Everything you need to know for the Dragon Boat Festival 2017 + Chinese vocabulary list

端午节快乐 Duānwǔjié kuàilè! Happy Dragon Boat Festival!

The Dragon Boat Festival (端午节 Duānwǔjié) is a Chinese folk festival which takes place on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, for 2017 that’s May 30th!.

It has been celebrated for over 2000 years and is one of the most important Chinese festivals alongside the Chinese New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival.

In this blog article, we are going to show you what to do during the festival, talk about the different legends surrounding this festival and teach you the most important festival vocabulary!

  1. Customs or what to do during the Dragon Boat Festival

Well, you might say this one was obvious given the name of the festival! One of the main features of the festival are the wooden boats that are shaped as dragons and appear in many vivid colors and decorations. Although sizes and shapes differ tremendously throughout the regions, the boats usually accommodate around 20 people who paddle harmoniously to the beating of a drummer sitting by the head of the dragon.

Throughout the years, the Dragon Boat Racing (龙舟赛 lóngzhōu sài) has gradually become an international sporting event too. If you are in China, make sure you enjoy a beautiful dragon boat race of your own. It will be an unforgettable experience of the colorful Chinese culture!

But why do people race dragon boats during the festival? Find out in the next part below.

Eating Rice Balls (a.k.a. Zòngzi)

And when we talk about Chinese holidays, of course food cannot miss. Sticky rice dumplings (粽子zòng​zi) are the main culinary protagonists of the Dragon Boat Festival and are easily the most famous Chinese dessert. The Zizzle team has even discovered them in Munich, Germany ;-).

They consist of sticky rice mixed with sweet or salty fillings. They are wrapped in bamboo leaves, shaped as triangles or rectangles, tied with plant stems or silk cords, and boiled in water. The fillings range from meat and shrimp to red beans, dates, fruit and all sorts of other flavors. Yummy! If reading this has made you really hungry, remember that the Chinese have “Eight Culinary Cuisines” with thousands of variations. Isn’t that a reason to brush up your Chinese and head over to Zhongguo?

Drinking Realgar Wine

Where there’s food, a matching drink cannot be far. Besides eating 粽子 zòng​zi, it is customary to drink realgar wine (雄黄酒 xióng​huáng​jiǔ) during the Dragon Boat Festival.

This is an alcoholic beverage made of fermented cereals mixed with powdered realgar, an arsenic mineral. Traditionally, the Chinese people believed that realgar was an effective antidote against mosquitos, diseases and evil spirits. As the date of the Dragon Boat Festival was around the height of summer, when many diseases spread among the people because of the heat, the custom of consuming realgar wine was introduced.

Wearing Fragrant Bags

For the same reason of avoiding contagious diseases and keeping away evil spirits, Chinese people also started sewing small bags (香囊 xiāng​náng) made out of colorful silk and filled with perfume, herbs, incense or other fragrant substances. They wore those bags around their neck or tied them to their clothes as an ornament. Nowadays, the shapes of these small bags extend beyond their original simple form to animals, cartoon characters and various objects.

Hanging Calamus and Wormwood on Doors

Before the Dragon Boat Festival, people usually clean their houses and hang calamus (菖蒲 chāng​pú), a wetland plant, or wormwood (艾草 ài​cǎo) by their doors in order to keep mosquitos and insects away, clean the air and bring good luck to the household.


Ready to learn some Chinese? Download Zizzle App now for Android and iOS!

2. Legends or what is the Dragon Boat Festival really about?

You might have started to wonder just why exactly people in China race dragon boats or eat Zongzi for this festival (although, if you have followed our study on Chinese internet language, nothing the Chinese do will ever surprise you again). Just like with Chinese New Year, you know that every good tradition in China comes with a good legend! And the Dragon Boat Festival doesn’t come with one, but with five!

Commemorating Qū​ Yuán

The standard story of the festival begins with Qū​ Yuán 屈原 (340–278 BC), one of the most famous poets in Chinese history.

He was a poet and statesman who lived in the state of Chu during the Warring States period of ancient China. He was a patriotic and loyal advisor of the emperor, but following false accusations of treason and corruption, Qū​ Yuán was sent into exile. There, he wrote many famous poems in which he showed his love for his country.

