Dragon boat race enjoys increasing popularity across China

By Ban Zhibin

Dragon boat racing is one of the most famous traditional customs at China’s Dragon Boat Festival, celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month of 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.

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, a popular folk sport epitomizing traditional Chinese culture, enjoys global popularity. Many sports enthusiasts in countries including the US, the UK, and Japan participate in dragon boat races yearly 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, an 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 regional solid and ethnic features due to the differences among other ethnic groups in their geographical conditions and ways of living and production.  

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 gotten rid of a tyrant for the people, and to express wishes for a good life.

Since the 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 a fish’s tail and 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), the most widely spread and influential version of how the activity originated, said Liu.

Since modern times, the culture of dragon boats has conveyed patriotism, and 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 spirit of unity, teamwork, 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 working 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 famous folk sport of the Chinese nation well demonstrates solidarity and hard work, a universal spirit of sports.

Overseas Chinese have played an essential role in promoting the culture of dragon boats outside China. They voluntarily set up dragon boat teams, clubs, and associations and conduct dragon boat races.

Nowadays, almost every state of the US has its dragon boat race funded by the government every year. In Australia, the municipal government of Sydney holds a dragon boat race annually to celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year.

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