2,000 Years Later, China's Revered Dragon Boat Festival Remains As Popular
On June 23rd 2012, thousands of tourists and locals lined up along Hong Kong's various harbors to celebrate Tueg Ng or Dragon Boat Festival. Though Hong Kong, host to some of the country's biggest celebrations, has been organizing the events only since 1976, it is a significant Chinese holiday, one with a long history that dates back 2,000 years.
Held annually on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Lunar Calendar, the highlight of the three day event is the Dragon Boat races, where some of the country's best rowers showcase their paddling skills in the long narrow boats that feature a decorative dragon head and tail on either side.
This year was no exception. Inspired by some rocking music from drummers situated in front of the boats and the cheering spectators, dozens of participants seated two abreast, paddled furiously in an attempt to be the first to get to the finish line.
While today, the festival is a major tourist draw and held largely held for the entertainment value, it is like most Asian festivals, rooted in deep tradition and has an interesting folk tale attached to it.
According to the legend, it all began with the death of a poet and minister by the name of Qua Yuan who lived in China between 339BC- 277BC. The 35-year old was one of the few honest officials and therefore very popular with the people of the ancient kingdom of Chu. When a corrupt prince vilified him and had him thrown out of office, the young man was so disillusioned with the regime that he decided to commit suicide by jumping into the nearby Minluo River.
The townsfolk quickly jumped into their boats and paddled furiously to try save him from drowning. Soon realizing that it was too late, they then began the search for his body. Over the years, attempts to re-enact that search has evolved into the modern Dragon boat races. In order to try save the body from being eaten by the fish, the villagers threw in cooked rice - a tradition that is carried on till today.
While they were never able to find the poet's body, Qu Yuan's spirit did resurface to advise the residents of the village to wrap rice into three-cornered silk packets to ward off dragons. To commemorate that the residents of China celebrate the day by eating pyramid shaped rice dumplings that are stuffed with mushrooms, meat and other local delicacies.
Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan also celebrate this fun holiday. This year's Taipei festival attracted a record 207 dragon boat racing teams, all competing fiercely in the various races to try get a piece of the $133,590 USD total prize money that was up for grabs.
What's even more interesting is that today Dragon boat racing is not just confined to this one festival but has evolved into a competitive team sport that is rapidly gaining popularity all over the world, ranging from Europe to North America and even, Australia.
Resources: Telegraph.co.uk. focustaiwan.tw, cdba.org,journeymart.com