China’s Cultural Traditions: The Dragon Boat Festival

Jun 19, 2023 |
Up Your Marketing Game in China with Our Insights

The Dragon Boat Festival, also known as Duanwu Festival, is a traditional Chinese holiday that is celebrated on the 5th day of the 5th month of the lunar calendar, which usually falls in June. The festival has a history of over 2,000 years and is widely observed in China and other East Asian countries. In fact, has this cultural traditions also been spread to outside of east asia. For example has the dragon race in Manchester England become a big hit. People race in narrow boats decorated into dragons.

The Dragon Boat Festival is one of the most important traditions in China, and it is also a public holiday.

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Rowing dragon boats during Duanwu. Generative AI illustration.

The history behind the Dragon Boat Festival

The Dragon Boat Festival has various explanations and stories regarding its origin, but the most widely known and accepted tale revolves around the poet and politician Qu Yuan. Qu Yuan, a revered figure in Chinese history, lived during 340-278 BC and was admired for his integrity and righteousness.

The Dragon Boat Festival commemorates the death of the famous poet and statesman Qu Yuan, who lived during the Warring States period of ancient China. Qu Yuan was known for his patriotism and loyalty to his country, but when his state was conquered by a rival kingdom, he drowned himself in the Miluo River in despair.

The local people, who admired him greatly, raced out on boats to try and save him but when they realize it was too late they started to throw sticky rice dumplings, known as zongzi, into the water to prevent the fish from devouring his remains.

Today, the Dragon Boat Festival is marked by several customs and activities. The most prominent tradition is the dragon boat races, where teams of rowers paddle in long, narrow boats decorated like dragons. These races are held in rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water, and they attract a lot of spectators. The boats are typically painted in vibrant colors and are accompanied by the rhythmic beat of drums, as well as the cheers and encouragement of the onlookers.

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Celebration of the Dragon Boat Festival

The Dragon Boat Festival is strongly associated with the dragon race and zongzi. which can easily be described as a triangular rice dumplings. Rice with different fillings dressed beautifully in green leaves.

Integral part of the festival is the consumption of zongzi, pyramid-shaped glutinous rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves. These dumplings are often filled with a variety of ingredients, such as pork, beans, nuts, and dates, and they are traditionally steamed or boiled. Zongzi are a special delicacy during the Dragon Boat Festival, and families often gather to make and share them.

Also, if you visit a supermarket during this holiday, you can see stacked zongzi packets in various decorated packages.

In addition to dragon boat races and zongzi, the festival is also associated with other customs and practices. The fifth month of the Chinese calendar has traditionally been a month of bad luck and disease. To bring away the bad spirits do people hang up pouches of herbs called “xiangbao” to ward off evil spirits and diseases, and they may wear colorful silk threads or tie silk threads around their wrists for good luck and protection. It is also common to see decorations of dragon and zhong kui (a mythical figure believed to repel evil spirits) images, as well as the display of iris leaves and other plants associated with the festival.

The Dragon Boat Festival is not only a time to honor Qu Yuan, but also an occasion for people to come together, enjoy festive activities, and celebrate Chinese culture and traditions.

People also often choose to travel during this period, mostly within China to visit family but also outside of China.

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Boost your Business with The Dragon Boat Festival

All important traditions are equal important for the marketing perspective. To succeed in China in is important to have a interest and understanding of their traditions, this does not only go to your costumers in China but also to your collegues and partners.

NBH will list our tips to boost your business during this festival.

Sending your Dragon Greeting to your customers or collegues!

Show your cultural awareness and respect for your Chinese customers by sending greetings during the Dragon Boat Festival. This demonstrates sensitivity to Chinese culture and leaves a positive impression. Consider gift exchanges, such as a specialty from your country or a traditional Chinese gift that shows that you have made an effort. Why not a special designed Zongzi package?

Utilize digital channels for greetings and promotions:

  • Send greetings and promotions in Chinese, using simplified Chinese for mainland China and traditional characters for Hong Kong and Taiwan. For example, 端午安康 (in Simplified Chinese).
  • Leverage popular Chinese social media platforms like WeChat and Little Red Book to connect with customers and share wishes.
  • Collaborate with suitable Chinese influencers who can promote your brand and special offers during the festival.
  • Create limited-time promotions to attract customers, available exclusively during the festival.

Design marketing materials that are unique and culturally relevant:

  • Incorporate dragon boat imagery, Chinese calligraphy, and festive colors in your promotional materials. Consider using green, a special color for this festival, instead of the commonly used red and gold.
  • Chin can assist you in utilizing Chinese social media to connect with customers and prepare greeting phrases or digital greeting cards.

Demonstrating your appreciation for Chinese culture through thoughtful greetings and promotions can enhance your relationship with Chinese customers and generate positive brand associations.

Let’s take Starbucks as an example to highlight their efforts during the Dragon Boat Festival. We have mentioned Starbucks for this holiday before but it is worth mentioning it again. Starbucks has established a tradition of designing new cups, bags, and introducing unique flavors of zongzi each year. They have also collaborated with various partners and released special products in certain years. Their commitment to embracing the festival and offering fresh experiences demonstrates their dedication to Chinese culture and customer preferences.

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Image: Starbucks

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Stabucks collection and menu for Dragon Boat festival 2023. Picture taken from account on Little Red Book.

Sponsor the Dragon Boat Race

Last but not least – The Dragon Boat Race…

As we already know, Dragon Boat Race is not only noticed in China but also in many other parts of the world. One way to show visibility and cultural connection could be to sponsor a Dragon Boat Race. If you are a sports company, designing your own dragon sportswear can also be a good idea.

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Dragon boat Racing in the Aberdeen typhoon shelter in Hong Kong

Although the Dragon Boat Festival is well-known in many parts of the world, the competition is not particularly fierce or almost non-existent among international brands, which gives it a great opportunity to stand out and create a stronger relationship with the Chinese customer.

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