The Dragon Boat Festival is one of the most famous Chinese holidays. It happens on the 5th day of the 5th month, according to the traditional Chinese calendar. On this day, the people launch boat races and eat traditional foods, with respect to the date and tradition, celebrating fealty and loyalty to the family. The origins of the holiday are unknown, but there are many popular theories that suggest the holiday to be associated with the death of Qu Yang – a famous Chinese thinker and poet. His death occurred during the war of the period of the Warring States, where his loyalty and honesty sent him into exile. When the news of his country falling to the enemies reached him, the poet committed suicide by jumping off the bridge. The villagers, who held him in great respect, launched sorties of boats in order to save him and, failing that, to retrieve his body. Other stories involve a daughter looking for her drowned father and going on a boat to find him. While stories differ one from another, they all have one thing in common – the boat.
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However, not all of China celebrates this holiday the same way. One particular exception can be found in the traditions of Qi’ao Island, located in the Zhuhai Province. It differs from the rest of the country in many ways, as local traditions and religious beliefs intertwined with the traditional holiday, changing it into something new. Unlike the rest of the country, the villagers of Qu’ao Island celebrate the holiday for 5 days, starting on May 1st and finishing on May 5th. During each of these days, a different activity is performed to honor the gods of the village. There are several deities in the village, the most notable ones being Grandfather Torrent and General Cai’er. These gods are unique to the village in that they do not appear in any places outside of it. They are worshiped in three different blocks – the Dongxi block, the Zhongxing block, and the Qixi block, all dedicated to their respective deities.
Another odd difference between Qi’ao and the rest of China is that they do not celebrate the holiday by launching boat races, despite having a lake nearby. Instead, they conduct a parade, during which the participants are outfitted and arranged to resemble a dragon.
The rituals performed during the five days of celebration are numerous. On the first day, the ritual of the cleansing of Buddha occurs. The second day is the day of preparation for the celebration. Sacrificial food is also being prepared on this day. On the third day, the villagers visit each other’s blocks and worship the deities with sandalwood. The fourth of May is dedicated to worshipping the deities within their own blocks, bringing them offerings of food, and distributing amulets and lucky charms, such as the lucky rice or the lucky tea. The fifth of May is the parade day. During it, statues of deities are carried through the city, in special chairs. Fireworks are being used, as China is where they were invented in the first place.
The traditions of Qi’ao are unique and interesting from a historical perspective. They show how local traditions and gods interact with Chinese culture, adopting the celebration and mixing it with the commemoration of the village’s Gods, which occurs on the same date. It offers a unique blend not found anywhere else and should be kept that way as an important part of national tradition and culture.