29 May, 2024
Dragon Boat Festival main image
Dragon Boat Festival main image
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What To Know About The Dragon Boat Festival In Hong Kong

29 May, 2024
Dragon Boat Festival main image

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 about 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 Monday, 10 June but there’s more to this holiday than a race that draws the crowds. Read on to find out uncover its origins, the deeper meaning behind the Dragon Boat race, customs, traditions, and more. 

Jump To:
The Origins Of The Dragon Boat Festival
Why A Dragon Boat?
Dragon Boat Festivities To Know
Where To Watch The Dragon Boat Race In Hong Kong 2024
Where To Get Traditional Rice Dumplings In Hong Kong 2024

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Dragon Boat Festival Origins

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).

The story revolves around a poet named Qu Yuan from the Chu kingdom, who 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 then accused of treason and was exiled by the king.

28 years later, the Qin kingdom then eventually got its hand on the Chu kingdom, 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 glutinous rice into the river so the fish would eat the rice balls instead of Qu Yuan’s body. They also banged gongs and drums to scare the fish away. This act of mourning and respect for the loyal poet marked the beginning of the Dragon Boat Festival tradition.

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Why A Dragon Boat?

The dragon holds significant symbolic meaning in Chinese culture, being the only mythical creature among the 12 Chinese zodiac animals. It’s associated with royalty and believed to be the ruler 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 during this time.

The boat’s dragon head is also symbolic of the belief that the vessel will awaken the dragon from its slumber. By adorning the boats with a dragon’s head, it is believed that the powerful creature will be summoned and bestow its protective grace upon the participants and spectators of the festival.

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Dragon Boat Festival festivities to know race

Dragon Boat Festivities To Know

Dragon Boat Races

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 them on. After the race, there would be a Dragon Boat Carnival along the Victoria Harbour promenade. The prominent dragon boat races and teams in Hong Kong include the Stanley Dragon Boat Championships, the Hong Kong China Dragon Boat Association, and the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club.

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Rice Dumplings

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.

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Dragon Boat Festival races

Where To Watch The Dragon Boat Race In Hong Kong 2024

This year’s Dragon Boat Festival will see most Dragon Boat races taking place on Monday, 10 June. Plan out your day trip accordingly to catch the races in Hong Kong this year:

  • Aberdeen Dragon Boat Race
    When & where: 8:30am to 4pm at Aberdeen Promenade/Aberdeen West Typhoon Shelter.
  • Stanley International Dragon Boat Championships
    When & where: 8am to 5pm at Stanley Main Beach.
  • Sai Kung Tuen Ng Festival
    When & where: 8am to 2.30pm (races); 10am to 1pm (carnival) at Sai Kung Waterfront and Promenade.
  • Sha Tin Dragon Boat Race
    When & where: 8am to 1pm at Shing Mun River (Banyan Bridge-Sha Yin Bridge).
  • Tai Po Dragon Boat Race
    When & where: 8:30am to 1pm at Tai Po Waterfront Park Promenade
  • Tuen Mun Dragon Boat Race
    When & where: 9am 1pm at Castle Peak Bay, Area 44, Tuen Mun.
  • Sha Tin Dragon Boat Race
    When & where: 8am to 1pm at Shing Mun River.

There are also other dragon boat races occurring on different dates:

  • Eastern District Dragon Boat Race
    When & where: Sunday, June 2, 2024; 8am to 5pm at Chai Wan, Cargo Handling Area, Chai Wan Waterfront.
  • Hong Kong International Dragon Boat Races
    When & where: Saturday, June 15, 2024 to Sunday June 16, 2024; 8am to 5:30pm at Tsim Sha Tsui East Promenade.
  • Tai O Dragon Boat Water Parade & Dragon Boat Races
    When & where: Sunday, June 30, 2024; 7am–2pm (Dragon Boat Parade) and 10am–2pm (Dragon Boat Races) at Tai O Creek and Pier (Dragon Boat Parade) and Tai O Promenade (Dragon Boat Races).

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Dragon Boat Festival rice dumplings

Where To Get Traditional Rice Dumplings In Hong Kong 2024

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.

  • Yue at Sheraton Hong Kong Tung Chung Hotel – Whole conpoy and pork belly rice dumplings, sweetened red bean and aged tangerine peel rice dumplings, vegetarian rice dumplings, and an exquisite abalone rice dumpling filled with premium ingredients. sheratontungchungshop.com
  • The Ritz-Carlton – Premium Sweet Rice Dumplings Gift Set features a Shanghainese-style sweet rice dumpling, a red bean paste and mandarin peel rice dumpling. The limited edition Deluxe Dumplings will also be available, which is filled with ingredients like abalone, conpoy, and pork. www.ritzcarltonhkshop.com
  • Lung King Heen at Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong – Enjoy a selection of glutinous rice dumplings, including osmanthus and sweet potato, whitebait, conpoy, and termite mushroom, as well as organic glutinous grain rice dumplings with abalone and conpoy, paired with Yingde Black Tea No.9. shopfourseasonshk.com
  • Man Ho at JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong – Dried Abalone and Red Bean & Pork Glutinous Rice Dumpling Gift Set features a 600g dried abalone glutinous rice dumpling and a 300g red bean and pork glutinous rice dumpling, available in an elegant gift box or thermal bag. jwmarriotthkoffers.com
  • Golden Leaf at Conrad Hong Kong – Enjoy a 22% off its bundle featuring Executive Chef Tony Wan’s handcrafted Deluxe Rice Dumpling with conpoy and a set of three mini rice dumplings with lotus seed Paste. eshop.conraddining.com

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Editor’s Note: “What To Know About The Dragon Boat Festival In Hong Kong” was first published by Fashila Kanakka and most recently updated in May 2024 by Catherine Pun.

Main image courtesy of kevin zheng via Flickr, image 1 courtesy of flytosky11 via Getty, image 2 courtesy of viktor gorskov via Flickr, image 3 courtesy of Windzepher via Getty, image 4 courtesy of michael nero jonnes via Getty.

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