Everything You Need To Know About The Dragon Boat Festival: And Where To Watch In Hong Kong

Reading Time: 3 minutesThe Dragon Boat Festival is one of the oldest holidays celebrated in China, and in Hong Kong the races draw crowds from all over the island. It’s a great day out with the kids, filled with drums, colours, pageantry and roaring sportsmanship. This year the Dragon Boat Festival will be held on Thursday 22 June 2023 in Hong Kong.

Dragon Boats lined up on the beach with crowds watching hong kong

What is the Meaning of the Dragon Boat Festival

The Dragon Boat Festival is known as 端午节 DuānwǔJié in Chinese, and Tuen Ng (端午節, tuen ng jit) in Cantonese in Hong Kong. The name for the festival in China was originally the ‘Upright Sun Festival’, but this was changed to the Dragon Boat Festival because of the dragon boat races that were held during the festival. It is also referred to as the ‘Double Fifth Festival’ since it usually falls on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month. The Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, China, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, and within Chinese communities in other countries.

There are a few different origin stories about the festival, but the most notable and popular in China is that the festival commemorates the death of Qu Yuan, a poet and minister who is said to have committed suicide in a river on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. He was said to have committed suicide after becoming disillusioned with his country’s government and being disgraced and dismissed from his office. Mourning the death of the poet, locals rushed to the river on their boats, and banging drums to scare away anything that might harm his body, they also threw cooked rice into the river for the fish. The spirit of Qu Yuan is said to have appeared in the river to tell the locals that a huge reptile had stolen the rice offerings and suggested that they wrap the rice in silk and bind it with threads before throwing it in the river. This gave rise to the custom of eating “Zong Zi” (boiled glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves) and rice dumplings.

Chinese glutinous rice dumplings zongzi

Another popular story about the festival dates back to the Qin Dynasty (221–206 BC). The fifth month of the lunar calendar and the fifth day was thought to be bad luck. Folklore says that venomous animals like snakes, centipedes, and scorpions appeared during this time,  and that people became sick. As a result of these stories, people put pictures of the five poisonous creatures on the wall and stuck needles in them to avoid bad luck during the Dragon Boat Festival time. Ceremonies and performances developed from these practices in many areas, making the Dragon Boat Festival a day for getting rid of disease and bad luck.

A dragon Boat on the water in hong kong

Does Hong Kong Celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival?

The Dragon boat festival hosts races that take place at a number of places across the island, most notably near Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour. The races are very colourful, dramatic, and a must see for anyone in Hong Kong during this time. People gather to watch the races, cheer teams on, eat “Zong Zi”  and drink Realgar wine or Xiong Huang, a Chinese alcoholic drink made from Chinese yellow wine dosed with powdered realgar (a yellow-orange arsenic sulfide mineral also known as “rice wine”).

The Dragon boats, often painted elaborately, look like long canoes which vary in size and can accommodate 20 – 80 people. The team members sit facing forward and, unlike in other boat racing crafts, the oars are not rigged to the craft. The boat crews paddle to the beat of a drummer who sits in the boat. Race categories are divided up into small boats, standard boats, open events, women’s events, and mixed categories.

Person playing a drum sittong on top of a Dragon Boat in hong kong

Where to watch the Dragon Boat Races in Hong Kong

The dragon boat races return this year after a four year hiatus. They are free to watch and there are many popular places to watch from.

  • The Dragon Boat Carnival or Hong Kong International Dragon Boat Races will take place 24-25 June off Tsim Sha Tsui East Promenade. You can watch the races along the promenade on both sides of the Harbour, just follow the crowds!
  • The Stanley International Dragon Boat Championships will take place on 22 June 2023. They will take place on the main beach (8am – 5pm) and will feature over 168 teams with more than 5,000 paddlers. In addition to the races will be fun games and activities for young and old, including face painting. For information visit The Stanley Dragon Boat Association

All images courtesy of Shutterstock

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Roopal Popat
Roopal Popat is a content writer, editor, and copywriter with a focus on all aspects of health, parenting, education, families, and lifestyle. She also edits in the global real estate and finance sectors. Roopal holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature and American Studies. Her career spans across Project Management, Business Analysis, Finance recruitment and Training and Development, having worked in the UK, New York, and Hong Kong. Born in the UK, and bought up in Tanzania, Roopal enjoys traveling and spending time with her 2 children and husband.

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