When hearing that the state of Chu had been invaded by the Qin, on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, the patriot Qū​ Yuán became so emotional about it that he drowned himself in a river. As the local folks found out about his drowning, they rushed to the river, paddled out on their fishing boats and attempted to find his body. This attempt later turned into the tradition of dragon boat racing.
However, the local folks did not manage to find his body. To keep evil spirits away and to prevent the fish from eating his body, they threw bamboo leaves filled with rice into the water, splashing the water with paddles and beating on drums: The beginning of the traditions of eating Zongzi.

Commemorating Wǔ​ Zǐ​xū

Another person associated with the Dragon Boat Festival is Wǔ​ Zǐ​xū伍子胥 (722–481 BC), a minister and advisor to the emperor of the state of Wu during the Spring and Autumn period. He helped the king in military campaigns. However, after the emperor died and his son took his place, Wǔ​ Zǐ​xū stopped being trusted as an advisor. His advice was ignored, which caused the state great losses in battles. Still, he was blamed for the defeats and forced to commit suicide, after which his body was thrown into a river near Suzhou. The day is said to have been the fifth day of the fifth lunar month.

Commemorating Cáo É

Number three of the people important for the Dragon Boat Festival is a young girl, Cáo É 曹娥 (130–143). She died while attempting to retrieve the body of her father who had drowned in a river in Zhejiang Province. Trying to find her father’s body and to give him a proper funeral, she walked along the river bank for days. Finally, on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, after a long and unsuccessful search, Cáo É decided to jump into the river and her own body was later found next to her father’s. She was honored for her filial piety and affection, two traditional Chinese virtues and especially important for this festival.

Worshipping the Dragon King

Somewhat different is the legend of the dragon king: In ancient China, people believed that a dragon was in charge of the rain and the water from the rivers and seas. As water was so important for life and agriculture, they worshipped the Dragon King (龙王 Lóngwáng), organized boat races to entertain him and prepared rice cakes to satisfy his hunger. This way, they wanted to ensure good weather and plentiful crops for the upcoming year.

Whatever the origin, it is easy to see the connection of the festival to water, dragon boats and rice balls. But to really dive into the different traditions, you want to brush up your vocab! You are sure going to impress your Chinese friends over some 粽子 zòngzi and 雄黄酒 xióng​huáng​jiǔ.

Before going down to the list, just remember that Zizzle App is going to make your studying efforts easier whatever you are trying to learn! Download the app now for Android and iOS.

端午节快乐 Duānwǔjié kuàilè!

端午节 Duān​wǔ​jié = Dragon Boat Festival (celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month)

节日 jié​rì = holiday

农历 nóng​lì = the traditional Chinese lunar calendar

农历五月初五 nónglì wǔyuè chū wǔ = the fifth day of the fifth lunar month 纪念屈原 jìniàn Qū Yuán = in commemoration of Qu Yuan

龙王 Lóngwáng = the Dragon King

龙舟 lóng​zhōu = dragon boat

龙舟赛 lóng​zhōu sài / 龙舟比赛lóng​zhōu bǐ​sài = dragon boat race

划龙舟 huálóng​zhōu = to row a dragon boat

锣鼓 luó​gǔ = gongs and drums

鼓手 gǔ​shǒu = drummer

粽子 zòng​zi = sticky rice mixed with sweet or savory fillings, wrapped in bamboo leaves, tied with plant stems and boiled

糯米 nuò​mǐ = glutinous rice

竹叶 zhú yè = bamboo leaves

豆沙粽 dòushā zòng = 粽子 zòng​zi filled with red bean paste

肉粽 ròu zòng = 粽子 zòng​zi filled with meat

雄黄酒 xióng​huáng​jiǔ = realgar wine

菖蒲 chāng​pú = calamus (sweet flag)

艾草 ài​cǎo = wormwood

挂菖蒲和艾草 guà chāngpú hé àicǎo = to hang calamus and wormwood

香囊 xiāng​náng = fragrant bag, a small bag full of fragrance worn during the Dragon Boat Festival

佩香囊 pèi xiāng​náng = to wear fragrant bags

Alexandra from Zizzle


Originally published at www.zizzle.io.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.