The Chinese Dragon Boat Festival, also known as Duanwu Festival which falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the traditional lunar calendar, was celebrated from June 20 to 22 in the ancient water town Zhouzhuang where visitors had opportunities to experience customs and observe cultural spectacles that has been absent in modern cities.
Various traditional activities were held to celebrate the festival to inherit common folk customs including drinking realgar wine and making zongzi, Chinese tamales made of glutinous rice treat stuffed with various choices of filling wrapped in wormwood leaves and cooked by steaming. Yet the unique festival spectacle in Zhouzhuang has always been Dragon Boat rowing. Experienced boatmen paddled boats decorated with colorful flags and wormwood branches while racing down the riverway, bringing an ancient custom back to life.
“Dragon Boat rowing is a must-see event when visitors come to Zhouzhuang. It is an event that represents the spirit of the Dragon Boat Festival. We believe that preserving and bringing such traditions to visitors is crucial in celebrating a traditional Chinese festival,” said Zou Lei from Jiangsu Water-town Zhouzhuang Tourism Co., Ltd.
Moreover, on June 20, the day of the Dragon Boat Festival, an ancient ritual reappeared at the Ancient Archway where visitors toured the town with the mayor and enjoyed a zongzi worship dance performance featuring Zhong Kui, a deity played by an actor who is believed to drive away ghosts and evils in Chinese legend. Children were getting their forehead painted with realgar by Zhong Kui during the event, a folk practice believed to bring good luck and fortune.
For years, Zhouzhuang has been dedicated to preserving local customs and to recreate a way of life that is being eroded by modernization, efforts in which include celebrating not only the Dragon Boat Festival but other traditional festivals such as the Chinese New Year, the Wealth God Festival and the Mid-Autumn Festival.
“Zhouzhuang in Four Seasons” is another performance held in Zhouzhuang to reveal the original ecology, regional culture and local folk customs of the ancient water town, and it is now a model of preserving traditional culture in the modern industrial era. The main purpose for Zhouzhuang to stage this event is to retain Zhouzhuang‘s lifestyle so visitors can recall their fading memories of traditions and customs.
With a cast of 300 professional actors, dancers and a group of locals who resume their own roles as farmers, fishermen and town residents, the 60 minute show retraces Zhouzhuang to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), and recreates traditions such as greeting the God of Wealth, singing fishing songs and picking lotus roots. The show is featured on a stage on water, making the show more interactive and realistic.
“Many of our residents have been living here for generations.” Zou explained, “all of our cultural heritage has been passed down from one generation to another. It is not only a historic and cultural treasure for research, but also an opportunity for locals as well as urban inhabitants to rediscover their cultural roots.”
Known as the “Venice of the East,” the historic water town Zhouzhuang is praised for its tranquil natural scenery and unparalleled cultural experience. The 900-year-old town is separated by canals and linked by ancient bridges. It is a well–preserved heritage village offering a picturesque and entertaining journey and also one of the only two Chinese locations listed on the New York Times “World’s 52 Places to go in 2015.”