June 25, 2020 was the Dragon Boat Festival. In theory, when I decide to write about events, I should write about them sooner than over a week after they happened. My bad. If you finish reading this and you wish you had this information sooner, so that you could properly celebrate, a time machine has been placed for your convenience at the bottom of the Keelung River in Taipei. If you use the time machine to go back to the 25th of June, you will be just in time to watch the dragon boat race from below. You will have to be fine with that perspective, as supporters were not actually allowed to attend the event.
The Dragon Boat Festival takes place on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. As implied, during the Dragon Boat Festival, people hold dragon boat races. They also eat zongzi. This is a steamed pyramid-shaped dumpling made of glutinous rice and wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves. It can be either salty or sweet. It was first used to worship ancestors and gods before becoming a festival food.
Parents will braid red, black, yellow, white, and green silk threads to put on their children’s wrists. These braids supposedly keep away diseases and evil spirits. People will also wear perfume satchels full of fragrant herbs to repel insects, avoid illness, and repel evil spirits. Men and women also use perfume satchels to express their love in some Southern cities.
This festival comes from a legend about Qu Yuan, a minister in ancient China. He lived during the Warring States Period (475 BC-221 BC) in the State of Chu. At this time the state of Qin, in order to increase their power, wanted to annex the states of Qi, Chu, Yan, Han, Zhao, and Wei. Qu Yuan believed Chu should unite with the other states to suppress the State of Qin. People conspired against him to convince the king of Chu to banish Qu Yuan. When Qu Yuan later heard Qin had defeated the State of Chu, he felt grief and helplessness for his state, so he drowned himself in the Milou River. The year was 278 BC, on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month.
When people heard of his death, they went to the river to find his corpse, and failed. So, in order to prevent the fish in the river from eating his corpse, they threw food into the river. They proceeded to throw food into the river on the anniversary of his death each year.
Isn’t that depressing?
The dragon boat festival also used to be about the dragon god. People would worship and make sacrifices to the water god before racing. They would pray for future luck and good weather. Either way, the early dragon boat races sound like serious events.
What with the whole pandemic thing going on, not many dragon boat races were held this year. Hopefully things will be different next year.
- The Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council, & The Office of Chinese Language Council International. (2008). Common Knowledge About Chinese Culture. Hanban, China: Higher Education Press.
- Xian, J. (Ed.). (2020, June 25). Poster: Dragon Boat Festival. People’s Daily Online. Retrieved from http://en.people.cn/n3/2020/0625/c90000-9703970.html
- 20th Ankang dragon boat racing held in Shaanxi to celebrate Dragon Boat Festival. (2020, June 25). The Global Times. Retrieved from http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1192664.shtml
- Wu, T. (2020, June 25). Taiwan’s dragon boat races among few to be held this year. Chron. Retrieved from https://www.chron.com/news/article/Taiwan-s-dragon-boat-races-among-few-to-be-held-15365278.php