Every year during the 5th day of the 5th lunar month (usually May or June), The Dragon Boat Festival brings together thousands of rowers and spectators from all over the world. It’s back again June 9-12 this year, and we’re readying ourselves with a history lesson ahead of the weekend.
Traditionally know as Tueng Ng, Dragon Boat Festival dates back more than 2,000 years. While there are several origin stories associated with the festival, it is generally believed to have originated during the ancient Warring States Period (475 to 221 BC). The most common legend traces the festival’s roots back to the story of Qu Yuan, a poet and patriot during the 3rd century who dedicated his life to reforming his hometown in the state of Chu.
After being exiled by the king, Qu Yuan wrote poetry expressing his love for his state and concerns for the people. But upon learning that outsiders had conquered his hometown, the patriot committed suicide by jumping into the river on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month.
According to legend, the local fishermen rushed to the river to save Qu Yuan from drowning, but it was too late. His body could not be found. The fishermen raced back and forth on their boats beating drums to deter evil spirits and throwing rice in the river to stop fish from eating Qu Yuan’s body.
To commemorate Qu Yuan’s life, Tueng Ng came to fruition. Of course it’s a good bit different today — now the Dragon Boat Festival comprises a fun-filled weekend event involving fiercely competitive races, marching bands, clowns, dancers, music and lots of beer.
But some things haven’t changed at all: we eat zongzi rice dumplings to symbolize the rice thrown in the river, and the sound of drumming still fills the air as the dragon boats paddle towards the finish line.