Different names, same festival. Duanyang Festival, Tianzhong Festival, Yulan Festival, Duanwu Festival and Daughter's Day were all once the commonly used moniker for the Dragon Boat Festival.
Enlisted as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2009, the festival falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar. Consequently, it is also called the Double Fifth Festival.
The multiple names show that the Dragon Boat Festival is not only a festival to pay respect to ancestors, but also a festival to show care for people and protect life and health.
Gao Bingzhong, a folklore professor at Peking University, thinks because of the passage of time and the diversity of festival events, the connotation of the Dragon Boat Festival is complex, and continually developing.
Gao says the festival shows people's intention to ward off evil spirits and avoid misfortune through festive activities.
The origin of the Dragon Boat Festival has many legends — from Qu Yuan, a great patriotic poet in the Warring States Period (475-221 BC) to offering sacrifice to the dragons.
Qu Yuan is not the only legend linked to the proceedings. Wu Zixu, a general of the Wu state in the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC), Gou Jian, a king also in the Spring and Autumn Period who suffered humiliation before defeating his adversary and Cao E, in the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220) who was so filial to her drowned father that she threw herself into the river — are also linked to the festival.
Jiang Shaoyuan, a folklore scholar, published an article in 1926, analyzing the origin of the Dragon Boat Festival. He believed it was primarily about public health. He thinks boat racing is actually to deal with public health issues mixed with a touch of "magic".
Patriotic poet Wen Yiduo (1899-1946) proposed the theory of offering sacrifice to the dragon. He considered that the fifth day of the fifth month in the Chinese lunar calendar, Dragon Day, originated from the Wuyue people in the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period.
Wen realized that the zongzi, a traditional Dragon Boat Festival treat made of glutinous rice, plays a hugely symbolic role. It is wrapped in reed leaves to be placed in water and "eaten by dragons".