Tuan Wu

Tuan Wu (Double Fifth)

May-June; fifth day of fifth lunar month
The Double Fifth holiday is celebrated throughout China but is most popular south of the Yangtze River. It is also a festive holiday in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and among Chinese Americans. One reason why dragon boat races are often held on this day is that dragon boats are believed to offer protection against disease, particularly for the paddlers. Another reason is that Ch'ü Yüan (c. 343-c. 289 b.c.e.), a renowned minister of the Ch'u kingdom and a famous poet, threw himself into the Mi Lo River on the fifth day of the fifth month. When the people heard about his suicide, they all jumped into their boats and paddled out to save him, but it was too late. So they wrapped rice in bamboo leaves or stuffed it into sections of bamboo tube and floated it on the river to provide sustenance for his spirit. It is traditional to prepare and eat sticky rice dumplings known as zong ze or tzung tzu on this day in honor of the drowned poet Ch'ü Yüan.
Charms made from chunks of incense are used to ward off the so-called "five poisonous things"—which vary in different parts of China depending upon the climate and the local animal life. In Taiwan, for example, the five poisonous things are wall-lizards, toads, centipedes, spiders, and snakes. The charms are made in the shape of these harmful creatures, and sometimes small cakes resembling the creatures are eaten on this day.
Another custom associated with the Double Fifth is the placing of mugwort plants in the doorposts of each house. These branches are supposed to frighten evil spirits away and preserve those living in the house from summer diseases. Those who take a bath at noon on the fifth day of the fifth month are believed to be immune from illness for one year.
See also Dragon Boat Festival
SOURCES:
AnnivHol-2000, p. 239
BkFest-1937, p. 79
BkHolWrld-1986, Jun 18
DictFolkMyth-1984, pp. 206, 1130, 1185
EncyRel-1987, vol. 3, p. 326
FolkAmerHol-1999, p. 221
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 369