The festival occurs on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar on which the Chinese calendar is based. This is the source of the alternative name of Double Fifth. In 2010 this falls on 16 June. The focus of the celebrations includes eating the rice dumpling zongzi (粽子), drinking realgar wine (雄黃酒), and dragon boat race(龍舟賽).
The most popular saying of the origin of the festival is that it was derived from the activities of commemorating a great patriotic poet, Qu Yuan (340 – 278 BC). The story about Qu Yuan (屈原) has been deeply rooted in Chinese culture and this festival, so it is definitely a very important factor for the origin of the festival.
About 2,300 years ago, Qu Yuan lived during one of the most turbulent period of China's history, the Seven Kingdoms. He was a cultured scholar, a highly respected diplomat and a poet. His abilities and influence attained him the highest office in the State of Chu. Qu Yuan became a direct and respected adviser to King Huai of Chu. Qu Yuan brought to bear his beliefs and influence to aid and facilitate an alliance with the state of Qi, His strong and unyielding determination to forward political reform, economic alliances and strength with the state of Qi won the favour and support of King Huai. His position, influence and assertive character made him a target in the political arena and intrigue. As a result of this there were many factions of power and influence with different and apposing agendas. Driven by fear and hunger for power, two of the more influential rivalling faction vied for position in the courts and the King's ear. Qu Yuan was greatly disturbed by the corruption amongst the governors and as a result of his pleas for reforms, he was banished from the Kingdom. For years, he wandered the countryside composing poems expressing his patriotism and love for the people.
Either as an act of despair or an ultimate protest against the corrupt government, Qu Yuan jumped into the Mei Lo River (in today’s Hunan province) on the fifth day of the fifth month in the year 278 B.C. after Chu was conquered by Qin. Seeing his desperate act, grief-stricken local fishermen tried to save the patriotic poet. They sailed up and down the river to look for him and desperately thrashed the water with their oars and paddles to scare off the hungry fishes which might eat his body.
To commemorate the patriotic man, the fishermen and rural town folks threw cooked rice dumplings wrapped in silk or banana leaves, into the water in order to appease the spirits of the river on his death anniversary. These rice dumplings are called Zongzi. Since then, the dragon boat races were held to commemorate the legend of Qu Yuan.
Qu Yuan is more generally recognised as the first great Chinese poet with record. He initiated the style of Sao, which is named after his work Li Sao(離騷), in which he abandoned the classic four-character verses used in poems of Shi Jing and adopted verses with varying lengths, which gives the poem more rhythm and latitude in expression. Qu Yuan is also regarded as one of the most prominent figures of Romanticism in Chinese literature, and his masterpieces influenced some of the greatest Romanticist poets in Tang Dynasty such as Li Bai(李白) and Du Fu(杜甫).
Li Sao is thought of as the earliest as well as one of the most important poems that can be classified as a certain type of generic romanticism. It is one of the most famous poems in the history of China. Attributed to Qu Yuan by Sima Qian (司馬遷), it is a poem of search, sorrow and disillusionment of an exiled minister of state. It is part of the collection known as Chu Ci(楚辭).
Other than his literary influence, Qu Yuan is also held as the earliest patriotic poet in China history. His political idealism and unbendable patriotism have served as the model for Chinese intellectuals to this day.