Has the Dragon Boat Festival lost its meaning?

Has the Dragon Boat Festival lost its meaning?

Is the Dragon Boat Festival just a three-day weekend? Seven Shanghai residents discuss how modern life is changing one of China's most traditional festivals

As one of the most important traditional Chinese festivals, Duan Wu (端午节), also known as the Dragon Boat Festival, has been celebrated for thousands of years with people eating zongzi and racing in dragon boats.

However, even traditional festivals have to change with the times, and no place in China is moving forward as quickly as Shanghai. Can local traditions keep up?

We hit the streets to find out what the festival means to today’s Shanghai residents.

Shanghai dragon boat festival -- Li MingName: Li Ming
From: Jiangsu
Age: 42
Profession: Office ayi

CNNGo: What does the Dragon Boat Festival mean to you?
Li Ming:
It means going back home and eating freshly-made zongzi. The zongzi back home are all wrapped in reed leaves picked directly from the river. They're more delicious than the ones in Shanghai.

CNNGo: What's your favorite type of zongzi?
Li Ming:
Pork.

CNNGo: Are dragon boat races still important for the festival?
Li Ming:
They are pretty important. When the Dragon Boat Festival is mentioned, [people still think] it’s about eating zongzi and racing dragon boats. I once saw the live dragon boat race in Fujian. It was fun and bustling. Everyone had a good time.

CNNGo: What are new Dragon Boat Festival customs?
Li Ming:
Sending good wishes to friends and family via text message.

 


Shanghai dragon boat festival -- wang hengName: Wang Heng
From: Zhejiang
Age: 24
Profession: Clerk

CNNGo: What comes to mind when you think of the Dragon Boat Festival?
Wang Heng:
Zongzi because eating zongzi is the most symbolic custom in China for Dragon Boat Festival.

CNNGo: What's your favorite kind of zongzi?
Wang Heng:
Pork with egg yolk because I can make this kind of zongzi by myself. All I need to do is to get ingredients like sticky rice and pork in the wet market. I can also adjust the flavor to my taste. [People] can actually make very delicious zongzi by themselves.

CNNGo: Does your hometown still host dragon boat races?
Wang Heng:
Yes, but only as a performance show to improve the atmosphere.

CNNGo: What’s the festival’s true meaning to you?
Wang Heng:
Taking short trips and eating zongzi. By the way, the price of zongzi is getting higher and higher while its taste is going the other way.

Find out how to make your own zongzi for the Dragon Boat Festival at "June is for zongzi".

Shanghai dragon boat festival -- Pang ChengName: Pang Cheng
From: Shanghai
Age: 35
Profession: Security guard

CNNGo: What comes to mind when you hear the words Dragon Boat Festival?
Pang Cheng:
Eating zongzi. It’s the best symbol of the festival.

CNNGo: Does Shanghai still host dragon boat races?
Pang Cheng:
There was a big dragon boat race a few years ago on the Huangpu, but today you find that fewer people are organizing and participating such races. Although I have never paddled a dragon boat, I want to give it a try as it sounds fun and is a good exercise.

CNNGo: Do you think that dragon boat races are still an important part of this festival?
Pang Cheng:
Not really. People’s attitudes are changing. Dragon Boat races are not essential now. Maybe it’s because most people are not that interested in it anymore.

CNNGo: Have you seen any new Dragon Boat Festival customs?
Pang Cheng:
Outings because of the new public holiday. People often visit Shanghai suburbs like Qibao or Qingpu with their families. It’s fun. More importantly, you won’t be bombarded by tourists on that day.

 


Shangai dragon boat festival -- Zhou HuikaiName: Zhou Huikai
From: Zhejiang
Age: 21
Profession: College student

CNNGo: What comes to mind when you think of the Dragon Boat Festival?
Zhou Huikai:
 The poet Qu Yuan because the festival is held in his memory. He has been my idol since when I was young. I especially like his poem: “For the ideal that I hold dear to my heart, I'd not regret a thousand times to die” ("亦余心之所善兮, 虽九死其犹未悔").

CNNGo: What your favorite type of zongzi?
Zhou Huikai:
Kitten zongzi (猫咪粽). It’s a specialty from my hometown that uses white rice not sticky rice -- and don’t worry, there are no cats in it either. It’s filled with pickles, minced meat and bean curd. I can’t find it in Shanghai, so I’d opt for ham zongzi.

