The holiday owns a dozen of names according to its pronunciation in Chinese languages. The official Chinese name of the festival is DuanWu Jie on the mainland and refers to its original position as the first seventh-day in the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar. Dragon Boat Festival is used as the official English translation of the holiday, while Hong Kong calls it the Tuen Ng Festival. Among Malaysian, Singaporean, and Taiwanese Hokkien speakers, the festival is also known as the Fifth Month Festival, the Fifth Day Festival, and the Dumpling Festival.
Practices and Activities
The festival was long maintained as a cultural festival in China and is a public holiday in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau. Among many activities conducted during the Duanwu Festival,preparing and eating zongzi, drinking realgar wine, and racing dragon boats are most widespread.
Dragon Boat Racing
Dragon Boat Race
The game has a long history of more than 2500 years in ceremonial and ritualistic traditions. The emperors had enjoyed the watching of dragon boat racing along the waterside since the Tang dynasty. The dragon-boat songs，usually magnificent and lively with a wide extent, are scored during racing.
A notable part of celebrating DuanWu is making and eating zongzi with family members. Zongzi are traditionally wrapped in dry bamboo leaves, sometimes leaves of lotus or banana, which would add a special aroma and flavor to the gluitious rice and fillings. Choices of fillings vary depending on regions. Northern regions enjoy sweet zongzi, with bean paste, dates and nuts as fillings, while the Southern prefer savory taste, with a variety of fillings including marinated pork belly, chicken, sausage or salted duck eggs.
Food Related to Five
Wu in the name DuanWu in Chinese pronunciation is similar to the number 5, thus many regions have traditions of eating food that is related to the number 5. For example, in the Cantonese regions, such as Guangdong and Hong Kong, people favor making congee with five different beans.
Realgar wine or XiongHuang wine in Chinese, is an alcoholic drink that is made from Chinese yellow wine seasoned 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. This is promote a healthy digestive system that the drinking of realgar in wine supposedly relieves the effects of poisons accumulated in human bodies, and for protection from evil and disease for the rest of the year. Of course the modern scientific researches have shown the harmfulness of internal use of realgar wine and it can only used externally by default.
Aside from the three main customs, it can be seen in every household to hang dry wormwoods and calamus on the doorframe, for the belief that these plants can drive the insects and evil away because of their special aroma. It very much resembles to the custom of wearing sachets containing fragrant medicinal herbs.
Controversies has been hanging over the origin of Dragon Boat Festival for centuries among the scholars of academia. Similar to other important festivals in China, particular figures are related to the day and their stories spread far over the country.
Qu Yuan (B.C.340-278)
He is a poet and minister of the ancient state of Chu during the Warring States period of the Zhou Dynasty, who is regarded as the protagonist in the best-known story in modern China that the festival commemorates his death. Qu served in high offices inferior to a cadet member of the Chu royal house. However, when the king decided to ally with the increasingly powerful state Qin, Qu was banished for opposing the alliance and even accused of treason. Qu Yuan wrote a great deal of poetry during his exile. Twenty-eight years later, Qin seised Ying, the Chu capital. In despair, Qu Yuan committed suicide by drowning himself in the MiLuo River.
According to folktales, the local people who admired him raced out in boats to save him, or at least retrieve his body. This is how dragon boat races originated. While his body could not be found, they dropped balls of glutinous rice into the river for fish to eat instead of Qu Yuan's body. The story is believed to be the origin of ZongZi.
Qu Yuan Wu ZiXu Cao'E
Wu ZiXu (Died 484 B.C.)
Aside from the Qu Yuan origin theory, in the former territory of the Kingdom of Wu, the festival was believed to commemorate Wu Zixu, the Premier of Wu. Xi Shi, a beautiful woman sent by King GouJian of the state of Yue, was deeply loved by King FuChai of Wu. Wu ZiXu, foreseeing the danger drawing nearby, gave FuChai a warning remark. But FuChai turned him off and forced him to commit suicide, with his body thrown into the river on the fifth day of the fifth month. After his death, in places such as SuZhou, Wu ZiXu is memorized during the DuanWu Festival.
Instead, Cao E, a third legendary figure, is celebrated on the day in much of Northeastern ZheJiang including the cities of ShaoXing, NingBo and ZhouShan. Her father Cao Xu was a shaman who presided over local ceremonies. In 143, while presiding over a ceremony in honor of Wu Zixu on the festival, Cao Xu accidentally fell into the Shun River. Cao E decided out of filial piety to find her father in the river. After five days, she and her father were both found drowned dead in the river. Eight years later, a temple was built in ShangYu in order to memorize Cao E and her sacrifice for filial piety. The Shun River was also renamed Cao'e River.
Researches raised by modern scholars suggest that both the stories of Qu Yuan and Wu Zixu were imposed on a holiday tradition which had existed for years. These fictitious stories might be promoted by Confucian supporters, for the sake of legitimization and reinforcement of their influence in ancient China.
The stories of both Qu Yuan and Wu ZiXu were first recorded in ShiJi, completed by Sima Qian 2 or 3 hundred years after the events， with no former references. A hypothesis is promoted that it was the governing class who valued the features on both characters directed the popularity of the stories.
Another theory, observed by Wen Yiduo, a scholar in 1930s, is that the Dragon Boat Festival originated from Chinese dragon worship by an ancient people named BaiYue. These people regarded Chinese dragon as their protector. To show respect, they cut their hair and tattoo themselves to be “like the sons of Chinese dragon”. Furthermore, in their tribe, a grand totem fete was held on the fifth of the fifth lunar month annually, events including racing within a dragon-shaped canoe and giving zongzi as offerings to their protector. These customs coincided with the two key traditions of the festival today: the tradition of dragon boat racing and zongzi. Accordingly it became the support to what Wen Yiduo’s insisted. In recent decades, more and more evidence tend to verify the correctness of this theory.