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 Thursday, 22 June 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.
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 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. 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 2023 (the application deadline is Friday, 2 June). 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.
Where To Watch The Dragon Boat Race In Hong Kong 2023
Since the pandemic, this year’s Dragon Boat Festival will see a full swing of Dragon Boat races all taking place on Thursday, 22 June. Plan out your day trip accordingly to catch the races in Hong Kong this year:
- Sun Life Stanley International Dragon Boat Championships 2023
When & where: 8am to 5pm at Stanley Main Beach.
- Tai O Dragon Boat Water Parade & Race
When & where: 8am to 2pm at Tai O Market Street Bridge.
- Aberdeen Dragon Boat Race
When & where: 8am to 6pm at Aberdeen Promenade/Aberdeen West Typhoon Shelter.
- Cheung Chau Dragon Boat Race
When & where: 10am to 4pm at Cheung Chau Typhoon Shelter.
- Sai Kung Dragon Boat Race
When & where: 8am to 1:30pm to Sai Kung Town Waterfront.
- Tai Po Dragon Boat Race
When & where: 8:30am 1pm at Tai Po Waterfront Promenade.
- Sha Tin Dragon Boat Race
When & where: 8am to 1pm at Shing Mun River.
Read More: Cheung Chau Island Guide
Where To Get Traditional Rice Dumplings In Hong Kong 2023
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 – Place your orders for the Dragon Boat Zhong Zi or the Dragon Boat Zhong Zi, Plus Ma or La Sauce Set. www.chillifagara.com
- The Peninsula – “Zongzi” glutinous rice dumplings as well as zongzi-shaped cookies filled with salted egg yolk or jasmine tea. www.peninsulaboutique.com
- The Ritz-Carlton – Deluxe Rice Dumplings Set with an exquisite new packaging, perfect for gifting. www.ritzcarltonhkshop.com
- Renaissance Harbour View Hotel Hong Kong – Debuting its first ever rice dumplings in three different flavours, with 25% off at its eShop. Call 2802 8888 to place orders.
- Nam Fong at Le Méridien Hong Kong – Two flavours of glutinous rice dumplings for Dragon Boat Festival. lemeridienhkshop.com
Read More: Top Fine Dining Restaurants In Hong Kong
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 2023.
Hero image courtesy of Joshua J. Cotten via Unsplash, image 2 courtesy of Old Hong Kong Photos and The Tales They Tell, Volume 3 by David Bellis, image 3 courtesy of Mae Mu via Unsplash.