Dragon Boat Festival is a traditional Chinese festival, which has lasted for more than 2,000 years in China. Generally speaking, the custom of celebrating is more or less the same over different areas, such as Dragon-Boat races, eating zongzi, putting mugwort or calamus at home, and wearing sachets, etc.
About the origin of Dragon Boat Festival there are a lot of versions, the most influential one of which is that it is a festival to commemorate Qu Yuan. This version has almost been taken as a common sense among the Chinese people.
Qu Yuan (c.340 – 278 BC) was a dafu (senior state official in feudal China) in the state of Chu in the Warring States Period. Among the seven states then, Qin was the most powerful one and it intended to conquer the other six and dominate the world (it was Qin that unified China in 221 BC for the first time in Chinese history). Qu’s capability won the recognition of Chu Huaiwang (Huai King of Chu). However, Qu’s opinion that Chu should carry out a political reform and cooperate with the other states to fight against Qin met opposition from his fellow officials. They spoke ill of Qu before Huaiwang. As a result, Huaiwang gradually became estranged from Qu, and finally he drove Qu out of the capital of Chu. Chu was eventually defeated by Qin. Grieved and indignant, Qu Yuan jumped into Miluo River and ended his life. That day was just the fifth day of the fifth lunar month in 278 BC.
When people got the news that Qu Yuan had drowned himself, they were all very sad and rowed to get his dead body but failed. From then on, people always row dragon boats on rivers to mourn over Qu Yuan on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month every year. To save his body from the fish, people threw food into the river to distract their attention. Later, it was said that once someone met Qu Yuan in the dream and Qu said, “The food you gave me has been robbed by the dragon. You’d better wrap the rice with bamboo or reed leaves and fasten it with colored threads, for these things are what dragons are most afraid of.” Since then, people began to commemorate Qu Yuan with zongzi, which are made of glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves, and thus zongzi become the traditional food of Dragon Boat Festival.
In this way, the tradition of eating zongzi and rowing dragon boats was handed down to the later generations.
Eating Zongzi on Dragon Boat Festival is another important tradition among Chinese people. Even by now, the Chinese families are still soaking glutinous rice, washing the bamboo or reed leaves and making zongzi whenever the fifth lunar month approaches. With a long history, zongzi has developed a lot of types. Judging from the stuffing, the jujube-stuffed zongzi in Beijing plays a main role in the North, while stuffing like bean past, rice, ham, and yolk are common in the South, in which zongzi in Zhejiang Province is the most typical one.
The custom of Dragon-Boats races on Dragon Boat Festival prevails in regions to the south of the Yangtze River. Nowadays there are Dragon-Boat races in Taiwan and Hong Kong on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month every year. Besides, Dragon Boats have also found their way to foreign lands like Japan and Korea.
Up to now, Dragon Boat Festival has developed into a very popular and grand festival in China and the ancient stories and legends has given it remarkable vitality that can lasts for ages.
Since 2008, the Dragon Boat Festival has become a national holiday when people can enjoy three-day holiday break. Dragon Boat Festival of 2013 falls on June 12.