The origin of this sport dates back to the year 278 B.C.E., when Chinese scholar Qu Yuan was exiled on false accounts of conspiracy by high court officials who were jealous of his wisdom. To deal with his sorrow, Yuan drowned himself in the Miluo River by holding onto a large stone. Knowing that he was a good man, the Chinese people rushed to his rescue in their boats, and were unfortunately able to save him. To this day, the people of China in the southern region of the Yangtze River still chant ritual hymns in his commemoration when partaking in the boat races. Although the races were held as competitive sports in which boats would try and sink each other oftentimes by brutal techniques causing casualties, the races embellish a rich component of religious, ceremonial, and ritualistic traditions. A religious aspect of this tradition is the veneration of the dragon, while the Chinese’s idea of banding colored threads to one’s arm to ward off demon’s for the year, can be considered ritualistic.
In ancient times, the main event/tradition was held on the Yuan River, where the Dragon Boats started at the northern banks and ended at the southern banks. The boats were originally made out of teak wood, the length of an average boat was 95 ft., with approximately 22 people; with one drummer and one sweep. The drummers stood at the bow, facing the paddlers, clapping pieces of wood together to rhythmically imitating the pace of the lead paddlers. The sweep had quite an important job, not only in steering the craft with an oar rigged to the back of the boat, but seeing as how he had the capability to survey the river by facing forwards, he avoided unwanted objects such as aggressive competitors and ruthless bystanders.
This event saw the banks of the river teaming with passionate members from all over China eager to help out their buds in any way possible. Some die-hard fans went to the extreme of throwing rocks or whatever they could find at their opponents. Each region produced a team ensuring the paddlers were of the best waterman in their lands, however having warlike tendencies proved prevalent because it often got pretty bloody when it came down to a few boats neck and neck at the end of the 10 li long race. One could say that fighting and drowning were inevitable. In ancient times, victors saw feasts abundant with food, wine, relatives, friends, and good vibes. Oftentimes, their houses were decorated and there was a dramatic performance recounting the events of the race. The defeated, however, bowed their heads to their victors and were often sent things by their family and relatives to ridicule them.
Over time, this ancient event has transformed from a deadly sport intertwined with religious and ritualistic principles into a purely competitive, non-fatal sport that in 2007, was made a national holiday in China as part of Dueng Ngas. Today exists an International Dragon Boat Federation boasting over 20 million members, and is a recognized member of the General Association of Sports Federation. Dragon boat Racing has also become a popular competitive and recreational sport in Canada, Europe, the United States, and Australia.
Ssu-Chang, Yang. “The Dragon Boat Race in Wu-Ling, Hunan.” 1943. JSTOR. Web. 27 September 2010.