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Dragon Boating – Some History


A dragon boat is a very long and narrow canoe-style human -powered boat which originated in China over 2000 years ago. While competition has taken place annually for more than 20 centuries as part of folk ritual, it emerged in modern times as an international "sport" in Hong Kong in 1976. For competition events, dragon boats are generally rigged with decorative dragon Chinese dragon heads and tails.

It is said that Qu Yuan lived in the pre-imperial Warring States period (475-221 BC). During this time the area today known as central China was divided into seven main states or kingdoms battling among themselves for supremacy with unprecedented heights of military intrigue. This was at the conclusion of the Zhou (Chou) Dynasty, which is regarded as China's classical age during which Confucius lived.

Qu Yuan was popularly regarded as a minister in one of the Warring State governments, the southern state of Chu, a champion of political loyalty and integrity, and eager to maintain the Chu state's autonomy. Formerly, it was believed that the Chu monarch fell under the influence of other corrupt, jealous ministers who slandered Qu Yuan as 'a sting in flesh', and therefore the fooled king banished Qu, his most loyal counsellor.

In the year 278 B.C, whislt banished in the wilderness, Qu Yuan, learned of the upcoming devastation of his state from invasion by a neighbouring Warring State. Qu is said to have waded into the Miluo river near the provincial capital city of Changsha and south of the city of Yueyang on Donting Hu, - site of the first IDBF World Dragon Boat Championship in 1996 - holding a great rock in order to commit ritual suicide as a form of protest against the corruption of the era.

The people, upon learning of his suicide, rushed out on the water in their fishing boats to the middle of the river and tried desperately to save Qu Yuan. They beat drums and splashed the water with their paddles in order to keep the fish and evil spirits from his body. Later on, they scattered rice into the water to prevent him from suffering hunger or to prevent the fishes from devouring the poet's body. In commemoration of Qu Yuan it is said, people hold dragon boat races annually on the day of his death.

Today, dragon boat festivals continue to be celebrated around the world with dragon boat racing, although such events are still culturally associated with the traditional Chinese Duen Ng Festival in Hong Kong or Duan Wu festival in south central mainland China.

Qu Yuan (phoneticised Ch'u Yuen)