History of Dragon Boating
The Dragon Boat Festival commemorates the life and death of
the ancient patriot-poet, Qu Yuan, who lived from 340-278 B.C.
during the Warring States period of China. Qu Yuan was a
minister who advocated reforms in his home state of Chu. The
King fell under the influence of other corrupt, jealous
ministers who slandered Qu Yuan. He refused to listen to Qu
Yuan's advice and instead banished him from the state of Chu.
Qu Yuan went into exile in the state of Jiangnan. While in
exile, he spent much of this time collecting legends and
rearranging folk odes while traveling the countryside, producing
some of the greatest poetry in Chinese literature while
expressing his fervent love for his state and his deepest
concern for its future. In 278, Qu Yuan's home had been invaded.
Overcome by sadness, he committed suicide by throwing himself
into the Miluo River on the fifth day of the fifth moon. The
people of Chu, learning of his suicide, rushed out in their
fishing boats to the middle of the river and tried desperately
to save him. They beat drums and splashed water with their
paddles in order to keep the fish and evil spirits from his
body, and later on, they scattered rice into the water to
prevent him from suffering hunger and also to feed the fish in
the river so that they would not devour his body.
act of searching for his body in the boats gradually turned into
the tradition of the Dragon boat race, which is held every year
on the day of his suicide. Dragon boats are raced on rivers in
China and the surrounding countries. During these festivals,
people will throw "zhongzi" (rice dumplings) into the river to
honor the memory of Qu Yuan.
Even before Qu Yuan, the fifth moon was known as a time of
danger. In ancient China, the hot, humid weather of summer was a
time of pestilence and disease. To ward off illness, people
attached bundles of artemisia and calamus to their homes, and
posted pictures of the demon catcher Zhong Kue. The people
considered themselves to be the descendants of dragons and so,
during the fifth moon, they feel it is appropriate to paddle
boats with dragon designs and make sacrifices of zhonzi to
cajole the river dragons.