Cultural Heritage of Dragon Boat - the legend

Dragon boating – a growing sport that is competitive, social, fun and has its own food too!

Modern day Dragon Boat has evolved as a sport, capturing the imagination of the world by storm. With over 50 million paddlers participate annually in competitions worldwide, it is fastest growing water sport in the world.

Dragon Boat also has a significantly rich history, with traditional dragon boating in Southern China for over 2000 years. The Dragon Boat is deeply imbedded in China’s “Dragon” Culture, with each boat having an ornately carved dragon’s head at the bow and a tail in the stern. The boat is painted with scales. The paddles symbolically represent the dragon’s claws.

Though we are used to seeing 20 seat dragon boats, there are 10 to 50 plus paddlers, in addition to the drummer and the sweep.

Originally Dragon Boat was used for religious purposes as a way to appease the rain gods. Later Dragon Boat celebrated the life of Qu Yuan, a great warrior poet, who committed suicide in the river Mi Lo, as a protest against political corruption of the day. To commemorate this sacrifice, the people began to organise Dragon Boat Festivals in his memory.

Since then, dragon boat racing has become a major part of Chinese culture, representing patriotism and group integrity. According to legend, when news of his drowning became known, boats were launched by the local fishermen in a race to be first to recover Qu Yuan's body. Thus dragon boat racing was born. The furious splashing of paddles and banging of drums used these days to get the crews in time has it origin in the fishermen's bid to scare off fish and other river creatures from defiling his body.

In one version of the legend, the fishermen began throwing rice into the river as an offering to Qu Yuan, so that his spirit could be nourished in the next world. But one night, Qu Yuan appeared in a dream to one of the fishermen, telling him that the fish were eating the rice offerings, that to prevent it, the rice ought to be wrapped in silk – later replaced by bamboo leaves (called Zongzi or Doongs) – to protect the offerings.

The Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated every year on the 5th day of the 5th Moon (month) of the Chinese lunar calendar. The practise of making offerings of Zongzi's is an extremely important part of the Festival. For the gourmet, it is encouraging to note that the culinary treat is still widely practised among Chinese communities all over the world.

Dragon Boating is a fantastic team sport with a rich history, not only with a very bright future but one that is a very social sport and great fun too!

Did you know that they have recently banned people in China from throwing "Zongzi" into the rivers in China because they are clogging up the river system during the Dragon Boat Festival time?