Dragon Boat races held throughout China as festival approaches

09:09, June 06, 2011      

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Although the water level of the Miluo River in central China's Hunan Province has dropped significantly due to a drought ravaging southern and eastern China, Dragon Boat racing on the river is still going ahead.

The Dragon Boat Festival falls on Monday this year, and twelve teams are taking part in a boat racing competition from Sunday to Monday on the Miluo to celebrate the festival.

However, the event could have been canceled this year because of not enough water in the Miluo which runs through Hunan Province, according to Huang Songbai, deputy head of the publicity department of the Miluo City Committee of the Communist Party of China.

This would have been viewed as unfortunate as the Miluo is said to be where the Dragon Boat Festival, or Duanwu Festival, originated more than 2,000 years ago.

But the local government made sure that the races could take place. It mobilized 200 people to dredge the river and establish a temporary stone dam, 400 meters long and two meters high, to raise the water level above it.

"The drought is the severest one to hit the Miluo River in 60 years, as the river has seen 60 percent less rainfall than usual in the past half year," Huang said.

In Miluo City in Hunan, the drought has led to drinking water shortages for 78,000 people and wreaked havoc on rice crops and aquaculture businesses.

Dragon boat racing, along with rice ball cooking and herb harvesting, is the traditional way to celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival, which is held across the country to pay homage to a patriotic poet, Qu Yuan, who lived in the state of Chu during the Warring States period (475 BC to 221 BC).

The poet drowned himself in the Miluo in 278 BC, after hearing that the army of the powerful state of Qin had occupied the capital city of Chu. He hoped his suicide would awaken the king to revitalize their kingdom.

The date of Qu Yuan's death, the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, has since been remembered as the Duanwu Festival. On that date, fishermen traditionally paddle dragon boats along the Miluo to search for Qu Yuan and scatter glutinous rice balls in the water to prevent the fish and shrimps from eating his body. ( The tradition in modern times has evolved into dragon boat racing. "People living along the Miluo River will take great pride if they win the competition, even happier than getting a good harvest," Huang said.

Outside the Chinese mainland, dragon boat racing is also popular in Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. Further, the sport is being gradually taken up in the United States, Russia and Singapore.

In 2009, the Dragon Boat Festival was added to the Intangible Cultural Heritage List of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

One year ago, a similar spring drought in the southwestern Yunnan Province cast a shadow over the Water Splashing Festival, mainly celebrated by the Dai people.

In response to the drought, some local governments in Yunnan canceled the official celebrations, featuring sprinkling sprees, while some others reduced the time of sprinkling and encouraged people to splash less water.

This year Dragon Boat Festival celebrations are also held in many other parts of China. An international Dragon Boat race is scheduled to be held in the city of Jiangyin in east China's Jiangsu Province from Sunday to Monday.

Twelve dragon boat teams take part in the race, including one team from Russia, said Wei Wei, a technical agent of the race, adding that the bonus for the champion will be 110,000 yuan (about 17,000 U.S. dollars).

Dragon boat races were also held Sunday in Yichang City in central China's Hubei Province and Jiangxi Province's capital city of Nanchang despite that lingering drought has lowered the water levels of rivers.

Dragon boat racing is merely one of the traditions held by Chinese people during the Dragon Boat Festival, said Wang Laihua, a professor from the Tianjin Academy of Social Sciences.

The most popular food for the Dragon Boat Festival is traditional zongzi -- dumpling made of sticky rice and different fillings wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves.

Many Chinese people celebrate the festival by making their own zongzi at home.

Moreover, it is a custom to hang bulrushes and wormwood leaves in the yard and at the gate during the Dragon Boat Festival to keep a family safe and healthy.

Wearing perfume satchel is also one of the traditions, said Wang.

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