Greater China: the Legend Behind the Dragon Boat Festival

International Dragon Boat Carnival in Hong Kong is held on the weekend following the with the Dragon Boad Festival. Photo Credit: Hong Kong Tourism Board.

Chinese Festivals

The Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated throughout Greater China. It is especially popular in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and other places with large Chinese populations such as Malaysia and Singapore.

The Dragon Boat Festival has also been growing in popularity in other parts of the world in recent years.

In Greater China, the races are usually held on the day itself because it is an official holiday. In other places, it might be held on alternate dates. Usually they would be held on the nearest weekend to the festival, but there are exceptions.

During the Dragon Boat Festival, dragon boat races are held on rivers and lakes and at beaches. But how, exactly, did this tradition come about?

Patriotic Poet

A statue of Qu Yuan in Singapore.

The Dragon Boat Festival dates back 2,000 years when a patriotic Chinese poet and statesman named Qu Yuan committed suicide by jumping into the Mi Lo River to protest against imperial corruption.

His supporters tried in vain to rescue him. They rowed boats out to him, beating drums in order to scare away the fish. They also threw rice dumplings into the water so that the fish would eat them rather than Qu Yuan’s corpse.

Over the centuries, these two customs have evolved into an annual tradition, which is gaining popularity around the world.

Steamed Dumplings

To commemorate the rice dumplings that were thrown into the water to prevent the fish from eating Qu Yuan’s corpse,  people consume yummy dumplings made of sticky rice and other ingredients.

Known as zongzi, some of the dumplings are sweet, some are savoury, and some are spicy. The ingredients vary from region to region.

In addition to sticky rice, other ingredients include  meat, bean paste, raisons, and peanuts.

Hong Kong International Dragon Boat Races

 Dragon Boat Races are held at various locations throughout Hong Kong on the holiday itself. And the Hong Kong International Dragon Boat Races are held on the Saturday and Sunday following the holiday.


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