June is fast approaching and China is gearing up for the annual Dragon Boat Festival, a colourful cultural display featuring traditional dancing, rhythmic music, and exhilarating boat races.
As one of the oldest festivals in China, the history of the Dragon Boat Festival is steeped in myth and legend, and although today it is a joyous occasion the origins of the festival stem from tragedy. The most widely believed theory dates back some 2,000 years ago when the beloved nationalist poet Qu Yuan threw himself into a river after he became despaired by the political state of the country, and his inability to instil change. It is said that the townspeople rushed to their boats and began throwing rice into the river, splashing their oars in the water and vigorously beating their drums in an effort to scare away any fish or evil spirits that might prey on his body and soul.
Held on the fifth day of the fifth month (by the Chinese calendar) every year this annual festival, also known as Duanwu, commemorates Qu Yuan’s death with traditional dancing, rhythmic music, plentiful food, free-flowing drink and exhilarating boat races. In the early hours of the morning bodies of water across the country fill with ornately decorated boats, carved and brightly painted from snout to tail to resemble fearsome dragons. In teams rowers scull swiftly to the finish line, edged on by the rhythm of a beating drum at the stern of the boat, and the winner is declared when a rower manages to climb over the dragon’s head to grab a flag at the finish line.
The races are best viewed riverside where you can soak up the festive atmosphere and cheer on your favourite rowers. If you are feeling peckish during the competitions, the snack of choice is Zongzi, a sticky rice dumpling wrapped in bamboo with various fillings, such as dates, sweetened bean paste, or fresh meat. Following the races the party continues into the evening with firework displays, exuberant dancing and lively music.
This year the Dragon Boat Race Festival falls on 6 June 2013, and although it is celebrated throughout the country – and the world – Suzhou and Hong Kong are two of the best places to soak up the festive atmosphere. You can take in the highlights of China and witness this colourful cultural display in Suzhou on our Dragon Boat Festival tour departing 1 June 2013 – or we’d also be happy to tailor an itinerary specifically for you!