Introduction to the Dragon Boat Festival
The Dragon Boat Festival（龙舟节） – also called Double Fifth Festival（五月五，端午节）, falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar. It is one of the most important Chinese festivals. The Chinese calendar is lunisolar, so the date of the festival varies from year to year on the Gregorian calendar. In 2017, on 30 May; and in 2018, on 18 June.
Dragon Boat Races
Dragon boat racing has a rich history of ancient ceremonial and ritualistic traditions, which originated in southern central China more than 2500 years ago. The legend starts with the story of Qu Yuan, who was a minister in one of the Warring State governments, Chu. He was slandered by jealous government officials and banished by king. Out of disappointment in the Chu monarch, he drowned himself into the Miluo river. The common people rushed to the water and tried to recover his body. In commemoration of Qu Yuan, people hold dragon boat races yearly on the day of his death according to the legend. They also scattered rice into the water to feed the fish, to prevent them from eating Qu Yuan’s body, which is one of the origins of zongzi.
A very popular dish during the Dragon Boat Festival, Zongzi which mainly consist of glutinous rice with other ingredients such as meat, peanuts, egg yolk, or other fillings wrapped in bamboo leaves. The tradition of Zongzi is meant to remind us of the fishermen who scattered rice into the water of the Miluo River to appease the river dragons so they would not devour Qu Yuan.
Realgar wine or xionghuang wine is a Chinese alcoholic drink that is made from Chinese yellow wine dosed with powdered realgar, a yellow-orange arsenic sulfide mineral. Realgar is often used as a pesticide against mosquitoes and other insects during the hot summers, and as a common antidote against poison in ancient Asia.
Apart from the legend of Qu Yuan, the Dragon Boat Festival of the fifth lunar month is significant in many places. Many Chinese people consider this time of year to be an especially dangerous time when illness is common, thus extra efforts must be made to protect their family. Families hang “Aicao” (wormwood) on their doors for protection. The drinking of or rubbing with “realgar wine” is also thought to remove poisons from the body.
It is said that after Qu Yuan jumped into the Miluo River, people wanted to protect him from being eaten by the Flood Dragon. First they scattered zongzi and salty eggs into the river. Then an old man brought a bucket of realgar wine and poured it into the river to protect Qu Yuan. Soon afterwards the Flood Dragon floated to the surface and people killed it.
There is a famous Chinese legend that is closely connected to the Dragon Boat Festival, Aicao, and realgar wine. Once upon a time, two snake spirits lived on E-Mei Mountain, White Snake and Green Snake. They magically transformed themselves into beautiful women and went to the West Lake of Hang Zhou. There they met a man named Xu Xian. The White Snake quickly fell in love with Xu Xian and soon they were married. A Buddhist monk, named Fa Hai, warned Xu Xian that his wife was not a real human being and gave him some suggestions. On the day of the Dragon Boat Festival White Snake stayed at home in order to avoid the Aicao hung on the doors of people’s houses. Meanwhile, according to Fa Hai’s instruction, Xu Xian prepared some realgar wine. The White Snake drank a cup of the wine and was turned back into a huge white snake.
Qu Yuan’s last poem
Many a heavy sigh I have in my despair,
Grieving that I was born in such an unlucky time.
I yoked a team of jade dragons to a phoenix chariot,
And waited for the wind to come,
to sour up on my journey