Best Places in China to See the Dragon Boat Festival

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Dragon Boat Festival (端午节) has been held in the Middle Kingdom for over 2000 years. On the 5th day of the 5th month of the Chinese calendar man-powered boats race down rivers and lakes all over the country while bystanders snack on bamboo-leaf wrapped rice packages called zongzi (粽子). 

The origin story of this festival varies regionally, but the most common one is that of the poet Qu Yuan. According to legend, Qu Yuan was a member of the Chu emperor’s house where he served in a position of high office. When the king planned to form an allegiance with the rival Qin emperor, Qu spoke out in opposition. He was promptly charged with treason and banished accordingly. While exiled, Qu Yuan turned to poetry, the writings of which gained famed across the whole of China and remain today some of the most revered works in the nation’s history. 

Eventually the allegiance between the Chu and Qin emperors turned sour, as Qu Yan had predicted. Qu Yan was so distraught by this news that he threw himself into the Miluo River and died. Qu Yan’s loyal followers searched far and wide for his body in the river, but none was to be found. Hoping to keep the fish from eating Qu Yan’s body, they threw rice balls into the river for the fish to eat instead.
And such is the gruesome tale believed by many to be the origin of today’s lively Dragon Boat festivities.

What to Eat

As you probably guessed, those rice balls that the people threw into the river eventually evolved into the modern day leaf-wrapped rice snack known as zongzi. Zongzi are ubiquitous during Dragon Boat Festival. They are traditionally made of glutinous sticky rice with a centre of either meat or sweet fruit. The package is then wrapped in bamboo leaves and tied with string before being boiled.

Here in the WildChina Beijing office, we celebrate the upcoming festival with zongzi and zhajiangmian (a traditional Beijing noodle dish) made by our favorite Zhang Ayi.

Three Great Places to Catch Dragon Boat Festival

Here are some of our favorite places to watch the annual dragon boat races and festivities:


Xixi Wetland, Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province

Hangzhou has an annual International Dragon Boat Race at the Xixi wetlands, just 5 km from West Lake. Here fancifully designed boats can be viewed from the perch of a high pavilion while sipping local tea and with sounds of Chinese opera performances echoing in the background.

Once the boat races are over the zongzi-making competitions begin. Make sure not to miss this!

Photo by Matteo X via Flickr

Qingshui River, Guizhou

The Miao people really don’t hold back when it comes to their dragon boat festivities. In addition to the boat racing itself, there is also horse racing, instrument processions, and folk singing and dancing.

Best Places in China to See the Dragon Boat Festival

Miluo River, Yueyang, Hunan 

If you’re in for a classic Dragon Boat Festival experience, then the Miluo River is the place to be. This is the exact river where Qu Yuan was said to have met his fate. In addition to the dragon boat racing and general holiday festivities, there are also many odes to Qu Yan found around the town.

Dragon boat Festival