Every year, on the 5th day of the 5th month of the lunar calendar, the people of China celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival. In 2014, the epic event is scheduled for June 2nd. Chinese communities all over the world burst to life for a day, as long tail boats are raced, dumplings are eaten, drums are beaten and traditional customs followed.
If you’re able to spend the day in Shanghai, you’re in for a special treat. With a population of more than 14 million people (making it China’s biggest city), it hosts celebrations of massive proportions. Here’s a few tips to help you get the most of out of them.
How the Dragon Boat Festival started
Before we get into the nitty gritty of what you can expect of the day, let’s pause for a quick history lesson. According to popular belief, the origins of the Dragon Boat Festival lie in the actions of a Chu State official by the name of Qu Yuan. An active exposer of corruption, he was ultimately exiled. It was at this point that he started composing the poetry for which he eventually became famous. However, Qu Yuan’s life ended in tragedy when he threw himself into the Miluo River following the Qin Dynasty’s overthrowing of the Zhou.
Local villagers rushed to the riverbanks in an attempted rescue. Fishermen jumped in their long boats and paddled around, looking for Qu Yuan’s struggling body while beating drums to frighten away fish. Once they realised there was no hope, the locals tossed pork and rice dumplings (also known as zongzi) into the water. Some say the hope was that this would deter the fish from feasting on the villagers’ hero and beloved poet. Others say the idea was to provide food for Qu Yuan in the afterlife.
Where does the race happen in Shanghai?
The epicentre of Shanghai’s Dragon Boat Festival, and the place where the race happens, is Lake Jinji. To get there, catch Metro Line 1 to the Cultural Expo Centre Station. As soon as you find yourself amongst an enormous crowd, you’ll know you’re in the right place. Alternatively, grab a taxi.
What time does the race start?
Warm-ups kick off at around 8am. The opening ceremony starts at 10:00am and the race leaps into action at 10:30am. Given that so many people attend each year, you’re advised to arrive early to maximise your chances of getting a good view. When it’s all over, stay patient and wait for the crowd to slowly disperse.
What can I expect?
One of the reasons that Shanghai’s Dragon Boat Race is particularly exciting is its international dimension. More than fifty teams compete, representing nations all over the world. So you’ll find that the crowd is made up of not only of locals, but of people from all parts, cheering for their favourite brightly-coloured, dragon-themed boats and drumming out rhythms to accompany the race. 2014’s event is the 11th international one to be held in Shanghai.
It’s certainly recommended that you book yourself a hotel or suite before leaving home. There’s great accommodation in Shanghai – especially if you’re contemplating treating yourself to a little luxury.
The Dragon Boat Festival is exciting, not only for the race itself, but also for the accompanying local traditions. In remembrance of Qu Yuan, the locals feast on rice dumplings, drink special wine, wear incense bags said to ward off contagious diseases, and hang insect-repelling acorus and Artemisia in their doors and windows.
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We are Gadi and Tun - the midlife runaways. We regard our selves as a “world citizens” and currently we live and explore in China. We've decided to start this blog to share our awe and adventures with friends, family and all the people who love to travel. Feel free to comment and to join. And most important, don’t forget the state of “Being in Awe” with the world.
Hi there! We are a couple, and we like to travel. We regard our selves as a “world citizens” and currently we live and explore in China. We’ve decided to start this blog to share our awe and adventures with friends, family and all the people who love to travel. Feel free to comment and to join. And most important, don’t forget the state of “Being in Awe”.