Adventures on Dragon Boat Festival 2023: Stunning Spectacle Showcasing Traditional Chinese Culture

By Abdul

As the first Chinese festival added to the UNESCO World Intangible Cultural Heritage List, Dragon Boat Festival has been around for more than 2,500 years. Dragon boat racing, eating zongzi, and other content-rich, lively, exciting customs of the Dragon Boat Festival have also contributed to the diversity of cultural life for people in Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, and other Southeast Asian countries.

Adventures on Dragon Boat Festival 2023 was aired simultaneously at home and abroad on several platforms of media agencies such as People’s Daily, Xinhua News Agency, China Daily, China Culture Centre, Henan TV, and Elephant News on the evening of June 21 (the eve of the Dragon Boat Festival). Starting with tracing the festival’s historical origins (the dragon homage ritual custom “Flying Dragon in the Sky” and the tradition of seeking blessings and good fortune), the program presented a variety of exciting shows such as Dragon Boat Race, Ballad of the North and South, Banquet of Queen Mother in Jade Pond, The Marvelous Life of Yue Fei, Shennong Tastes Medicinal Herbs, and Calming the Waves, focusing on the Chinese nation’s dragon culture and the spirit of patriotism, with “heroism” as its core.

Inspired by the tradition of dragon boat racing, the opening show Dragon Boat Race captured scenes of highly distinctive Dongguan and Zhenyuan dragon boat races, both included in China’s National Intangible Cultural Heritage List, and Vietnamese, Malaysian, Filipino, and Singaporean dragon boats. While demonstrating the grandeur and splendor of dragon boat racing, the show painted a picture of “striving for excellence” for the audience. Through a visualized and artistic presentation powered by technology, it put on display sugar dragon, paper dragon, dragon dance, dragon boat race, dragon kite, and virtual dragon, paying homage to the undaunted, enterprising, united, striving, and hardworking nature of the Chinese people.

“Celebrating the festival, we eat sweet zongzi, dipping the red bean paste lightly in sugar. Meat-filled zongzi is paired with salted egg yolk, wrapped in fresh reed leaves.” The original song Ballad of the North and South portrayed the scene of students and teachers celebrating the Dragon Boat Festival in the north and south of China during the Song dynasty, contrasting the natural landscape, folkways, food culture and other aspects of the south and north. In addition to its witty, childlike, subtle, and artistic style, Ballad of the North and South also featured regional dialects. It showcased the vastness and diversity of our homeland, highlighting the differences in customs between the North and South, while emphasizing the shared cultural heritage and historical roots. Despite the distance of thousands of miles, the north and the south are still a big family united by cultural bonds.

In fact, dragon boat racing and eating zongzi are also iconic traditions of the Dragon Boat Festival in Southeast Asian countries. The Chinese community in Thailand celebrates the Dragon Boat Festival on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar each year, and the locals call it “เทศกาลไหว้บ๊ะจ่าง” (“บ๊ะจ่าง” means zongzi in Thai). There are two kinds of Thai-style zongzi, one is กี่จ่าง (similar to vegetarian zongzi made from sticky rice pre-soaked in alkaline water) and the other is บ๊ะจ่าง (zongzi filled with meat). In addition, Southeast Asian countries celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival with fireworks, lion dances, dragon dances, and other distinctive ceremonies. Despite the differences in traditions, these activities involve celebrations and the exorcism of evil spirits, thereby attracting many locals and tourists.

The ancient tales of Chinese mythology is also widely known in Southeast Asian countries. The dance Banquet of Queen Mother in Jade Pond is inspired by the legendary meeting between the Queen Mother of the West (acted by Luo Wenbo) and King Mu (acted by Chen Bingrui) of the Zhou dynasty at the Jade Pond. With Li Shangyin’s poem Jade Pond and Zhao Boju’s painting The Queen Mother’s Banquet at Jade Pond as a creative structure, the dance recreated the scene of the meeting, carrying forward the unwavering spirit of the Chinese people in pursuing and realizing their dreams.

