The Dragon Boat Festival, which falls on the 5th day of the 5th month on the Lunar Calendar, has a background rich in cultural history.
Qu Yuan (340-278 BC) was a beloved scholar of the people and a minister to the King of Chu during the Warring States Period. Unfortunately, the King had him exiled after taking advice from some corrupt officials. After learning of the capture of his country’s capital, Qu Yuan committed suicide by jumping into the Mi Luo River in protest of the corruption of the era.
Legend is that people got into boats and raced to save him, but were unsuccessful. They hoped to scare away the fish and evil spirits by beating drums and splashing the water with paddles; this idea later becomes the sport of dragon boating (dragons being the river gods in Chinese culture). Rice wrapped in leaves, zhong zi, were thrown into the water to feed the fish so that they would stay away from his body. Zhong zi are now the traditional food eaten at that time of year. For festivals and races, the dragon boat is adorned with a dragon head and tail, and each race always begins with a dotting of the eye ceremony, symbolizing the awakening of the dragon.