The day after tomorrow is Chinese Dragon Boat Festival, which is a significant holiday celebrated in China, and the one with the longest history. Duanwu Festival, also known as Dragon Boat Festival and the Double Fifth, is a traditional and statutory holiday originating in China and associated with a number of East Asian and Southeast Asian societies. The Duanwu Festival is believed to have originated in ancient China.
The festival occurs on the 5th day of the 5th month of the lunar calendar on which the Chinese calendar is based. This is the source of the alternative name of Double Fifth. In 2011, this fell on June 6. There is also a long history for Duanwu Festival. The old traditional story holds that the festival commemorates the death of poet Qu Yuan (Chinese: 屈原) (c. 340 BCE – 278 BCE) of the ancient state of Chu, in the Warring States Period of the Zhou Dynasty. A descendant of the Chu royal house, Qu served in high offices. With the increasingly powerful state of Qin, Qu was banished for opposing the alliance; he was accused of treason. During his exile, Qu Yuan wrote a great deal of poetry, for which all remembered him. Twenty-eight years later, Qin conquered the capital of Chu. In despair, Qu Yuan committed suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo River on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month.
It is said that the local people, who admired and remembered him, dropped sticky rice triangles wrapped in bamboo leaves into the river to feed Qu Yuan in the afterlife. The rice was wrapped so that fish would not eat the rice meant to be eaten in Qu Yuan’s afterlife. This is said to be the origin of Zongzi. The local people were also said to have paddled out on boats, either to scare the fish away or to retrieve his body. This is the so-called origin of dragon boat racing.
Besides the death of Chu Yuan, the fifth lunar month is considered an unlucky month. People believed that natural disasters and illness are common in the fifth month. Superstition is unavoidable. Most families hang calamus and Artemisia above their doors, kitchen and bed to help to get rid of the misfortune. These are the leaves different gods and legendary heroes used to get rid of evil spirits. Portraits of gods could be purchased to put on the front door to protect the whole family too.
By the way, people will hold some other activities to celebrate Dragon Boat Festival. Three of the most widespread activities for Duanwu Festival are preparing and eating Zongzi, drinking realgar wine, and racing dragon boats. All of these activities were regarded by the ancients as effective in preventing disease or evil and promoting health and well-being. In modern Taiwan, zongzi are no longer thrown into rivers, but people still eat them as a holiday tradition and testament to Qu Yuan’s self-determination.