Summer holiday in China & Asia⇔Holiday: China’s Dragon Boat Festival
© Jun 2023 Michael Krigline
Note to teachers: This post contains an article and discussion questions, suitable for conversational English classes.
What is your favorite kind of race to watch, and why?
Vocabulary: (underlined terms in the article) *key terms sth = something; sb = somebody
- *drown/drowned: to die by being under water too long
- exile: situation in which you are forced to live outside your country, especially for political reasons
- *figurehead: a statue or image placed on the front of ships (figuratively, the term refers to someone who seems to be the leader of a country or organization but who has no real power, just like the figurehead of a ship has no power)
- *grieve: to feel very sad, esp because a loved one has died
- *patriot/patriotic: someone who loves and is loyal to his/her country; “patriotic” is “like a patriot” or “expressing love for your country”
- savory: salty food (opposite of “sweet”)
- statesman: a widely-respected political leader, known for his fair-minded view in international affairs
- sticky: describes sth that clings to your hands, like tape or honey
- *to no avail: without success; indicating that sb worked hard but did not get what they wanted/expected
- treason: the crime of being disloyal to your country or its government
China’s Dragon Boat Festival
(by Michael Krigline, 2023)
If you are near a river in China in early summer, ask your friends to invite you to celebrate the 2000-year-old Dragon Boat Festival (端午节). Continue reading to find out how lucky dragons, a loyal statesman, and sticky rice all relate to this holiday.
Qu Yuan (born 339BC) was a decorated Chu state official and patriotic poet during China’s Warring States period. He advised the king to join forces with the state of Qi, hoping to defeat the powerful state of Qin, but jealous officials dismissed his advice and accused Qu Yuan of treason. In exile, he wrote many beautiful poems praising China and its beauty, but eventually the Qin state rose and conquered his homeland, which greatly distressed the patriot. The 5th day of the 5th lunar month was known as an evil or unlucky day, so on that date in 278 BC, Qu Yuan threw himself into the Miluo River and drowned, sacrificing his life due to love for his country. The poet’s grieving admirers beat their drums and rowed their boats up and down the river to search for his body, but to no avail. Legends say that they also threw rice balls into the water so the fish would not eat Qu Yuan’s body. This story explains why the main elements of Dragon Boat festivities today are patriotism, boat races and eating sticky-rice balls (called zongzi).
To honor Qu Yuan (and to ward off bad luck), people eventually started dragon-boat races on “Double Five Day” (the 5th day of the 5th lunar month). The practice has been around for centuries, but “DiscoverHongKong.com” says the modern version dates back to 1976, when the first International Dragon Boat Race was held in Hong Kong. Today, more than 100 local and international teams compete in the race. Boats normally have a dragon as figurehead (for good luck); boats with 20 team-members race for 500 meters. Top crews can paddle the boats at speeds over 12 miles per hour.
Zongzi is made in many flavors, usually wrapped and steamed in broad bamboo leaves. In Hong Kong, savory zongzi has pork belly, roasted duck, salted eggs, and/or mushrooms. Sweet zongzi is often made with red bean paste and/or sweet potatoes.
The western date of lunar “Double Five Day” changes every year. But in major cities all over Asia, watching dragon boat races, eating zongzi, and honoring patriotism are popular ways to celebrate.
- Choose the correct term in each of these sentences from the article.
- 1. If you are near a river in China in early summer, ask your friends to invite you to celebrate/celebrating the 2000-year-old Dragon Boat Festival
- 2. Qu Yuan was a decorated Chu state official and patriot/patriotic poet.
- 3. Jealous officials demised/dismissed Qu Yuan’s advice and accused him of treason.
- 4. In exile, he wrote many beautiful poems appraising/praising China and its beauty.
- 5. The poet’s grieving admirers beat their drums and rowed/road their boats up and down the river to search for his body, but to no avail.
- 6. Legends say that they also throw/threw rice balls into the water so the fish would not eat Qu Yuan’s body.
- 7. To horror/honor Qu Yuan, people eventually started dragon-boat races on “Double Five Day.”
- 8. In 1976, the first International Dragon Boat Race was hold/held in Hong Kong.
- 9. Today, more than 100 local and international teams compete/competing in the race.
- 10. Boats with 20 team-members race/races for 500 meters. Top crews can paddle the boats at speeds over 12 miles per hour.
- 11. In major cities all over Asian/Asia, watching dragon boat races, eating zongzi, and honoring patriotism are popular ways to celebrate this festival.
For answers, see the text.
(See discussion questions below)
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- If you have ever seen a dragon-boat race, tell us about this experience. (If not, talk about any memorable race, or dragon!)
- Look back at the description of zongzi. Which ingredients sound the most delicious to you? Would you try zongzi if it was available? Why or why not?
- What types of races are the most popular in your country or hometown? Why do you think people like to watch races?
- Is there an “unlucky day” in your culture (like “double five” in China)? Tell us about it.
- Qu Yuan sacrificed himself to express love for his country. Tell us about someone else who sacrificed his/her career, family, life, etc. for others.
- Qu Yuan is remembered for his poetry as well as his sacrifice. Why do you think so many people enjoy poems and songs, long after the writer is dead?
- Twenty people rowing together are much faster than one person. Talk about other activities wherein you accomplish more by working together (vs. working alone).
If you still have time, discuss this thought from the Bible:
“In a race everyone runs, but only one person gets first prize. So run your race to win. To win the contest you must deny yourselves many things that would keep you from doing your best. An athlete goes to all this trouble just to win a blue ribbon or a silver cup, but we do it for a heavenly reward that never disappears.” (1 Cor 9:24-25; TLB)
What kind of “races” are you running right now? What can you do better so that you “win”? What are the most important races in life?
- Sources include (for more information):
EFLsuccess.com; ©Michael Krigline, all rights reserved. This resource was created for our students under my understanding of “fair use” for educational resources. As far as I am concerned, people are allowed to print/copy it for personal or classroom use. See our Website Standards and Use Policy.
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