It is customary to eat a traditional Dragon Boat dumpling; made with sticky rice, beans, and meat wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves, named zongzi. The rice in the dumpling becomes permeated by the fragrant oils from the leaves when steamed. Then, it is unwrapped and enjoyed by people all over the country. However, despite its well-ingrained customs, there is no definite agreement on where the dragon boat story first originated from. There are a few people that circulate telling the tales of its beginning.
The first story is about a man named Wu Zixu. Wu was an advisor to King Fuchai. One day, a beautiful woman named Xishi was sent by King Goujian from the kingdom of Yue. King Fuchai fell in love with Xishi, but Wu Zixu was suspicious. He warned King Fuchai of Xishi but the King became enraged by Wu's doubts. King Fuchai ordered that Wu Zixu was to be drowned in the river on the 5th day of the 5th month. This is believed the be the reason why the festival is celebrated on this specific day.
The second story is about a young girl named Cao E. Cao E's father, Cao Xu, was a shaman. While performing a ceremony, Cao Xu accidentally fell into the river Shun. In an act of respect, Cao E jumped into the river to save him. She searched for him for 3 days. 5 days later, both of their bodies were found washed up on the banks of the river Shun. This story is the reason why the practice of xiào is considered so important during the Dragon Boat Festival.
Perhaps the most plausible is about a young man named Qu Yuan. Qu was banished from his kingdom, Chu, after disagreeing with the king's decision to ally with a neighboring kingdom, Qin. Twenty-eight years later Qu learned that Qin had captured the capital of Chu. His sadness was so great that he drowned himself in the Miluo river. It is told that the local people, who had loved him during his exile from Chu raced to save him. When his body could not be recovered, they dropped balls of sticky rice into the river to encourage the fish to leave his body be. This is said to be the origins not only of the dragon boat festival but also of zongzi.
However, most people believe that the Dragon Boat festival existed long before these stories were told. Dragons have long been a symbol for masculine energy in Chinese culture and it this holiday is celebrated around the summer solstice. With the combination of two masculine symbols, both the sun and the dragon it is considered to be a very auspicious day.
The Dragon Boat Festival is a must-see if traveling in China during festival time. As this holiday is celebrated nationwide, there are no parameters dictated regarding location. The bustling of communities all coming out to show support for the teams can be something of a rarity to see, especially in the high-rise cities of China. The Dragon Boat Festival gives a glimpse into the practices and values of an Ancient China, that are so often lost since it's modern development. The feeling of community spirit and familial ties are strongest during this festival, making it a true pleasure to experience.