A

A performer dances at a Dragon Boat festival in Beijing

For over 2,500 years, China has celebrated the Dragon Boat Festival on the Fifth day of the Fifth lunar month.  This year, that day is June 6th. The Festival is a huge celebration for China, drawing millions of locals and tourists alike. If you are in China, this celebration is not to be missed.

The Dragon Boat Festival commemorates the popular Chinese patriot, Qu Yuan. (Chu Yuan) who, in the 3rd century in protest of a corrupt government, threw himself into the Mi Lo River.  When the local people found out what he had done they ran to the river to try to rescue him, but they were too late. So, they threw rice patties into the water to stop the fish from eating him up. Today, rice dumplings or zongzi are eaten to symbolize the rice offerings on behalf of Qu Yuan.

Another tradition believes that wearing a scented pouch around your neck protects you from evil. So on this day, children decorate their clothes with diversely fragranced pouches. The small pouches are made of a colorful silk cloth stringed with a five-color silk thread.

The five-color silk tread is also tied to a child's wrists, ankles, and around the neck. Five-color thread is thought to contain magical and healing properties that will protect the child from injury or illness.

However, the most exciting custom of this festival is the Dragon Boat races. The boats are painted with bright colors and are adorned with a dragon head and tail. The boats can be anywhere from 40 to 100 feet (12 to 30 meters) long and can contain up to 80 rowers. A drummer stands at the front of the boat to keep time, while the flag-catcher stretches to the front to try and grab the hanging flag at the finish line- winning the race. Before the boats enter the water, an official paints red eyes onto the faces, bringing the dragons to life.

 

Racers

Racers paddle to the finish line.

Waterways all over China will be filled with floating dragons and cheering spectators.

Many parks in Beijing have water activities during the Dragon Boat festival including:

On June 14, Shunyi Olympic Water Park will hold the 2nd Beijing Dragon Boat Cultural Festival with traditional boat races. http://english.sina.com/china/2010/0613/324732.html

On June 16, Longtan Park, in the Chongwen District will hold the 3rd Beijing Longtan Dragon Boat Cultural Festival. http://www.beijingimpression.com/news/Dragon-Boat-Festival-Beijing-2010-Cultural-events.shtml

If you are in Shanghai on June 6th, you can watch the 8th annual Dragon Boat racing on the Suzhou River, in the Putuo District. http://www.meet-in-shanghai.net/sports_events.php#06

Hong Kong offers a number of races, including the largest International Dragon Boat race, the Stanley International Dragon Boat Championship 2011 on June 6, at Stanley Main Beach, Stanley. http://www.dragonboat.org.hk/