Dragon Boat Festival to take over Chinatown

Jack Hayes

Beating drums, paddlers in long boats, and sticky rice dumplings can only mean one thing: Dragon Boat Festival has arrived in Melbourne’s Chinatown.

Hosted by the Chinese Museum (22 Cohen Pl) over the weekend of June 24 and 25, the Dragon Boat Festival brings to Melbourne more than 2000 years of cultural tradition and celebration.

The Dragon Boat Festival is one of three major cultural festivals originating from China, along with the Autumn Moon Festival and Chinese New Year.

Festival-goers will immerse themselves in the traditions of the Dragon Boat Festival by making Zongzi dumplings and dragon boat scales, and learn about Qu Yuan, the noble statesman of Qu, along with family photo opportunities and Dragon Boats on site.

“For many Chinese families, it is about showing their children about the origins of traditional Chinese culture and for others they can become immersed in the multicultural celebrations of Melbourne,” Chinese Museum CEO Mark Wang said.

“Why don’t you make a day of it by dining at one of the great Asian restaurants located in Chinatown while you are here?”




The Dragon Boat Festival, also known as Duan Wu Festival, is a long-established celebration in Chinese culture, traditionally held on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar.


The word Duan means “beginning” and Wu means “warmth and radiance”.

One of the most popular stories on the origin of the festival is about Qu Yuan.

In Sima Qian’s Biographies of Qu Yuan and Jia Yi, Qu Yuan was a minister of King Huai of Chu during the Warring States period.

He advocated appointing people according to their integrity and ability, then urged the King to ally with the state of Qi in fighting against the state of Qin. However, his advice was strongly opposed by the nobles, which led to his dismissal and exile.

While exiled, he wrote poems to convey his patriotic thoughts and devastation over the Qin army’s invasion of his beloved motherland in 278 BC.

Refusing to abandon his motherland, he sacrificed his life on the fifth day of the fifth month by jumping into the Miluo River.

People from the state of Chu who were moved by Qu Yuan’s patriotism, gathered near the Miluo River to pay tribute to him. The fishermen attempted to retrieve his body by rowing boats up and down the river.

Some fishermen threw rice into the river to prevent Qu Yuan’s body from being eaten by hungry fish.

Paddling feverishly, the dragon boats symbolise the race to save Qu Yuan.

Today dragon boat racing is practiced around the world, with dragon heads on the prow of the boat with 20 rowers in a team, kept in unison by a drummer, you will see dragon boats paddling on the Yarra and in Docklands, organised by Dragon Boats Victoria.



The rice thrown into the river to save Qu Yuan evolved to be Zongzi, a Chinese sticky rice dumpling.

Zongzi are made by combining sticky rice, belly pork and other ingredients, then wrapped into little parcels with bamboo leaves before being boiled.

The museum will be providing Zongzi-making demonstrations every hour, and Zongzi-making kits can be purchased to practice at home.

The Dragon Boat Festival in Chinatown is sponsored by Dragon Boat Victoria, Greater Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust, Chinese Youth Society of Melbourne, and Melbourne Chinatown Association.

Admission for adults is $8 with children 12 and under free of charge. •

For more information: chinesemuseum.com.au/Event/dragon-boat-festival-2023

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