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Dragon Boat Festival — Duanwu in China

Dragon boat

The Dragon Boat Festival, also known as Duanwu and celebrated on the 5th of May in the Traditional Chinese Calendar, is one of China's most ancient and essential festivals. 


It is about worshipping ancestors and deities, exorcising evil spirits, and praying for good luck.

Celebrating Dragon Boat Festival

Celebrating Dragon Boat Festival, Picture from Artist Chun Yang.

Some Fun Facts about the Dragon Boat Festival


  • It had over 20 names in history.

  • It used to be considered quite lucky and unlucky in different places in China.

  • It has many versions concerning its origin.

  • It has been celebrated in China for at least 2500 years.

How is the Festival Related to the Dragon

According to Chinese Astrology, the Seven Lunar Mansions of the Azure Dragon Section move to the center of the sky on a specific date. 

​In ancient China, it was considered an auspicious day to worship dragons. 

Hence, on this day, people would make dragon-shaped boats and hold grand sacrifice ceremonies.  

This date is the Dragon Boat Festival. 

Click to Read More About Chinese Dragon or Loong

Dragon Boat Festival

Other Famous Names of the Dragon Boat Festival


  • Duan Wu: the beginning of summer

  • Duan Yang: the most orthodox, central Yang 

  • Chong Wu: double five, the festival on the 5th of May

  • Zhong Tian: middle of the sky, since the sun is located in the highest, most central position on this day

  • Dragon Day: Azure Dragon's stars in the middle of the sky

  • Yu Lan: taking herb baths to avoid skin disease in summer

Why is the Dragon Boat Festival Considered Unlucky in Some Places


Since the Warring States Period (403 BC — 221 BC), especially in northern China, the 5th of May had been considered unlucky. 


It is a cross point of Yin and Yang and the beginning of the intense heat of summer. 


Besides, Five Poisonous Pests (scorpion, snake, gecko, centipede, toad) are highly active on that day.

Dragon and Five Poisonous Pests Mandarin Squares or Buzi on Clothes of the Qing Dynasty (1636 — 1912)

Dragon and Five Poisonous Pests Mandarin Squares or Buzi on Clothes of the Qing Dynasty (1636 — 1912) — Wuhan Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)

When and How is the Dragon Boat Festival Originated


There are many versions concerning the origin of the festival in Chinese culture:


  • Worship dragon and pray for good luck.

  • Exorcise poisonous pests, evilness, and bad luck.

  • Memorize Qu Yuan (about 340 BC — 278 BC), a capable but banished royal who sacrificed after his country had perished. 

  • Memorize Wu Zixu (about 559 BC — 484 BC), the best friend of Sun Tzu and a loyal official who was set up and executed by his King.


The original date of the Dragon Boat Festival, though in May, varied in history; in the Han Dynasty (202 BC — 220 AD), it was regulated to celebrate on the 5th of May.

Customs and Traditions of Dragon Boat Festival


  • Race Dragon Boat.

  • Make and eat Zongzi (or Sticky Rice Dumplings).

  • Worship dragon, heaven, and ancestors.

  • Drink herbal teas or realgar wine.

  • Hang Chinese mugwort and calamus on doors.

  • Hang pictures of Five Poisonous Pests.

  • Put on pictures of Zhongkui, a deity that could expel ghosts and protect people.

Emperor Zhu Jianshen's Painting "Sui Zhao Jia Zhao Tu", To Pray for Blessings in New Year

Picture of Zhongkui (Sui Zhao Jia Zhao Tu), by Chenghua Emperor Zhu Jianshen (1447 — 1487) — Palace Museum

  • Take a bath with different types of herbs and flowers.

  • Make and wear sachets that are stuffed with collected herbs, scented petals, or perfume.

  • Put on Five-Color Strings, especially for children.

  • Play competing games using collected herbs.

Women Playing Herb Competing Games (Dou Bai Cao) in Dragon Boat Festival

Women Playing Herb Competing Games (Dou Bai Cao), part of Painting "Spring Morning in the Han Palace" (Han Gong Chun Xiao Tu) by Qiu Ying (1494 — 1552) — Taipei Palace Museum

What to Eat at the Dragon Boat Festival


Zongzi or Rice Dumplings

Glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves, including sweet flavors in the north and salty flavors in the south. 

Zongzi's stuffing also varies; beans, date, pork, ham, chestnut, and yolk are all popular ingredients. 

Zongzi's shape could be a triangle, regular quadrangle, sharp triangle, square, etc.; a typical triangle is the most popular type now.

Zongzi or Rice Dumplings, the traditional food of Dragon Boat Festival in China

Five Yellow Food

Five Yellow Food means five types of food, whose names include Yellow in Chinese Characters.


Eating them is believed could protect people from being hurt by the Five Poisonous Pests (scorpion, snake, gecko, centipede, toad).

Those Five Yellow Foods are realgar wine, cucumber, leek, swamp eel or yellow croaker, and duck egg.


Xionghuangjiu or Realgar Wine

Realgar has been used in Chinese medicine for detoxification and curing skin diseases.


Hence, people used to put a slight amount of realgar in wine and drink it at the festival. 

Nowadays, realgar wine has been replaced by rice wine.

Xionghuangjiu or Realgar Wine, the traditional food of Dragon Boat Festival in China

What to Wear at the Dragon Boat Festival


Five Color Strings

Based on the Five Elements Theory, people make five colors (red, white, black, yellow, and green) strings and wear them on the wrist, ankle, or arm, to prevent diseases and bad luck and pray for blessings. 

The Five Color String could not be removed until the first rain after the festival.

Five Color Strings to wear on the Dragon Boat Festival in China

Duanwu Sachet

It is stuffed with herbs used to keep people healthy and drive away poisonous pests, such as Chinese mugwort, realgar, and some spices. 

Duanwu Sachet the traditional decoration to wear on the Dragon Boat Festival

Hats or Clothes with Five Poisonous Pests

Usually for kids to wear, embroidered with the Five Poisonous Pests. 

People believed that wearing them could keep their babies away from diseases and any hurt.

Embroidery of the Five Poisonous Pests on the Dragon Boat Festival

Tiger-head Shaped Hats and Shoes

It is mainly for babies and toddlers to wear, wishing they could be as strong as tigers.

The tiger is believed to be one of the strongest, most auspicious animals that could scare evilness away and protect the kids to be safe and sound.

Tiger-head shaped shoes
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