One of the most important holiday, the Dragon Boat Festival, or the Duanwu Festival, is just around the corner. What’s the origin of the holiday? Beside dragon boat racing and eating zongzi, what else do we do on this day? What activities there are in Taiwan where we can take part in to have fun on this Dragon Boat Festival? This traditional Chinese holiday occurs on the 5th day of the 5th month of the lunar calendar, which gives it another name the Double Fifth Festival and the date varies every year on the Western calendar.
There are several versions of the story of the origin of the Dragon Boat Festival, and the most commonly known one is the one about Qu Yuan.
Back in the Warring States period of the Zhou Dynasty, China was in a chaotic situation and divided into several states and kingdoms. Qing, one of the strongest kingdom aimed to take down all the other countries and set up one great empire, while the kingdom of Chu, Qu Yuan’s country, is only a smaller state in southern China.
Peaceful and wise, Qu Yuan is widely loved and respected by the people, and he had a passionate heart for his country. So when his king decided to ally with Qing, he opposed intensely for he knew that it was a trap. But with some of the evil people speaking ill of Qu Yuan, the king was convinced that he was not trustworthy and banished him into exile. When he heard that his country was taken over by the kingdom of Qing, he became so devastated, walked into Miluo River, and drowned himself.
People who respected him rushed out with boats and tried to save him but it was in vain. So they threw sticky rice balls into the river and let the fish eat them but not Qu Yuan’s body. And this was the most commonly known origin of the Dragon Boat Festival.
Another theory suggests that this story was only superimposed onto a pre-existing holiday tradition by Confucian scholars to empower their own influence in China. Also, it was recorded in by historian only because they wanted to praise Qu Yuan’s characters.
The Practices and Traditions
Dragon Boat Racing
The legend has it that this tradition came from people’s attempt to save Qu Yuan, or their trying to disperse the fish so they wouldn’t eat his body. Hence, they annually held the race and made it a ceremonial and ritualistic tradition on the Dragon Boat Festival. It was more popular in southern central China and became an international sports event later on.
Eating Zongzi and Drinking Realgar Wine
If you are a food lover, you surely cannot miss this tradition, that is eating zongzi and drinking realgar wine. The zongzi was said to come from the sticky rice balls people threw into the river to feed the fish and keep them from eating Qu Yuan’s body. Even though there are also some people saying that zongzi didn’t come from the death of Qu Yuan, but it surely is attached to the story now. And realgar wine is an alcoholic drink made from yellow wine dosed with a yellow-orange arsenic sulfide mineral. It has been used against mosquitoes and considered antidote of poison by Chinese medicine. For children who are too young to have the drink, adults will use the wine and write the letter 王(King) on their foreheads to protect them from evil spirits and diseases.
Must-Do in Taiwan: DIY Zongzi Tour
Hanging up Mugwort and Calamus
Some people hang up mugwort and calamus, kinds of Chinese herbs, outside of their door frames. The time of the holiday is the start of the summer so mosquitoes and pests are getting more and more. And mugwort and calamus give off the scents that repel pests.
Make the Egg Balance at Noon
Make a raw egg to stand on its tip at the noon of the Dragon Boat Festival is also a tradition of the festival. People believe that on this day if one can make an egg balance at noon, he or she will have a good luck for the coming year.
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Wearing Fragrant Pouches
Stuffed with fragrant flower petals, herbs, and vanilla, the little pouches give off a nice aroma and are usually carried by waists. Rather than the modern use of perfume, the little pouches are for medical use such as sterilizing and avoiding diseases.
Wearing a Five-color String Bracelet
Green, white, red, yellow, and black represents five kinds of spiritual power that are convinced to be able to eliminate misfortunes. So parents tie them to their kids’ wrists before the sunrise of the holiday and throw them away once it rains after the Dragon Boat Festival so the bad luck is metaphorically thrown away together.
Activities of Dragon Boat Festival in Taiwan
Taipei International Dragon Boat Championship
Date: June 16, 2018 (Saturday) to June 18, 2018 (Monday)
Place: Dajia Section, Keelung Riverside Park, Taipei City
Intro: During the three days, people can go to Dajia Riverside Park and see hundreds of teams competing for the championship of dragon boat race. Also, you can DIY your own mugwort bouquet to bless yourself a healthy body. The temporary markets set by the bank will also be available for people to have their stomach greatly satisfied.
New Taipei city Speaker Cup Dragon Boat Championship
Date: June 16, 2018 (Saturday) to 17, 2018 (Sunday)
Place: Weifong Canal (Breeze Canal), New Taipei City
Intro: There are several interesting activities including onshore dragon boat race, parent-children dragon boat race, concert, and picnic. And it is a perfect activity for the whole family to take part in and have fun together.
Lukang Dragon Boat Festival
Date: May 26, 2018 (Saturday) to June 24, 2018 (Sunday)
Place: Lukang, Changhua
Intro: Listed as one of the “12 Major Festivals in Taiwan,” it has been held annually for years and it really helps promotes the local historic monuments, humanistic scenes, handicraft, culture, and gourmet food. It is also called Longwan Festival (Dragon King Festival) because they welcome God of Dragon King and God of Daffodils to bless the upcoming events.
Tainan International Dragon Boat Championship
Date: June 14, 2018 (Thursday) to June 18, 2018 (Monday)
Place: Anping Canal, Tainan
Intro: Before the activity starts, they hold ceremony first to draw the eyes onto the dragon boat and worship the god of the river to bless that everything will be great. There are also egg painting or fragrant pouches DIY activities for kids to enjoy. Other activities include the lecture on the Dragon Boat Festival, starry sky photography exhibition, and power boats competition.
Kaohsiung Love River Dragon Boat Carnival
Date: June 16, 2018 (Saturday) to June 18, 2018 (Monday)
Place: Love River, Kaohsiung
Intro: Besides the traditional dragon boat race, there are even innovative activities like dragon boat version of tug of war and DIY recycled raft race. Along the river banks, there are street artists performing live and stands where people can buy Taiwan cuisine, local agricultural products, and souvenirs.
After reading this article, do you know more about one of the oldest and the most important holiday of Chinese culture? Come to Taiwan! Experience the traditional holiday feeling yourself and have a great time.