Dragon Boat Racing also called Tuen Ng is a festival that dates back to the Chou
Dynasty. It is celebrated on the 5th day of the 5th month on the Chinese Lunar Calendar
or between May and June of the western calendar. The event, also called "Double
Fifth" due to its date of celebration marks the arrival of summer. The Chinese would
gather by rivers and lakes to watch dragon boat races. These boats are highly decorated
with the wooden dragon heads attached to the bows and dragon tails attached to the
sterns. Each team of paddlers varies from twenty in modern times to eighty in ancient
times. The team leader sits at the bow beating a drum to set the pace while a second
team member in the stern steers the boat using a rudder.
History of Dragon Boat Racing
Dragon Boat Racing
Photo Credit: Stitch Dragon - Erin Calaway-Mackay
Origins of Dragon Boat Racing
According to legend, the dragon boat races originated in the fourth century B.C.
to commemorate the death of Statesman and Poet Ch'u Yuen. He was angry because the
king would not take his advice and went to war unnecessarily. Ch'u Yuen drowned
himself in the Milo River in Hunan province to protest against this corrupted government.
The local fishermen ran to the river to try to save him but they were too late.
They beat the water with their paddles to try to keep the fish away from his body.
To save Ch'u Yuen's body, the villagers threw rice into the water hoping that the
fish would eat the rice instead.
Thus began the tradition of preparing the festival food of a glutinous sticky rice
dish called zongzi. This rice dish is made with various stuffing such as meat which
is then wrapped in bamboo leaves and steamed.
The Growth of Dragon Boat Racing
Today, Dragon Boat Racing has become an international phenomenon taking place all
over the world. Interest in competing in this event has spread to non-Chinese populations
as far as Germany. The local events compete for the honor for being able to participate
in the annual international Dragon Boat Racing event which occurs in Hong Kong and
Singapore in June.
Some of the largest Dragon Boat Racing events in North America include:
Toronto, Canada - Toronto International Boat Race Festival
Vancouver, Canada - Alcan Dragon Boat Festival
New York City, United States - New York City International Boat Race Festival
Portland, United States - Portland-Kaohsiung Sister Association Dragon Boat Races
San Francisco, United States - Northern California International Dragon Boat Championship
This is another example where a Chinese festival that began as a tradition has now
infiltrated cultures all over the world. The lessons of bravery (Ch'u Yuen), and
honor and respect (the fishermen) transcend international cultural boundaries. It
epitomizes the way that China as a nation thinks and feels for many centuries.