Dragon Boat Festival | Access to Culture

Dragon Boat Festival


By Sharon Schweitzer

The Dragon Boat Festival, also known as the Double Fifth Festival, is a traditional Chinese holiday with more than two thousand years of history. It begins on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. Because the fifth month is considered an unlucky time of year, many traditions exist to rid people of misfortune. For example, parents give their children five threads of colored silk to keep bad spirits away during the Festival. A memorial ceremony offering sacrifices to a local hero is combined with sporting events such as dragon races, dragon boating and willow shooting; feasts of rice dumplings, eggs, especially zongzi, which is sticky rice with filling and wrapped in bamboo leaves and ruby sulphur wine; and folk entertainments including opera, song and unicorn dances.

The most well-known aspect of the Dragon Boat Festival is the tradition of racing dragon boats (赛龙舟, sàilóngzhōu). Originally, dragon boats were made of teak. Today, however, most dragon boats are made of modern materials such as fiberglass. Dragon boats are long and thin. Although the size of the boats and their crews can vary, in most cases, the crew consists of 20 paddlers who sit side-by-side in pairs facing the bow. There is also a drummer who sits at the bow of the boat facing the paddlers. To commemorate, the boats are fitted out with a colorful dragon head and tail. 

During a race, the drummer leads the paddlers by beating rhythmically on a drum. In addition to the drummer, there is also a steerer who sits in the back of the boat and helps to steer it using a long steering oar. Over the years, dragon boat racing has developed into a sport with a variety of rules and regulations. 

The festivities vary from region to region, but they usually share several features. The hero who is celebrated varies by region: the romantic poet and court official who drowned himself in 278 BCE to protest imperial corruption, Qu Yuan, is venerated in Hubei and Hunan Provinces, Wu Zixu (an old man said to have died while slaying a dragon in Guizhou Province) in South China, and Yan Hongwo in Yunnan Province among the Dai community. Dragon boat racing is said to originate from the villagers who rushed out in boats to rescue Qu Yuan and who thrashed the water with paddles to prevent his body from being eaten by fish. Participants also ward off evil during the festival by bathing in flower-scented water, wearing five-colour silk, hanging plants such as moxa and calamus over their doors, and pasting paper cut-outs in their windows. 

The Dragon Boat festival strengthens bonds within families and establishes a harmonious relationship between humanity and nature. It also encourages the expression of imagination and creativity, contributing to a vivid sense of cultural identity. As a cultural treasure shared by all people, Dragon Boat Festival still sparkles with charm, and its stories have been and will always be told to the younger generations.


Photo by  asia-archive.si.edu/learn/for-educators/

Sharon Schweitzer JD, is a diversity and inclusion consultant, cross-cultural trainer, etiquette expert, and the founder of Access to Culture. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE Centre, she is an attorney and mediator. Sharon served as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business,  Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, won a coveted Kirkus Star, and was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books. She’s a winner of numerous awards, including the British Airways International Trade Award at the Greater Austin Business Awards.

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