Jun 15, 2019

Duanwu, the day of dragon boat racing (Pics / Video)

Dragon boat racing is a popular sport across China and even spreading to other countries in the region. In China, dragon boat racing is the main highlight of the ‘Duanwu’ festival.

‘Duanwu’ is the day of the Dragon Boat festival in China, which is one of the four major cultural festivals in China, along with the Chinese Spring Festival, Qingming or Tomb-sweeping Day Festival and the Mid-autumn or mooncake Festival.

The date itself falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar. "Duan" means beginning while "Wu" means five, referring to the fifth month. This year, the festival was celebrated in China on June 07.

Duanwu is also the day when the dragon takes to the skies. Therefore the dragon boat race is a way to worship the flying dragon.

But why dragon boats on Duanwu?

The origins of festival and dragon boat racing run back to centuries and involves the suicide of a patriotic Chinese poet named - Qu Yuan who lived in the warring states period.

According to legend, Qu Yuan - a man of righteousness, threw himself in the Miluo River, located in the present Hunan Province, to protest corruption in his kingdom.

Zongi, wine & herbs

Upon learning of this, locals raced in their boats in search of the poet. Unable to find him or to recover his remains, locals threw rice and poured Realgar wine into the river to appease and intoxicate the fish, to keep them from eating Qu’s remains.

This brings the practice of dragon boat racing as well as the consumption of a special triangular rice dumpling named ‘Zongzi’. The Zongzi is boiled while wrapped in bamboo leaves. Zongzi fillings vary across China, with Northerners preferring sweet fillings like bean paste or dates, while southerners prefer more savoury fillings.

Other practices during Duanwu include using herbs to ward off evil spirits, wearing five-color silk and hanging plants such as moxa and calamus over the door.


Other historical and legendary figures are also commemorated on the festival, including Wu Zixu, a famous official who was framed, committed suicide, and was thrown into a river on this day, and Cao E, a young woman who, in an act of filial piety, tried to save her drowned father but ended up drowning herself.

Traditions fused with fun

In modern day China, Duanwu is celebrated by families together, with traditions fused with fun and fiesta. The following photos were captured during the ‘Duanwu’ celebrations held at the Shunyi Olympic Rowing - Canoeing park in Beijing.

(Photos / Video : Shanika Jayasekara reporting from Beijing)

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