The incredible history of the Dragon Boat Festival

The incredible history of the Dragon Boat Festival

The TailorMade team was so busy partying and celebrating that they forgot to post this on the day of the festival (2nd of June)!

Even though the Dragon Boat Festival (???) has only reached official holiday status in 2008, thus granting everyone a 3 day weekend, the Festival’s history runs deep in China’s legends and mythologies and its very origins are shrouded in a mystic veil. The most popular version of the story however, explains the origins of the festival as the suicide of court official Qu Yuan (??), pictured below, some 2000 years ago during China’s Warring States period (????).


According to the legend, Qu Yuan was a court official from the ancient state of Chu (??) and served in his Kingdom’s high offices. However, when the King of Chu decided to forge an alliance with the Kingdom of Qin (??), Qu Yuan protested against the decision and ended up accused of being a traitor and was banished from the Kingdom. During his time in exile, Qu Yuan wrote a lot of poetry and is widely considered as one of the greatest Chinese poets who have ever lived. But when he learned about the humiliating defeat of his former Kingdom by its supposed ally, he committed suicide by drowning, out of despair. Villagers who respected Qu Yuan for his poetry allegedly raced out in their boats in order to recover his body (hence the Dragon Boat race). Unable to do so, they dropped balls of sticky rice into the war so the fish would eat the balls instead of his body. Because of that, people celebrate the festival by eating zongzi???).

Another explanation involves a man named Wu ZiXu (???), pictured below, who was a general during China’s Spring and Autumn Era ??????. Like Qu Yuan, he was forced into humiliation and suicide after a disagreement with his King, despite being an honored and decorated man.

You can choose to believe a story or the other, but both share the similarity of occurring on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month – hence why the Festival is also called the Double Fifth Festival ?????.


There is a third explanation, this time backed by serious anthropological and cultural works. According to some, the Dragon Boat Festival comes at a time close to the summer solstice, which is usually followed by heavy humidity and mosquitoes transmitting deadly deceases, all across the South of China and East Asia. Those people would then turn to rituals to scare away not only the evil spirits, but also drink realgar wine, or xionghuangjiu (???), a delicious mixture of traditional baijiu (??) with arsenic sulfide, a well known pesticide and insecticide.


The Dragon Boat Festival is one of the many holidays that prove just how amazing Chinese culture is. We hope you had a wonderful time, and that it reinforced your interest in learning Chinese!

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