The Dragon Boat Festival – Get A Chance To Commemorate The Famous Patriotic Poet Qu Yuan From The Warring States

As one of the traditional folkloric festivals for the Chinese people, the Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated on 5th of May every year (according to the lunar calendar) to commemorate the famous patriotic poet Qu Yuan from the Warring States Period (475 B.C.-221 B.C.), which also has some alternative names in different parts of China owing to the China’s vast territory and multi-ethnic groups, including the Poet Festival, Lungsi Festival, the Double Fifth Festival, the Orchid-Bathing Festival and the Daughter Festival. The Dragon Boat Festival was listed in the first batch Directory of National-Level Non-Material Cultural Heritage by China’s State Council on 20th of May in 2006 and it was selected as “One of Representatives of the Global Non-Material Heritage of Mankind ” by the UNESCO Committee on 30th of September in 2009, which becomes a legal holiday for the Chinese people nowadays.


About The Dragon Boat Itself – The Ultimate Canoe

Although usually not considered a canoe, the dragon boat is the largest craft in existence that uses detached paddles (instead of oars). Interestingly, boating with this design of “canoe” is also the fastest growing team water sport in the world.



It seems that dragon boating started in China perhaps as far back as 7,000 years ago. The boats apparently were built to represent water deities. Mythology was important in China at the time, so the boats were built to appear as dragons…and they likely developed gradually over the centuries into today’s designs.

The boats themselves were originally made from several hollowed out logs lashed together, and the paddles were carved from trees.

Common legend has it that a Chinese poet named Qu Yuan committed suicide 2,500 years ago in the Miluo River as a protest over government corruption at the time. The townspeople raced out to try and retrieve him before the fish ate on him, so now, festivals and dragon boat races are held all over the world in commemoration (loosely) of this event.

Dragon Boat Description Over the centuries dragon boats were built in many sizes and shapes, and were used for both spiritual and competitive purposes. Throughout the years dragon boats have been built to hold from 8 paddlers to over 100 paddlers.

In recent years, the International Dragon Boat Federation (IDBF) was formed to standardize on dragon boat design. As a result, two design standards were created:

  1. The standard Model 1222, which is 40 feet long and holds 20 paddlers (10 to a side), plus the “drummer” (or caller) in the bow of the boat, and a “tiller” (steerer) in the stern of the boat.
  2. The smaller Model 912, which is 30 feet long and holds from 8 to 12 people (10 paddlers, a drummer, and a tiller).

These are the boats we see participating today, although occasionally a festival will have an exhibition boat that holds up to 50 paddlers or so.



In ancient China, dragon boat races were usually held at water festivals, and the competition was sometimes physical in nature, with rocks and debris thrown at each other. A swamped boat with drowning paddlers was considered the will of the water dragon and a fair trade for valuable rainfall and healthy crops.

Fortunately, today’s races are much more civilized, and the IBDF recognizes two basic forms of racing:

  1. Festival racing, which consist of sprint races up to 500 meters.
  2. Sport racing, which is more for “professional” racers, with race lengths up to 2000 meters. Sport racing has very formal rules, while festival races are more informal.

There are various classes of races, by age and experience, from youth races to senior citizen, novice to professional, all male, all female, and mixed crews. These races have grown in popularity dramatically in recent years and it is now estimated that over 50 million people in 60 different countries participate in these races around the world.



The standard paddle used is of wood construction, between 41 inches and 51 inches in length; has a 7-inch wide blade that is squared off at the widest point; has a straight shaft, and a “T” grip that is four inches wide. Obviously, “festival” racers see many kinds of paddles because these races usually follow more informal rules.

So, there you have a brief overview of dragon boats. Considering that this is the fastest growing team water sport in the world…it just might trap your interest as well.


Folk-Customs During Chinese Dragon Boat Festival

Eating rice dumplings (zongzi) is a tradition for people to celebrate the Dragon boat festival the majority of Chinese have in common. Besides this, in celebration of this famous festival, people of various nationalities and areas also have their own folk activities.


Folk Customs In Suzhou

Generally speaking, the Dragon boat festival is held in celebration of the famous poet Qu Yuan of the Warring States Period (475 – 221 BC). However, the festival around Suzhou is in celebration of Ng Gee Sui, and the related celebration activities are 200 years earlier than the commemorative activities for Qu Yuan. In celebration of the festival local people make rice dumplings according to an ancient recipe.


Folk Customs in Zigui County (in the west of Hubei Province)

ZiguiCountyis the hometown of the famous poet Qu Yuan of the Warring States Period, and is widely regarded as the birthplace of dragon boat customs and culture. Visiting Zigui County during dragon boat festival is an ideal opportunity to appreciate the original customs and culture of the festival. You can participate in lively commemorative activities.

