The Dragon Boat Festival – also known as the Double Fifth Festival – has a history of being celebrated for over 2,000 years amongst the Chinese, and the tradition continues to be observed till this day. The festival is celebrated every 5th day of the 5th Chinese lunar month, which would be the 14th of June this year. As the name implies, there are races organised between boats decorated with dragon motifs.
While one may think the festival came from legends involving dragons, the festival actually traces back to more mundane, but no less interesting, origins.
During time of the Warring States Era, China was divided into many feuding states with warlords vying for power and control over territory. Seeking to end the never-ending wars and chaos, the state of Qin launched a campaign to conquer and unify China, led by Qin Shi Huang who would become emperor later on.
Qu Yuan, a citizen of the state of Chu, saw the threat that the Qin’s campaign would pose against his state. A patriot, poet and also minister who served the king of Chu at the time, Qu Yuan tried to counsel the king and his fellow ministers to begin taking action to defend their nation. However, envious of Qu Yuan’s competence, rival politicians slandered him and the king ignored his advice. Eventually, Qu Yuan was sent into exile.
In a last attempt to persuade the king, Qu
Yuan drowned himself in the Miluo River, hoping his sacrifice would finally
move the court into action. Some of the villagers who witnessed Qu Yuan throw
himself into the river, rowed out in their boats in an attempt to save him.
When they could not recover his body, the villagers threw rice into the water
to lure fishes away from the deceased poet.
Tragically, everything Qu Yuan feared came to pass and the state of Chu was conquered by Qin’s armies. However, Qu Yuan’s sacrifice was commemorated by the Dragon Boat Festival and celebrated by eating rice dumplings and organising dragon boat races, as a respectful tribute of his final act that has lasted throughout the centuries.