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Dragon Boat Festival

Updated on July 12, 2011
The Miluo River is said to be very deep in parts.
The Miluo River is said to be very deep in parts.
The dragon heads of the dragon boats.
The dragon heads of the dragon boats.

The Legend

They say that over 2000 years ago, Qu Yuan, a 4th-century statesman, poet, and advisor to the king, rather like our Golden Toad, upset somebody high up in management. He was on a big anti-corruption crusade as some government officials were very corrupt. Amazing how nothing changes over time. Qu Yuan was exiled from the ancient state of Chu after his advice to the king was misinterpreted. The king thought he was wanting to take over and just did as any king would do at the time. Meantime, Qu Yuan was just trying to warn the king about the baddies in his government. For speaking his mind and having an opinion, which was obviously an offense at that time, Qu Yuan was banished to a remote area of Hunan Province in southern China.

If anybody has been exposed to Asian culture and their way of thinking, you'd know that to be banished would be a huge serious loss of face. The dishonor of being exiled was a heavy burden on Qu Yuan. So, as anybody who felt embarassed and ashamed would do, he threw himself into the torrents of the Miluo River. Unfortunately for him, some local fishermen raced out onto the water to save the drowning Qu Yuan. The fishermen wildly beat their drums and splashed the water with their paddles to prevent the water dragons and fish from eating Qu Yuan. After all, they washed their clothes in that water and filled up their buckets with drinking water from that river, they would not want their pure water to be sullied by bits and pieces of a body after the fish had had a go.

The last poem written by Qu Yuan which I suppose would now be classed as a suicide note.

Many a heavy sigh I have in my despair,
Grieving that I was born in such an unlucky time.
I yoked a team of jade dragons to a phoenix chariot,
And waited for the wind to come,
to sour up on my journey

The modern Dragon Boat Race is based upon a traditional re-enactment of the race to save Qu Yuan. Over the centuries, village fishing boats went out each year in a symbolic search, and began to take part in races that evolved into Dragon Boat Racing’s present form.

Zong Zi
Zong Zi
Zong Zi - Traditional food for the festival
Zong Zi - Traditional food for the festival
Unwrapped Zong Zi
Unwrapped Zong Zi

The Festival

 The Dragon Boat Festival officially falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month and is also coincidently enough, known as Double Fifth Day.  This is the annniversary of Qu Yuan's death and has been celebrated annually for close on 2000 years.

Dragon Boat races are the most exciting part of the festival, drawing crowds of spectators which sit on the banks of the rivers or lakes, depending on where the races are held. Dragon Boats are generally brightly painted and decorated canoes. Ranging anywhere from 40 to 100 feet in length, their heads are shaped like open-mouthed dragons, while the sterns end with a scaly tail. Depending on the length, up to 80 rowers can power the boat. However, most times you have far fewer rowers than that.  A drummer sits at the front of the boat, keeping time by beating the drum. This sets the rhythm as the rowers put their oars into the water in time to the beat of the drum.  Before a dragon boat enters competition, it must be "brought to life" by painting the eyes in a sacred ceremony.

The traditional food for the Dragon Boat Festival, Zong zi is a glutinous rice ball, with a filling, wrapped in corn leaves. The fillings can be egg, beans, dates, fruits, sweet potato, walnuts, mushrooms, meat, or a combination of them. They are generally steamed.  Sounds really yummy, doesn't it?

As this is the official start of summer, it is also the start of the time of rampant diseases, so people put up good luck charms in their houses, adults drink a special wine to warn off evil spirits, kids wear fragrant silk pouches, all of this to stay healthy.  Another belief, is that if you balance a raw egg on its end at exactly noon on the 5th day of the 5th month, you'll have unbelievable good luck for the rest of the year.  This year the Dragon Festival falls on the 28th May which also happens to be my birthday.  I'll be making sure that I'll be balancing raw eggs on their ends all around my house on that day!

8.30am, the lake looked peaceful and the wine tasted good.
8.30am, the lake looked peaceful and the wine tasted good.
Beer on tap, as much as you can drink
Beer on tap, as much as you can drink
The start of the races
The start of the races
Mad chaos trying to queue up for the buffet
Mad chaos trying to queue up for the buffet
And the wine flowed in copious amounts all day.
And the wine flowed in copious amounts all day.

Race Day

The Sheraton Kingsley held their 9th annual Dragon Boat Racing Day on Saturday 23 May.  We got there early and had our first glass of wine at 8.30am.  Hey, just following the traditions and having wine to give us good health and good luck.  I must be honest though, that by 4pm I was not feeling very healthy from drinking wine since 8.30am.  However, a visit to the Mexican Restaurant and a bowl of french fries with a salsa dip and a couple of mojitos, made me feel much better.

The racing was exciting and when you hear the drums beat out the beat for the oarsmen and listen to some of them chant in time, you do feel like you have gone back in history.  There were a couple of funny moments, when a friend on his dragon boat suddenly turned the boat sideways and headed off in the wrong direction, before managing to get the boat turned around in the opposite direction and paddled furiously to narrowly avoid crashing into a boat going in the right direction.  The races usually last just over 2 minutes each, and we had to wait 10 minutes after the other boats had completed the race, for my friend and his crew to find their direction and cross the finish line.  It could be because they had started celebrating their victory at 3pm on the Friday before the races, and were all so completely intoxicated by the time they climbed into their dragon boat, that they weren't sure which end they were supposed to paddle with.

