Dragon Boat Festival (aka Dumpling Festival)

What and when is the Dragon Boat Festival?

The Dragon Boat Festival (端午节 “Duan Wu Jie”), or also known as Dumpling Festival, is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar. This year 2021, the festival falls on 14 June, Monday. 

History of the festival

One of the most common origins of the Dragon Boat Festival is that it commemorates the death of the poet and minister Qu Yuan of the ancient state of Chu during the Warring States period of the Zhou Dynasty.

Legends varied and some claimed that when the emperor decided to ally with the increasingly powerful state of Qin, loyal Qu Yuan was banished for opposing the alliance and even accused of treason. Other legends said that the loyal Qu Yuan was framed, and the emperor turned against him.

During his exile, Qu Yuan wrote a great deal of poetry. With the king deprived of his loyal and capable minister, the state of Chu was soon defeated by Qin. Upon hearing the news, the exiled minister was deeply distraught and drowned himself in the Miluo River.

The local people, who admired Qu Yuan, raced out in their wooden boats to save him.  It is said that the beating of drums and splashing of water with their paddles to scare off evil spirits and fishes from eating him on this desperate search and rescue mission led to the origin of dragon boat races.

Having failed, the people sought to appease his spirit by throwing sticky rice stuffed in bamboo stems into the river so that the fish would eat them instead of Qu Yuan's body. This is said to be the origin of zong zi.

How is it celebrated now?

As the name of the festival suggests, dragon-boat races are often held on this day. Another very common celebration is to make rice dumplings, called zong zi. The rice dumplings are no longer thrown into rivers, and people eat them as a holiday tradition on this day as well as the days leading to it. 

The typical ingredients of these rice dumplings include sticky glutinous rice, dried shiitake mushrooms, peanuts, dried shrimps, and meat. These ingredients are carefully placed on bamboo leaves and wrapped up into a tetrahedral shape, in simpler terms like a pyramid shape.