What happens during the Dragon Boat Festival?

What happens during the Dragon Boat Festival?

The Dragon Boat Festival is a well-known official holiday in China. This festival is usually celebrated on the 5th day of the 5th month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar.

The story behind this festival comes from the death of Qu Yuan, a poet and minister in the State of Chu, around 475 to 221 BC Warring States. Qu Yuan was sent to exile for opposing the King’s decision to ally with the neighbouring state, Qin, and was accused of treason. When Ying, the Chu capital, was captured, It cased Qu Yuan to go into depression. His despair about the political situation caused him to commit suicide by drowning in Hunan Province’s Miluo River.

As Qu Yuan had been quite popular with the local people and legends say that people raced out in their boats, after realising that Qu Yuan was drowning himself, to try and save him or to retrieve his body.

When they didn’t find his body, the local people dropped balls of sticky rice (zongzi) into the river. So that the fish would eat the rice, instead of Qu Yuan’s body.

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How do people celebrate the dragon boat festival?

The Dragon Boat Festival is a fun, energetic holiday. The weather during this time of the year is usually good in most parts of China. People will then gather at rivers and lakes to enjoy the weather and watch dragon boat races. The dragon boat racing is the more well-known aspect about the Dragon Boat Festival. Qu Yuan’s suicide is used to explain the dragon boat racing tradition where it shows the racing boats as actions of the villagers rowing out into the river to save the poet. These boats are usually fitted with a colourful dragon tail and head to fit along with the theming of the festival. These dragon boats are long and thin with crews consisting of up to 20 paddlers including the steerer at the back of the boat and a drummer who sits at the bow rhythmically drumming for the crew.

The distance of the race that the teams cover varies from 100 to 2,000 meters often 500 meters is used for most events. This event is held in many parts of the world that celebrate this festival. In China, there are also various informal boat races organized by local villages and communities.

Zongzi - Sticky Rice Balls

Most if not every Chinese holiday involves specific food or foods that is associated with the holiday or festival. Zongzi is a pyramid-shaped dumpling made with glutinous rice. Usually stuffed with sweet or savoury fillings, which include sweet red bean pastes or Chinese dates.

Some zongzi may be stuffed with salted duck egg yolks, pork and/or mushrooms. Then the dumpling will be wrapped in bamboo leaves that is tied up with a string then the food is steamed or boiled. 

You can buy ready-made Zongzi and simply steam to cook or you can make your own (a guide below).

How to make Zongzi:


Choice of filling include pork, red bean, nuts, salted egg yolks and more.


  1. Soak the glutinous rice for a few hours in water.
  2. Rinse the Bamboo Leaves and soak them in hot water.
  3. Take two Bamboo Leaves and fold them into a cone-shape.
  4. Using the cone-shaped Bamboo Leaves, fill with a layer of Glutinous rice then a filling of your choice.
  5. Add and fill the rest of the space with Glutinous rice.
  6. Fold the bamboo leaves tightly forming a pyramid shape, making sure that there are no gaps.
    Tie the zongzi with cooking twine and secure it (use string or similar that can tie up the zongzi and stay tied up whilst cooking).
  7. Repeat with the amount you want to make and with the ingredients available.
  8. Place the zongzi in a large pot of boiling water and cook for 203 hours or until the rice is cooked.
  9. Let the zongzi to cool before unwrapping and serving.

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