I love people watching just as much as I enjoyed watching the dragon boat racing, and I wondered how long it would take for others in our group to notice the fact that the muscular middle-aged Chinese man in white trousers was not wearing any underwear.  At first I thought it was my imagination as when he walked it seemed like he had an animal in his trousers fighting to be set free, at other times it was more like the pendulum of a clock swinging back and forth.  Every now and then you'd hear someone exclaim, "My God, is that man wearing underwear?"  After which, the rest of us would crack up laughing. 

All in all, it was an excellent day with entertaining company, a great lunch buffet put on by the Sheraton, all day free wine and beer until they ran out of white and we had to switch to red.  A really good memory to take with me when I leave China.

The races were exciting!
The races were exciting!
Some were very close!
Some were very close!
A rescue vehicle goes to try and help my friend's dragon boat which they struggled to get going in the right direction.
A rescue vehicle goes to try and help my friend's dragon boat which they struggled to get going in the right direction.

Comments

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    • cindyvine profile imageAUTHOR

      Cindy Vine 

      9 years ago from Cape Town

      Oh Peggy, I had far too much wine on that day!

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      9 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Love reading your hubs about exotic places and experiences as seen through your eyes (and in this case, lips.......the wine!) LOL

    • cindyvine profile imageAUTHOR

      Cindy Vine 

      9 years ago from Cape Town

      Thanks for giving me similar info!

    • profile image

      Dragon Boat Festival Tour 

      9 years ago

      When the summer approaches with its unique fresh aroma, it is also the time to embrace Dragon Boat Festival.As one of the most significant holidays celebrated in China, the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival is also the most history-honored one. The festival originates from a moving story, in memory of a patriotic poet----Chu Yuan. Literally referring to the fifth day in May (in Chinese lunar calendar) in China, Dragon Boat Festival is a time for protection from evil and disease for the rest of the year. The Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated in various ways, esp. featuring dragon boats races and tzungtzu (bamboo leaves filled with cooked rice) eating.This year Dragon Boat Festival will be celebrated in May 28, which is also the best time to travel in China. Here are the itineraries recommended by TourOChina. Wish you all a happy and refreshing holiday!

    • cindyvine profile imageAUTHOR

      Cindy Vine 

      9 years ago from Cape Town

      Well Diana, give me three months and you'll get some stories from there!

    • dianacharles profile image

      dianacharles 

      9 years ago from India

      The Masai...yes, yes, yes....that will be really interesting. Such a colourful lot. A friend of mine was the Headmistress of a school in Kenya.She loved it there.

    • cindyvine profile imageAUTHOR

      Cindy Vine 

      9 years ago from Cape Town

      Hey MAD, should do one on Swakopmund and the Nazis that used to live there!

    • men are dorks profile image

      men are dorks 

      9 years ago from Namibia

      we canrt wait cindy, you'r always full of surprises.

    • cindyvine profile imageAUTHOR

      Cindy Vine 

      9 years ago from Cape Town

      Thanks Diana, in a few months you'll be getting hubs about the Masai!

    • dianacharles profile image

      dianacharles 

      9 years ago from India

      lovely to learn about other cultures through your hubs.

    • cindyvine profile imageAUTHOR

      Cindy Vine 

      9 years ago from Cape Town

      Earnest, Blonde, Candie and John, thanks for stopping by and commenting. It was a great experience, fun day - probably would have been an even more awesome experience if I had particpated by paddling on a dragon boat, but nah, prefer to watch and sip vino collapso!

    • John Z profile image

      John Z 

      9 years ago from Midwest

      God, what a great time that must have been. I really enjoyed your hub. Thanks Cindy!

    • blondepoet profile image

      blondepoet 

      9 years ago from australia

      Damn Cindy that was really captivating that story, I am totally fascinated by other cultures. Well done Cin.(hugs)

    • earnestshub profile image

      earnestshub 

      9 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      A great hub cindyvine, my adopted son is Chinese and we will make the trip soon to China. He has not been back to China since he came to Australia when he was 6. He is now twenty.

    • Candie V profile image

      Candie V 

      9 years ago from Whereever there's wolves!! And Bikers!! Cummon Flash, We need an adventure!

      It's a complicated society for sure and I can see how it's gotten into your heart.

    • cindyvine profile imageAUTHOR

      Cindy Vine 

      9 years ago from Cape Town

      Well Candie, gotta make the most of my time left here in China!

    • Candie V profile image

      Candie V 

      9 years ago from Whereever there's wolves!! And Bikers!! Cummon Flash, We need an adventure!

      So Qu Yuan got voted off the island. That would suck, they are such a community and honor is everything.. I agree with Cris, you should be awarded the honor of Official History Informational Passer-on-er. .. or OHIP for short. Well done! It's fab how colorful these ceremonies are!

    • cindyvine profile imageAUTHOR

      Cindy Vine 

      9 years ago from Cape Town

      Thanks SF, was a great day!

    • Silver Freak profile image

      Silver Freak 

      9 years ago from The state of confusion

      What a wonderful memory and a great hub about it!

    • cindyvine profile imageAUTHOR

      Cindy Vine 

      9 years ago from Cape Town

      Thanks Cris! I have a very expat view of life here though, and for a Chinese person it's probably an unrealistic one!

    • Cris A profile image

      Cris A 

      9 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      You know what Miss SinDivine, they should make you an honorary Chinese citizen already for you represent China better than my Chinese friends - or least give you a key to the city!

      Another cool hub from a cool cat! Thanks for sharing :D

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