CNNGo: Does your hometown still host dragon boat races?
Zhou Huikai:
Not many people do dragon boat race today since it’s a dangerous sport. Some people have fallen off the boats. I’ve never participated in one and I don’t want to because it’s a risky sport.

CNNGo: Are the races still important to the festival?
Zhou Huikai:
Yes. It’s a tradition, so it should be kept. In addition, it’s a fun festival activity. The massive preparation beforehand in order to race adds to the festival ambiance.

CNNGo: Have you seen any new Dragon Boat Festival customs?
Zhou Huikai:
Not really, people care less and less about the festival.

Read more about Shanghai's Dragon Boat Festival at "Paddling the dragon: Celebrating Shanghai's Dragon Boat Festival".

Shanghai dragon boat festival -- Yan ZhiganName: Yan Zhigan
From: Shanghai
Age: 63
Profession: University professor

CNNGo: What comes to mind when you hear the words Dragon Boat Festival?
Yan Zhigan:
Qu Yuan and zongzi. This is related to the origin of the festival. According to the legend, we make zongzi to commemorate Qu Yuan and to protect his soul.

CNNGo: What Dragon Boat Festival traditions did you grow up with?
Yan Zhigan: Making zongzi. In the past, neighbors would give zongzi to each other. Now families have a chance to come together over the holiday.

CNNGo: Does your hometown still host dragon boat races?
Yan Zhigan: I have never seen any. Even if there were a race, I wouldn’t go to see it. I am not fond of hustle and bustle as I’m getting old.

CNNGo: Is Dragon Boat race still important for this festival?
Yan Zhigan: To some degree, yes. As a public, commemorative activity, [it] should be kept to pass on the cultural heritage. Moreover, as it’s rare to see a dragon boat now, it becomes more valuable. If there was a large scale dragon boat race, media would report on it. For young people, the dragon boat can serve as an inspiration. As for me, I am not interested.

 


Shanghai Dragon Boat Festival -- Yang KunName: Yang Kun
From: Jiangsu
Age: 28
Industry: Media

CNNGo: What comes to mind when you hear the words Dragon Boat Festival?
Yang Kun:
Zongzi -- it’s the only Dragon Boat Festival symbol that people still really think about.

CNNGo: What are some of your hometown’s Dragon Boat Festival traditions?
Yang Kun: Making zongzi, hanging aicao (艾草, wormwood) and wearing sachets.

CNNGo: What's your favorite kind of zongzi?
Yang Kun: Plain zongzi, those that only have sticky rice inside. If that can’t be found, I’d choose pork.

CNNGo: Are dragon boat races still important to the festival?
Yang Kun: Yes. We really need to start restoring cultural symbols; people need to start cherishing our traditions. Since dragon boat paddling is related to Qu Yuan, it’s very suitable for that role.

CNNGo: Have you seen any new Dragon Boat Festival customs?
Yang Kun:
It seems like the only Dragon Boat Festival custom left today is eating zongzi. Even the making of zongzi is not popular now though. Is the simplification of the customs counted as a new custom? When I was little, my family would buy reed leaves and soak sticky rice [to make zongzi]. They would also find some weirdly smelling aicao and hang it on the door. Zongzi has become a day-to-day food now, and aicao is almost nowhere to be found.

 


Shanghai Dragon Boat Festival -- Xu HuiName: Xu Hui
From: Beijing
Age: 43
Profession: Restaurant manager

CNNGo: What comes to mind when you hear the words Dragon Boat Festival?
Xu Hui:
Zongzi. Dragon Boat Festival has always been linked with zongzi since [my] childhood, just as mooncakes to Mid Autumn Festival.

CNNGo: What's your favorite kind of zongzi?
Xu Hui: Red bean.

CNNGo: Does your hometown still host dragon boat races?
Xu Hui: No. I have never participated in one either, but would like to experience it.

CNNGo: Have you seen any new Dragon Boat Festival customs emerge over the last few years?
Xu Hui:
With the new holiday, we now have a chance to take a short trip. I'll go to parks without crowds to get some fresh air.

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