Quick Take | Myths about the origin of Dragon Boat Festival

Dragon boat racing is an important part of the Dragon Boat Festival. (Shutterstock)

TAIPEI (The China Post) — There are many different theories to the origin of boat rowing during the Dragon Boat Festival. One of them in particular dates back to around 2,500 years ago when the first group to compete in dragon boat races first started out.

The original racing ritual celebrates the summer harvest and is held in order to worship the rain gods. To understand the dragon boat rowing culture, however, one would have to understand the origin of the Dragon Boat Festival, too.

The story starts with Qu Yuan (屈原), a high ranking official as well as a poet that lived during the Warring States period. Qu was exiled by the king but he continued to devote himself to his country. After he heard the government had been defeated, he decided to drown himself in the river.

Since “dragon” is used to symbolize evil powers in Chinese culture, villagers decorated their boats with dragon designs and hoped to scare away the fish that would eat Qu’s body underwater. The villagers saw him as a heroic figure and, therefore, wanted to preserve his body. 

Gradually, dragon boats became used as entertainment during festivals, and competitions were held, where 50 or so people sit in one boat and row as fast as they can to grab a flag that is placed at the finish line.

During the race, a drummer will drum a beat in the front section of the boat, for each member of the team to follow as they row. 

The key to success in dragon boat rowing is to be synchronized with the beat of the drum.

On Dragon Boat Festival, people can sign up either for a mixed-gender team, an all-guys team, or an all-girls team. The teams will be split into different groups and be ranked at the end of the competition. 

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