Dragon boat racing, one of the earliest known forms of boat racing, is celebrated at festivals and competitions around the world. Its roots can be traced back over 2,000 years to the southern provinces of China, in a legend that includes warring states, radical politics and fierce loyalty and passion written poetically by one man – Qu Yuan.
A scholar and advisor to the emperor of the Chu Kingdom, Qu Yuan, was exiled from the land that he loved and leaped into the Mi Lo river holding a great rock in a display of his heartfelt sorrow. The people loved Qu Yuan very much and raced out in their fishing boats to the middle of the river in a vain attempt to save him. They beat on drums, splashed their paddles in the water and threw rice dumplings into the river to distract and keep away the water dragons and to honour his soul and to ensure it didn’t go hungry. However, late one night, the spirit of Qu Yuan appeared before his friends and told them that the rice that was meant for him was being intercepted by a huge river dragon. He asked his friends to wrap their rice into three-cornered silk packages and to tie five colours of string about it to ward off the dragon. This tradition is continued to today, although now the dumplings are wrapped in leaves rather than silk.
Dragon boating evolved from the re-enactment of this legend at annual festivals. Since the mid 1970s, high level competitions have been organized. Today, dragon boat racing is the fastest growing international team water sport, with race festivals held around the world in Asia, Australia, Canada, Europe and the United States.