The Dragon Boat Festival, also often known as the Tuen Ng or Duanwu Festival(端午节）, is a traditional and statutory holiday originating in China.
The festival now occurs on the 5th day of the 5th month of the traditional lunar calendar, the source of its alternative name, the Double Fifth Festival. The Chinese calendar is lunisolar, so the date varies from year to year on the Gregorian calendar. This year, it falls on June Saturday 20th. The focus of most celebrations involves eating zongzi (sticky rice treats wrapped in bamboo leaves), drinking realgar wine (雄黃酒, xiónghuángjiǔ), and racing dragon boats.
The sun is considered to be at its strongest around the time of summer solstice, as the daylight in the northern hemisphere is the longest. The sun, like the Chinese dragon, traditionally represents masculine energy, whereas the moon, like the phoenix, traditionally represents feminine energy. The summer solstice is considered the annual peak of male energy while the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, represents the annual peak of feminine energy. The masculine image of the dragon was thus naturally associated with Duanwu .
The usual English name for the holiday, “Dragon Boat Festival,” directly translates into two alternative Chinese names for the holiday, Lóngchuánjié and Lóngzhōujié.
The official Chinese name of the festival is 端午节 on the mainland and 端午節 on Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macao. This is pronounced variously in different Chinese dialects. In Mandarin, it is romanized as Duānwǔjié on the mainland and Taiwan; in Cantonese, it is romanized as Tuen1 Ng5 Jit3 on Hong Kong and Tung1 Ng5 Jit3 on Macao. All of these names (lit. “Opening the Seventh”) refer to its original position as the first seventh-day (午日, Wǔrì) in the fifth month (五月, Wǔyuè) of the traditional Chinese calendar, which was also known as 午 (Wǔ). Both the People’s Republic and the Republic of China use “Dragon Boat Festival” as the official English translation of the holiday, while Hong Kong calls it the “Tuen Ng Festival” and Macao calls it “Dragon Boat Festival (Tun Ng)” in English and Festividade do Barco-Dragão (Tung Ng) in Portuguese.
Among Malaysian, Singaporean, and Taiwanese Hokkien speakers, the festival is also known as the “Fifth Month Festival,” the “Fifth Day Festival,” and the “Dumpling Festival.” In Singapore, it is known in Malay as Pesta Perahu Naga and in Tamil as Nākak Kappal Pantayam (நாகக் கப்பல் பந்தயம்), both meaning “Dragon Boat Festival.”
In Indonesian, the festival is known as “Peh Cun”, which is derived from the Hokkien phrase 扒船 (Hokkien POJ: pê-tsûn; Hanyu Pinyin: bā chuán).
The story best known in modern China holds that the festival commemorates the death of the poet and minister Qu Yuan (c. 340–278 BC) of the ancient state of Chu during the Warring States period of the Zhou Dynasty. A cadet member of the Chu royal house, Qu served in high offices. However, when the king decided to ally with the increasingly powerful state of Qin, Qu was banished for opposing the alliance and even accused of treason. During his exile, Qu Yuan wrote a great deal of poetry. Twenty-eight years later, Qin captured Ying, the Chu capital. In despair, Qu Yuan committed suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo River.
It is said that the local people, who admired him, raced out in their boats to save him or at least retrieve his body. This is said to have been the origin of dragon boat races. When his body could not be found, they dropped balls of sticky rice into the river so that the fish would eat them instead of Qu Yuan’s body. This is said to be the origin of zongzi.
Despite the modern popularity of the Qu Yuan origin theory, in the former territory of the state of Wu, the festival commemorated Wu Zixu (died 484 BC). Wu Zixu was a loyal advisor whose advice was ignored by the king to the detriment of the kingdom. Wu Zixu was forced to commit suicide by the king Fuchai, with his body thrown into the river on the fifth day of the fifth month. After his death, in places such as Suzhou, Wu Zixu is remembered during the Duanwu Festival to this day.
The front of the Cao E Temple, facing east, toward Cao’e River, in Shangyu, Zhejiang, China.
Although Wu Zixu is commemorated in southeast Jiangsu and Qu Yuan elsewhere in China, much of Northeastern Zhejiang including the cities of Shaoxing, Ningbo and Zhoushan celebrates the memory of the young girl Cao E (曹娥, AD 130–143) instead. Cao E’s father Cao Xu (曹盱) was a shaman who presided over local ceremonies at Shangyu. In 143, while presiding over a ceremony commemorating Wu Zixu during the Duanwu Festival, Cao Xu accidentally fell into the Shun River. Cao E, in an act of filial piety, decided to find her father in the river, searching for three days trying to find him. After five days, she and her father were both found dead in the river from drowning. Eight years later, in 151, a temple was built in Shangyu dedicated to the memory of Cao E and her sacrifice for filial piety. The Shun River was renamed Cao’e River in her honour.
As expats living in China, you may often find that most Chinese youngsters, sending messages such Wish you a happy Dragon Boat Festival, but to differ from the common belief though it is called a festival it is not a real festival it is basically a Martyr’s Day. So now, you have a reason to inform those pesky WeChatters looking for Hong Bao on we chat.
Program Sponsored by The Shunde Government.
The Shunde Government on May 1st 2015, to bring awareness of the Dragon Boat Festival Organised a Trip to foreigners in Shunde District of Foshan. There was a Dragon boat Display followed by Dargon boat race and visit to the Silk and Art Museum in Shunde. To read more about that Click Here
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