes, and scorpions; people also supposedly get sick easily after this day. Therefore, during the Dragon Boat Festival, people try to avoid this bad luck. For example, people may put pictures of the five venomous creatures (snake, centipede, scorpion, lizard, toad, and sometimes spider) on the wall and stick needles in them. People may also make paper cutouts of the five creatures and wrap them around the wrists of their children. Big ceremonies and performances developed from these practices in many areas, making the Dragon Boat Festival a day for getting rid of disease and bad luck.

Qu Yuan Chen Hongshou 2
17th century depiction of Qu Yuan

Pre-existing holiday

Some modern research suggests the holiday originated as a celebration of agriculture, fertility, and rice growing in southern China. As recently as 1952 the American sociologist Wolfram Eberhard wrote that it was more widely celebrated in southern China than in the north.

Another theory is that the Dragon Boat Festival originated from dragon worship. This theory was advanced by Wen Yiduo. Support is drawn from two key traditions of the festival: the tradition of dragon boat racing and zongzi. The food may have originally represented an offering to the dragon king, while dragon boat racing naturally reflects a reverence for the dragon and the active yang energy associated with it. This was merged with the tradition of visiting friends and family on boats.

Another suggestion is that the festival celebrates a widespread feature of east Asian agrarian societies: the harvest of winter wheat. Offerings were regularly made to deities and spirits at such times: in the ancient Yue, dragon kings; in the ancient Chu, Qu Yuan; in the ancient Wu, Wu Zixu (as a river god); in ancient Korea, mountain gods (see Dano). As interactions between different regions increased, these similar festivals eventually merged into one holiday.

Early 20th century

In the early 20th Century the Dragon Boat Festival was observed from the first to the fifth days of the fifth month, and was also known as the Festival of Five Poisonous/Venomous Insects (simplified Chinese: 毒虫节; traditional Chinese: 毒蟲節; pinyin: Dúchóng jié; Wade–Giles: Tu2-chʻung2-chieh2). Yu Der Ling writes in chapter 11 of her 1911 memoir Two Years in the Forbidden City:

The first day of the fifth moon was a busy day for us all, as from the first to the fifth of the fifth moon was the festival of five poisonous insects, which I will explain later—also called the Dragon Boat Festival. ... Now about this Feast. It is also called the Dragon Boat Feast. The fifth of the fifth moon at noon was the most poisonous hour for the poisonous insects, and reptiles such as frogs, lizards, snakes, hide in the mud, for that hour they are paralyzed. Some medical men search for them at that hour and place them in jars, and when they are dried, sometimes use them as medicine. Her Majesty told me this, so that day I went all over everywhere and dug into the ground, but found nothing.

21st century

In 2008 the Dragon Boat Festival was made a national public holiday in China.

Public holiday

Attributed to Li Zhaodao Dragon-boat Race. Palace Museum, Beijing
Dragon boat race by Li Zhaodao (675–758)

The festival was long marked as a cultural festival in China and is a public holiday in China, Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR, and Taiwan. The People's Republic of China government established in 1949 did not initially recognize the Dragon Boat Festival as a public holiday but reintroduced it in 2008 alongside two other festivals in a bid to boost traditional culture.

The Dragon Boat Festival is unofficially observed by the Chinese communities of Southeast Asia, including Singapore and Malaysia. Equivalent and related official festivals include the Korean Dano, Japanese Tango no sekku, and Vietnamese Tết Đoan Ngọ.

Practices and activities

元 佚名 臨王振鵬 金明池圖 卷-Dragon Boat Regatta on Jinming Lake MET DP204603
Section of Dragon Boat Regatta by Wang Zhenpeng (fl. 1275–1330)

Three of the most widespread activities conducted during the Dragon Boat Festival are eating (and preparing) zongzi, drinking realgar wine, and racing dragon boats.

Dragon boat racing

Dragon boat racing has a rich history of ancient ceremonial and ritualistic traditions, which originated in southern central China more than 2500 years ago. The legend starts with the story of Qu Yuan, who was a minister in one of the Warring State governments, Chu. He was slandered by jealous government officials and banished by the king. Out of disappointment in the Chu monarch, he killed himself in the Miluo River. The common people rushed to the water and tried to recover his body, but they failed. In commemoration of Qu Yuan, people hold dragon boat races yearly on the day of his death according to the legend. They also scattered rice into the water to feed the fish, to prevent them from eating Qu Yuan's body, which is one of the origins of zongzi.

Red Bean Rice Dumpling

Zongzi (traditional Chinese rice dumpling)

A notable part of celebrating the Dragon Boat Festival is making and eating zongzi, also known as sticky rice dumplings, with family members and friends. People traditionally make zongzi by wrapping glutinous rice and fillings in leaves of reed or bamboo, 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, jujube, and nuts as fillings. Southern regions in China prefer savory zongzi, with a variety of fillings including eggs and meat.

Zongzi appeared before the Spring and Autumn Period and was originally used to worship ancestors and gods. In the Jin Dynasty, zongzi dumplings were officially designated as the Dragon Boat Festival food. At this time, in addition to glutinous rice, the Chinese medicine Yizhiren was added to the ingredients for making zonghzi. The cooked zongzi is called "yizhi zong".

Food related to 5

'Wu' (午) in the name 'Duanwu' has a pronunciation similar to that of the number 5 in multiple Chinese dialects, and thus many regions have traditions of eating food that is related to the number 5. For example, the Guangdong and Hong Kong regions have the tradition of having congee made from 5 different beans.

Realgar wine

Realgar wine or Xionghuang wine is a Chinese alcoholic drink that is made from Chinese liquor dosed with powdered realgar, a yellow-orange arsenic sulfide mineral. It was traditionally used as a pesticide, and as a common antidote against disease and venom. On the Dragon Boat Festival, people may put realgar wine on parts of children's faces to repel the five poisonous creatures.

5-colored silk-threaded braid

In some regions of China, people, especially children, wear silk ribbons or threads of 5 colors (blue, red, yellow, white, and black, representing the five elements) on the day of the Dragon Boat Festival. People believe that this will help keep evil away.

Other common activities include hanging up icons of Zhong Kui (a mythic guardian figure), hanging mugwort and calamus, taking long walks, and wearing perfumed medicine bags. Other traditional activities include a game of making an egg stand at noon (this "game" implies that if someone succeeds in making the egg stand at exactly 12:00 noon, that person will receive luck for the next year), and writing spells. All of these activities, together with the drinking of realgar wine or water, were regarded by the ancients (and some today) as effective in preventing disease or evil while promoting health and well-being.

In the early years of the Republic of China, Duanwu was celebrated as the "Poets' Day" due to Qu Yuan's status as China's first known poet. The Taiwanese also sometimes conflate the spring practice of egg-balancing with Duanwu.

The sun is considered to be at its strongest around the time of the summer solstice, as the daylight in the northern hemisphere is the longest. The sun, like the Chinese dragon, traditionally represents masculine energy, whereas the moon, like the phoenix, traditionally represents feminine energy. The summer solstice is considered the annual peak of male energy while the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, represents the annual peak of feminine energy. The masculine image of the dragon has thus become associated with the Dragon Boat Festival.


See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Festival del bote del Dragón para niños

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