The Legend of Qu Yuan
The legends of Qu Yuan spread the traditions and celebrations about dragon boating as we know them today.
Tuen Ng is the Cantonese name of the Dragon Boat festival but it is more commonly known as the Duanwu Jie Festival in Mandarin. It falls on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese Lunar calendar.
There are many competing explanations for Duanwu Jie. All involve some combination of dragons, spirits, loyalty, honor and food — some of the most important traditions in Chinese culture. The most popular commemorate a well-respected historical figure, the poet Qu Yuan (pronounced Chu Ywan), and his story that took place over 2000 years ago in ancient China. Qu Yuan was one of China’s greatest poets and an advisor in the court of Chu during the Warring States period of ancient China. He was exiled by the emperor for perceived disloyalty.
In despair and, perhaps as a final act of protest against the government, he drowned himself into the Mi Lo River. Fishermen raced their boats to recover his body before it could be devoured by fish (beating drums and throwing rice dumplings into the river to distract them). Many say that the Dragon Boat racing tradition dates back to this event. The tradition continues to this day.
Dragon Boating today
A Modern Sport and Recreation
Now many centuries later, not only the people of China but people the world over race the beautifully decorated “dragon boats” not just on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar but all year long.
South China is pretty much the centre of dragon boat racing. And as southern Chinese fled the Communist Revolution of 1949 to come to Hong Kong, the city became a potpourri of traditions, offering plenty of opportunities for water-related activities. In the 1970s, the Hong Kong Tourist Association (now known as the Tourist Board) decided to stage an International Dragon Boat Festival to promote Hong Kong. In 1976, the first Hong Kong International Races took place, an event recognized today as the start of the ‘Modern Era’ of Dragon Boat as a sport.
Such opportunities led to more racing. Soon, a number of small dragon boat events were being organised outside the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, and the tradition started growing into a sport.
These days, most racers are really there for the sport – tradition is secondary
In the early 2000’s the Washington Dragon Boat Association opened a small division in Olympia. Then in 2014 the WDBA closed up shop. This left the people in Olympia without any opportunity to paddle. A club from Seattle (SAKE) stepped up and offered to provide support for a few years. Then in January 2020 the Olympia Dragon Boat Club was formed with 13 members.