The history of dragon boating dates as far back as 2,500 years ago. Originating among fishing communities along the Yangtze River in Southern-Central China. On the 5th day of the 5th lunar month of the Chinese calendar, locals participated in a ritual designed to appease the rain gods. The desire was to, encourage rainfall and celebrate the summer rice planting. Also, the dragon of Asia is a traditional symbol of water It rules the rivers, seas and dominates the clouds and rains.
The myth of Qu Yuan emerged in written form as early as the 7th century AD. Qu Yuan, a poet and high-ranking official of the Warring States Period was exiled from his state by a corrupt king. When he heard that enemies had destroyed his court, he drowned himself out of sorrow. Legend states that villagers went out in the river with boats and drums to try to rescue his body. To do so, they threw sticky rice dumplings (zongzi) into the water to prevent fish from eating his corpse. However, they were unable to find him. Qu Yuan committed suicide on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. Resulting from this, zongzi are traditionally eaten on this day.
Due to political changes, the Chinese discouraged dragon boat racing during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Authorities associated it with feudal superstition and deemed an outdated custom that aligned poorly with the revolutionary spirit of the time. Consequently, they banned dragon boat racing for a while, adversely affecting the sport’s popularity.
The Dragon has a very symbolic meaning for the Chinese. A classic dragon has;
- the head of an ox,
- a deer’s antlers,
- the mane of a horse,
- the body and scales of a snake,
- the claws of an eagle
- the tail of a fish.
With its strength and power the Dragon rides the clouds in the sky and commands the wind, mist and rain.
The Modern Era
In 1976 the Hong Kong government, began to promote the sport of dragon boat racing to boost tourism. As a result, the modern era in the history of dragon boating began. At the later date of 1991, the International Dragon Boat Federation (IDBF) was created. the British Dragon Boat Association (BDA) and the European Dragon Boat Federation are IDBF founder members. The IDBF convened a set of institutional rules and regulations governing the sport. Now, over sixty countries around the world, including China, participate in dragon boat racing. China alone has circa 50 million dragon boaters. The Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival draws thousands of athletes from different countries every summer.
In the UK the BDA operate a national league for clubs around the country. Similarly, they manage Great Britain representative crews that race in international competition at European and World events. As well as the national league, a number of associated organisations, such as 4 Dragons run charity and corporate events around the UK.