Row row row your boat! You’ve probably heard of the Dragon Boat Festival, may have joined the celebrations and even cheered for the race, but how well do you know this ancient fête?
For some, it’s getting an adrenaline rush from watching the races, for others it may even be participating in the race and joining in on the festivities and, for the rest, it’s another day off in Hong Kong. This year, the Dragon Boat Festival falls on Friday, 3 June (yes, another long weekend!) but there’s more to the holiday than a race that draws the crowds. Read on to find out about its origins, the meaning behind the Dragon Boat race, customs, traditions and more.
The Origins Of The Dragon Boat Festival
While the Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated in Hong Kong, Mainland China and across Southeast Asian countries (Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Korea, Vietnam and Indonesia included), its origins come from Ancient China during the Zhou dynasty (1050–221 BCE). A poet named Qu Yuan from the Chu kingdom served as a high-ranking official for the royal household. The ruler of the Chu kingdom wanted to form an alliance with the Qin kingdom (believed to have had a corrupt system), a decision that Qu Yuan opposed. He was accused of treason and was exiled by the king.
28 years later, the Qin kingdom then eventually got its hand on Chu, and a despaired Qu Yuan retorted to ending his life by drowning in the Miluo River. Given that he was a respected figure by the general public of the Chu kingdom, his followers rushed in their boats to save him but couldn’t find his body. As a result, they started dropping balls of glutenous rice into the river so the fish would eat the rice balls instead of Qu Yuan’s body and banged gongs and drums to scare the fish away. And that’s how the tradition of the Dragon Boat Festival began.
Read more: Lunar New Year Traditions & Taboos Explained
Why A Dragon Boat?
The dragon is the only mythical creature amongst the 12 Chinese zodiac animals and is associated with royalty and believed to be rulers of the water element. The Dragon Boat Festival falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunisolar calendar (a month that’s considered inauspicious), with worshippers seeking the creature to ward off evil spirits and bad luck. The boat’s dragon head is also symbolic of the belief that the vessel will awaken the dragon from its slumber.
Dragon Boat Festivities To Know
Dragon Boat Race
Pre-pandemic, almost 30,000 dragon boat racers from around the world would come to Hong Kong to compete, garnering a large crowd all ready to cheer. After the race, there would be a Dragon Boat Carnival along the Victoria Harbour promenade. If you want to participate in the race, you can sign up for the Stanley Dragon Boat Championships 2022 (the application deadline is Monday, 23 May). Other dragon boat teams and training centres include the Hong Kong China Dragon Boat Association and the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club.
Sassy Tip: If you want to beat the crowds and enjoy the race almost as if you’re participating in it, book a junk boat!
To commemorate Qu Yuan, traditional sticky rice dumplings, known as zong in Cantonese and zongzi in Mandarin, are widely consumed. These pyramid-shaped dumplings are stuffed in either sweet or savoury ingredients (depending on the region you’re from) and are wrapped in bamboo leaves and tied together using string.
Read more: Your Guide To Dim Sum In Hong Kong
Where To Watch The Dragon Boat Race In Hong Kong
- Victoria Harbour at Central Harbourfront
- Stanley Main Beach
- Tai O Waterfront
- Aberdeen Promenade
- Cheung Chau Typhoon Shelter
- Sai Kung Town Waterfront
- Tai Pak Beach, Discovery Bay
Read more: Your Neighbourhood Guide To Cheung Chau
Where To Get Traditional Rice Dumplings In Hong Kong 2022
A number of Hong Kong hotels and restaurants are offering traditional rice dumplings to mark this year’s Dragon Boat Festival, each one coming in a variety of fillings.
- Chilli Fagara, 7 Old Bailey Street, Central, Hong Kong, 2796 6866, www.chillifagara.com/shop
- Golden Leaf, Lower Lobby, Conrad Hong Kong, Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Admiralty, Hong Kong, 2822 8870, conraddining.com/golden-leaf
- Island Shangri-La, Supreme Court Road, Admiralty, Hong Kong, 2877 3838, www.shangri-la.com/hongkong/islandshangrila
- The Legacy House, 5/F, Rosewood Hong Kong Victoria Dockside, 18 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong, 3891 8732, www.rosewoodhotels.com/the-legacy-house
- Man Ho Chinese Restaurant, 3/F, JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong, Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Admiralty, Hong Kong, 2810 8366, www.marriott.com/man-ho-chinese-restaurant
- Regal Hongkong Hotel, 88 Yee Wo Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, 2890 6633, www.regalhotel.com/regal-hongkong-hotel
- Sheraton Hong Kong Tung Chung, Lantau Island, 9 Yi Tung Road, Tung Chung, Hong Kong, 2535 0000, www.marriott.com/sheraton-hong-kong-tung-chung-hotel
- Spring Moon, 1/F, The Peninsula Hong Kong, Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong, 2696 6760, www.peninsula.com/peninsula-spring-moon-rice-dumplings
Read more: Your Guide To Fine Dining In Hong Kong