For hundreds of years, dragon boat racing has been the largest mass meeting in Zigui County. The best venue to appreciate the race is Muyudao harbor which is only 1 kilometer from the Three Gorges Dam. The yearly race is held on the nearby river. Local people in Zigui like to hang argyi wormwood and drink liquor.

During the dragon boat festival there is a commemorate evening party and an open tournament of dragon boat racing. Traveling to Zigui County, you can also go sightseeing at the Three Gorges Dam and Jiuwanxi mini cruise area. You can take a flight from Guangzhou to Yichang, and take a bus from Yichang to Zigui County.


Folk Customs in Zengcheng (a county-level city of Guangdong Province)

The folk customs are subject to local weather conditions. As the temperature in the fifth month of the lunar calendar is increasing day by day, in order to bring down the temperature, local people wash their hair with sweet flag (acorus calamus), drink liquor and eat rice dumplings. They also visit their parental homes or exchange presents with their friends and relatives.

The most characteristic activity is the dragon boat racing, when friends and relatives gather together to watch the boat races and eat dragon boat rice. Dragon boat festival rice is a kind of fried rice, containing sleeve-fish, agaric mushrooms, small shrimps, and glutinous rice. Tourists coming to watch the boat race will be invited to have the rice.


Folk Customs in Sanjiang County of Guangxi Province

During the Dragon Boat festival, the people of Sanjiang County in Guangxi Province hold male and female boat races. They make dumplings, offer sacrifices to Qu Yuan, and ancestral spirits. You can also appreciate Chengyang Bridge, which is ranked as the one of the world’s top 10 most spectacular bridges, and the songs of the Dong nationality, which are a national intangible cultural heritage.


Folk Customs in Stockaded Villages of the Miao Nationality in Guizhou

People of the Miao ethnic minority hold the dragon boat festival in celebration of dragons, rivers, and ancestors. They hold a dragon canoe festival that is unique in the world. Their unique dragon canoes are very small and narrow, and they can only carry one person. In Shidong town of Taijiang County there is a dragon boat museum that is the first boat museum in China.

Their local Dragon Boat Festival is held from the 20th to the 24th day of the 5th month of the lunar calendar. You can take a flight from Guangzhou to Guiyang and then transfer to Kaili City. Taijiang County is about 38 kilometers from Kaili City.


Folk Customs in Mayang County of Hunan Province

The Dragon Boat festival is held in celebration of the legendary ancestor of the Miao minority, Panhu. The festival lasts 17 days from the first day to the 17th day of the 5th month of the lunar calendar. The villages near Panhu Temple organize various entertainment activities and invite troupes to provide performances. Boat racing is also an unmissable activity held during that period. You can take a flight from Guangzhou to Zhijiang Airport of Huaihua City, about 300 kilometers west of Changsha, and then transfer to Mayang, 50 kilometers north.


Dragon Boat Festival In Chinese History

It was recorded in the Book of History written by Sima Qian from the Western Han dynasty (206-25), “Qu Yuan, minister of King Huai of Chu State in the Warring States Period (475 B.C.-221 B.C.), advocated recommending the capable and virtuous persons to make his country rich and fighting against the Qin State by allaying the Qi State, who met with fierce opposition from Zi Lan (a treacherous court official), and he was exiled to Yuan and Xiang areas by King Huai of Chu State owing to the malignant slanders. Qu Yuan wrote Li Sao (a poem collection) during his exiled days, in which he showed great concern to the Chu State and the people in it. The Qin Army captured Ying (Capital of the Chu State) in 278 B.C., resulting in the demise of the Chu State. Out of despair, Quan Yuan committed suicide in the Mingluo River when his motherland was destroyed. ”

The earliest legend about the Dragon Boat Festival was recorded in Xu Qi Xie Ji written by Wu Jun from the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420-581), and it read, “The local people tried to retrieve his corpse by boats after hearing the news that the patriotic poet Qu Yuan committed suicide in the Miluo River, and they rowed boats in the Dongting Lake and found nothing. The rain suddenly poured, and the fishermen living on the Dongting Bank also participated in searching the corpse of Qu Yuan when they heard of his story. The Zongzi were thrown into the lake by the local people to feed fish, who believed that the fish would eat Zong zi instead of Qu Yuan’s body. In ancient times, the local people often rowed boats in the Dongting Lake to express their grief over Qu Yuan’s death, which evolves to the present Dragon Boat Racing as time goes by.


Now, you have all the bits and pieces about the Dragon boat festival needed to get you to China this year! Dragon boat racing is a great way to get outdoors, get a bit of exercise, and meet people. The electric excitement of the sport is captivating and invigorating. Enjoy your vacation!

Visit information about festivals section to explore a full list of festivals around the world yearly!