History of The Dragon Boat Festival

History of The Dragon Boat Festival

For those who are not familiar with the Dragon Boat Festival, here is a short story about the origin of the Dragon Boat Festival and how it came to be what it is today. This is also a great story to tell your kids in order to expose them to different cultures and tradition.

At the end of the Zhou Dynasty, China had fallen into a state of fragmentation and conflict as different powerful families tried to carve out their own kingdoms. Qu Yuan, a wise, patriotic and articulate scholar, was serving as minister to the Zhou Emperor and was well-loved by the common people.

He did much to fight against the rampant corruption that plagued the court, causing envy and fear of other officials towards him. Hence, when he urged the emperor to avoid conflict with the Qin Kingdom, the officials pressured the Emperor to have him removed from service.

In exile, he traveled, taught and wrote for several years. Hearing that the Zhou had been defeated by the Qin, he fell into despair and threw himself into the Milou River.

Dragon boat festival

Qu Yuan in a dragon boat, picture from Wikipedia

His last poem reads:

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

dragon boat festival, dumpling festival

Rice dumplings

When the villagers heard about his death, they wanted to honour the man they had respected by protecting Qu Yuan’s body. So the fishermen rushed out in long boats, beating drums to scare the fish away, and the women prepared rice dumplings and threw them into the water to feed the fish so that they would not eat Qu Yuan’s body.

And this is how the sport of dragon boating and tradition of eating zongzi or rice dumplings came to be. The dragon boat festival is also commonly referred to as the dumpling festival or the Duanwu of Double Fifth festival.

Interested in making traditional rice dumplings? Check out our recipe here.

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Written by

Felicia Chin

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