The origins of dragon boat racing
June 3rd, 2022 marks the traditional date of the dragon boat festival, or duan wu jie/端午節, which falls on the 5th day of the 5th month in the lunar calendar. Though the sport has grown globally, it’s important to remember the traditional roots of the festival and honour the history behind it.
The best-known story claims that the festival began as a way to commemorate the death of Chinese minister and poet Qu Yuan (340–278 BC). Protesting the actions of corrupt government administration, Qu Yuan jumped into the Miluo River, intending to die in deep despair for the kingdom he loved. Locals rushed to find his body in boats resembling modern-day dragon boats, while splashing paddles and drumming in order to ward off malevolent spirits and fish. They also dropped rice into the river, so fish be distracted from Qu Yuan’s body.
Today, traditions such as boat paddling, drumming, and preparing and eating zongzi (粽子), or sticky rice balls wrapped in bamboo leaf, still continue on. Other Chinese traditions, such as the lion/dragon dance, have become incorporated into festivals as well.
It also became an opportunity for different groups of locals to showcase their athleticism, becoming the precursor to modern-day dragon boat racing.
Now there are festivals globally, including in China, Hong Kong, Dubai, Vancouver, and Calgary. Though the racing and competetition has become much more advanced, dragon boat festivals continue to include traditions such as the eye-dotting ceremony, blessing of the boats, and drumming.
For more information about the origins of the Festival, see: About the EDBRC: What is dragon boat racing?