A report from People’s Daily: Dragon boat racing is one of the most popular traditional customs at China’s Dragon Boat Festival, which is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month on the Chinese lunar calendar.
Southern regions in China, from central China’s Hunan and Hubei provinces to southwest China’s Yunnan and Guizhou provinces, all have the custom of dragon boat racing. In northern China, cities located near rivers also hold dragon boat races.
The most influential traditional cultural activity
South China’s Guangdong province, where dragon boat racing is one of the most influential traditional cultural activities, has the longest dragon boat month and the liveliest atmosphere of dragon boat racing in the country.
Today, dragon boat racing, as a popular folk sport epitomizing the traditional Chinese culture, enjoys global popularity. Many enthusiasts of the sport in countries including the US, the UK, and Japan take part in dragon boat races every year around the Dragon Boat Festival.
Besides the Han ethnic group, many other ethnic groups, such as the Zhuang, Miao, Dai, Bai, Buyi, and Tujia ethnic groups, also observe the traditional custom of dragon boat racing, according to Liu Ting, associate research fellow with the Ethnology Museum of South-Central Minzu University in Wuhan, Hubei province.
Dragon boat races of different ethnic groups can manifest strong regional and ethnical features, due to the differences among different ethnic groups in their geographical conditions and ways of living and production.
The Water Splashing Festival
Dragon boat races of the Dai ethnic group, for instance, are held on the first day of the Water Splashing Festival to commemorate Yan Hongwo, a legendary hero who is said to have got rid of a tyrant for the people, and to express wishes for a good life.
Since elephant is the totem of the Dai ethnic group, the dragon head at the bow of the Dai people’s dragon boat looks like both a dragon head and an elephant head, and there are long tusks in the mouth of the head. The stern of the Dai people’s dragon boat is like the tail of a fish and also bracken, the Dai people’s favorite vegetable.
Dragon boat racing was initiated to commemorate Qu Yuan, a patriotic poet in the ancient state of Chu during the Warring States Period (475-221 BC), which is the most widely spread and most influential version of how the activity originated, said Liu.
Since modern times, the culture of dragon boat has conveyed patriotism, respect for ancestors, among other core values of the culture of the Chinese nation.
In 1953, the World Peace Council listed Qu as one of the four literary celebrities in the world.
By taking part in dragon boat races, people inherit and carry forward Qu’s patriotism. Moreover, dragon boat racing is a vivid expression of the Chinese nation’s spirits of unity, team work, and hard work, as the competitive activity requires more than 20 people with different characters and physical conditions to seek common ground while shelving differences and work together to win the race.
Thanks to the efforts of overseas Chinese, dragon boat racing has gradually gained popularity in many other countries all over the world.
Valuing cooperation, speed, skills and tactics, the popular folk sport of the Chinese nation well demonstrates solidarity and hard work, a universal spirit of sports.
Overseas Chinese have played an important role in promoting the culture of dragon boat outside China. They voluntarily set up dragon boat teams, clubs, associations, and carry out dragon boat races.
Nowadays almost every state of the US has its own dragon boat race funded by the government every year. In Australia, the municipal government of Sydney holds dragon boat race on an annual basis to celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year.
Dragon Boat Racing Today
Today the racing is organised internationally by the International Dragon Boat Federation, which is the sport’s official governing body. It is a member of the Global Association of the International Sports Federation.
Additionally, the International Canoe Federation also has a dragon boat racing program for members interested in the sport. Both the dragon boat racing festival and competitions are highly competitive. Paddlers are required to train all year round, for which they use the pool and paddling machines and have rigorous on-water training sessions.
A festival dragon boat race is usually a sprint race that has a distance of several hundred metres and there are betting lines open….. Five hundred metre races are the most common. In local festivals, races are also held over distances of 100 and 250 metres, depending on the size of the water body.
In international competitions, standard races have distances of 200, 1000, and 2000 metres. The races with a distance of 2000 metres are usually held over the 500-metre course, and teams must make two loops.