In Chinese Mythology: Shennong Tastes Medicinal Herbs, young dancer Sun Ke, portraying Shennong, brought to life a vivacious, motivated, and enthusiastic old man who was on a mission, celebrating the spirit of exploration and dedication of medical practitioners. The program also cleverly transitioned from those devoted to traditional Chinese medicine to their successors in the present through a pseudo-one-shot approach, highlighting their efforts of passing on the legacy, observing integrity, and keeping on innovating.

“Wrath sets on end my hair; I lean on railings where I see the drizzling rain has ceased. Raising my gaze to the sky, giving long growls to the heaven, my rage not yet appeased.” The story of Yue Fei, the famous ancient Chinese general who fought against the Jurchen, is also commonly known to Chinese people around the world regardless of what dialect they speak. The Marvelous Life of Yue Fei, starring Wu Tong, Chi Guangfei and Feng Qilong, visualized the life of the hero in a music video. It blended Chinese traditional music with Western rock and skillfully incorporated the elements of Henan opera, and with the essence of rock infused, it etched Yue’s passionate spirit and lofty aspirations into the minds of the audience. In the meantime, the show also featured singing, opera performance, and acting, which were seamlessly interwoven and edited in a storytelling way. In doing so, the show presented his glorious life and paid tribute to the patriotism of this legend who sacrificed his life for loyalty to his country.

“Listen not to the rain beating against the trees. Why don’t you slowly walk and chant at ease? Better than a saddle I like sandals and cane. I’d fain, in a straw cloak, spend my life in mist and rain.” This Chinese poet Su Shi has many fans around the world. The all-male group dance Calming the Waves, starring young dancer Zhang Aoyue and dancers of Meishan Opera & Dance Drama Theater, was created from Su’s poem of the same name and his Painting of Bamboos and Stones in the Confluence of River Xiao and Xiang to mirror the state of mind of the youth in the context of Su’s bamboo-themed poem and painting. By learning the dance of the “ancients,” the dancers appreciated the essence of their gracefulness and elegance, and slowly came to understand life so that they could achieve the state of “spending their life in mist and rain in a straw cloak.”

The Dragon Boat Festival is the time for praying for blessings, and many students will graduate from school to start a new chapter of life. The song Excellence: Zongzi, sung by Liu Zhen and Chu Ming, showcased vibrant and colorful campus life through the cartoon of personified zongzi. During the festival, everyone eats zongzi to express their wish for achieving excellence in academics as zong is homophonic to the Chinese character meaning passing an examination, or the hope of standing out in some remarkable way because “be outstanding” in Mandarin Chinese has similar pronunciation to zong. It was not only a blessing for graduates to become the best versions of themselves in these unforgettable years, but also a chance for those who have already graduated to relive the precious moments of their youth and reignite their original aspirations and fervor in a nostalgic way.

The show Journey to Yunmeng Mountain led the audience to embark on a virtual journey to the “ethereal realm” of Yunmeng Mountain in Qi County, where Guiguzi lived in seclusionthe during the Warring States period. The show seamlessly blended various art forms like plot interpretation, dance, martial arts and traditional music to unveil the brilliance of Guiguzi’s Eastern wisdom of perceiving the world, communicating with all things, and strategizing with unparalleled prowess as well as his apprentices’ profound devotion to the country.

Accompanied by gentle and melodious music, Sophia Huang sang her new song To the Clouds and struck a chord. “To the clouds, beyond the mountains, into the oceans, where should I go to be myself? Before the sunset, in the breeze, I sit cross-legged by a mound of stones…” Her soulful voice, heart-warming and healing, bought a breath of fresh air to the Dragon Boat Festival.

Adventures on Dragon Boat Festival 2023, with twice the creativity, length and entertainment, drew the attention of netizens and won rave reviews as soon as it was broadcast, “OMG! Its visual effects are through the roof!” “The scene of dancers gracefully dancing on the beautiful land is so mesmerizing.” “I can feel the charm of nature. The show is a magnificent painting in its own and the dance is really gorgeous.” “What a wonderful journey.” “Our millennium-old cultural heritage rocks!”