A Complete Guide to China’s Dragon Boat Festival

Posted on Posted in Chinese Culture

As the summer months draw near, the hustle and bustle of the city of Shanghai welcomes of visitors from around China and the world. Luckily, this summer period is the perfect time for newcomers, such as myself, to tackle the enormity of the megacity and experience a variety of Chinese traditions and customs, such as the Dragon Boat Festival, that are taking place.


This year, the Dragon Boat Festival will be honored on the 30th of May, as it takes place on the fifth day of the fifth month according to the lunar calendar. Citizens, visitors, and travelers alike will be able to join in on the festivities from May 28th until May 30th, taking in all the fascinating food and cultural traditions that this celebration has to offer. For those of you that work here in China, you even get a nice three-day weekend!


While many know this holiday as the Dragon Boat Festival, it is also referred to as “Duanwu”, “Tuen Ng Festival”, and 端午节. Originating in Southern China, it is especially popular in Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Guangdong, and Fujian provinces.




Dating back more than two thousand years ago, this festival remembers the death of Qu Yuan (link: https://www.travelchinaguide.com/intro/history/zhou/eastern/quyuan.htm): a devoted nationalist and passionate Chinese poet. Wrought with despair, Qu Yuan is said to have drowned himself in a river during the invasion of his state (Chu) by the State of Qin.

The poet is a national figure and a celebrity of traditional Chinese culture, as his literary works and participation in the government brought him great fame and respect from the native people. Accordingly, this festival is a celebration of his legacy and his dedication to the nation.


FUN FACT: More recently, the celebration was recognized by UNESCO in 2009 as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, marking it as an international wonder and attracting visitors from all over the world! (hyperlink: https://ich.unesco.org/en/RL/dragon-boat-festival-00225)



 Now, onto the more important facts (and probably what you scrolled down to see first): Food!

Here is a list of some of the most traditional snacks and beverages of the Tuen Ng Festival:


  • Zongzi (bottom left): Rice dumpling wrapped in reed leaves and filled with bean paste, meat, or egg yolk. These are said to have been thrown in the river to protect Qu Yuan’s body from the fish.
  • Dagao: Mugwort and sticky rice cake.
  • Tea eggs: Chicken eggs soaked in tea that are painted red and are hung around children’s necks to keep evil spirits away.
  • Realgar wine: Cereal wine powdered with an arsenic sulfur mineral that is believed to dispel sicknesses and evil spirits.
  • Jiandui (bottom right): Rice flour balls covered in sesame seeds, which, according to Chinese folklore, are eaten to keep the rainy seasons away.













Even more interesting are the unique customs and traditions that take place on this day. For example, if one balances a raw egg on his/her head at exactly noon on the day of the festival, it is said that that individual will have a very lucky year.

Likewise, hanging calamus and moxa on one’s front door, as well as holding perfume pouches, is said to bring individuals peace and cast away evil spirits and bad luck.

All in all, this holiday would not be complete without authentic dragon boat races, giving the festival its renowned title. Legend has it that the presence of the dragon boats arose from the townspeople’s attempt to save Qu Yuan from drowning in the river. Over the years, the boats have shifted from some of their more common and traditional uses, and are now used in sports events and competitions.


Interested in seeing some famous dragon boat races? Check out this list of locations below:

  • Yueyang International Dragon Boat Race: Miluo River Dragon Boat Race Center, Yueyang, Hunan
  • Zigui Dragon Boat Racing: Xujiachong Bay, Zuigui County, Yichang, Hubei
  • Miao People’s International Canoe Festival: Qingshui River, Guizhou
  • Hangzhou Xixi Dragon Boat Race: Xixi Wetland Park



Unable to make it to China to celebrate the festival this year? No problem! Since the festival is based on the lunar calendar, the dates change every year.

Year Day Holiday Dates
2017 May 30th May 28-30th
2018 June 18th June 16-18th
2019 June 7th June 7-9th
2020 June 25th June 25th-27th
2021 June 14th June 12-14th


We hope to see many visitors out and about, enjoying all the traditional foods and customs of the Dragon Boat Festival!


By Chiara Evelti



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