Do you know it’s not correct to wish people “Happy Dragon Boat Festival” or “端午节快乐”?

Instead, wish people


(Duānwǔ jié ānkāng)

“May you have a peaceful and healthy Duanwu Festival”

This is because since ancient times, this period is considered a time of really bad luck—associated with disease brought by demons.

In fact, there’s even a saying: 「端午节,天气热,五毒醒,不安宁。(Duānwǔ jié, tiānqì rè, wǔ dú xǐng, bù ānníng.)」which translates as “At the Duanwu Festival, the weather gets hot, the 5 poisons awake, and there is no peace.” Traditionally, the ‘5 poisons’ are snakes, scorpions, centipedes, toads and either lizards or spiders.

So it sounds like back in the day, people got sick a lot at the start of the summer months, when the change in weather brought out all sorts of bugs…)

In many places, folks would paste colourful paper cuttings of the 5 poisons onto walls and doors to ward off disease.

Images of the 5 poisons are also woven into garments and ornaments.

Plants with medicinal or insect-repelling qualities like vanilla, calamus, mugwort, angelica and gardenia flowers are also packed into sachets called 香包 (xiāng bāo) and are hung up, attached to children’s clothing, added to bathwater, and in some places, used to brew tea.

The designs can be very pretty! You can even make your own:


And, the Duanwu Festival is Associated with the Sad Story of Qu Yuan

The most famous legend associated with Duanwu is the sad tale of 屈原 (Qū Yuán, 340–278 BCE), a poet and advisor to the king of the state of 楚 (Chǔ) during the Warring States Period (战国时代 zhàn guó shí dài), 475–221 BCE, which involved fighting between seven or more small kingdoms.

Dragon Boat Festival - Qu Yuan Qu Yuan as depicted in the 九歌 (Jiǔ Gē; lit. ‘Nine Songs’) is an ancient set of poems. This image is believed to date to the 14th century.

Qu Yuan advised the King of Chu to team up with the other states to fight against the strongest state—秦 (Qín).

But officials who were jealous of Qu Yuan said nasty things about him to the King of Chu, and poor Qu Yuan was accused of treason and sent into exile, where he wrote a lot of sad poems.

His most famous work is 离骚 (Lí Sāo), which literally means “Upset at Leaving”, so you get the idea. It’s super-long, but if you’re curious enough, here’s a video of the entire poem being read—together, helpfully, with English annotations.

Anyway, Qu Yuan turned out to be right—the Qin eventually conquered all the warring states and established China’s first unified empire.

When the Qin conquered the Chu (legend has it on the 5th day of the 5th month), Qu Yuan was so heartbroken that he drowned himself in the Miluo River ( 汨罗江 Mìluójiāng (a tributary of the Yangtze), so that he would perish along with his home country.

According to the legend, the common folk so loved Qu Yuan that when they heard he’d thrown himself in the river, they raced out in boats, banging drums and throwing rice dumplings into the water so that the fish would eat the rice and leave Qu Yuan’s body alone.

And hence, we commemorate Qu Yuan on Duanwu by racing dragon boats and eating rice dumplings.

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