The Custom of Rowing Dragon Boats on the Chuanjiang River

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July 18th 2020
Published: July 18th 2020
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The Dragon Boat Festival is a traditional Chinese festival. On this festival, Chinese people participate in many folk activities to pay tribute to Qu Yuan. The dragon Boat race, which is held on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month in Bayu, is the climax of the Dragon Boat Festival. This custom has been passed down for generations, with many unwritten procedures and peculiar practices.

·Raising the gang’s flag

The Dragon Boat race on the Chuanjiang River is organized by the dock gang and the boat gang. Some of these gangs compete alone, or two or three together. Every Year from March to April in the lunar calendar, a gang participating in the Dragon Boat Race must publicly raise their gang flag on its pier. Each competing gang has to build their own dragon boat, buy costumes, prepare food, etc. These expenses may be too large, so some gangs choose not to participate in the competition every year.

·Preparing your dragon boat

After the gang hoists its flag, it asks the master to build a dragon boat. The master throws a rooster into the sky to see how far the struggling bird flies. The farther it goes, the more likely the dragon boat would win the race this year.

Old dragon boats can be reused, but after a year they have cracks that need to be repaired. You have to scrape off the flesh from the bamboo, mash it and then mix it with stone powder and tung oil to make it into "putty," then fill the cracks with a spatula knife, inset hemp silk, and fill the putty. After repeating this process several times, the cracks of the boat are repaired. Finally, brushing tung oil all over the dragon boat makes it look brand-new.

·Inviting the dragon head

The annual dragon boat race lasts until the end of the Dragon Boat Festival on May 15. The dragon head and tail are sent to the local Dragon King temple for worship, where the people go to invite the dragon head. With loud drums and gongs, the dragon head and tail are respectfully invited to the Dragon Boat Festival. The dragon head and tail cannot be directly installed on the dragon boat. They are first sent to the dock’s temporary dragon shed structure and placed on the dragon shelf. A Taoist monk performs an "opening of light" ritual for the dragon head, then the leader of the gang makes a toast with his boatmen and invites the dragon head out carefully.

After the dragon boat has installed the dragon head and tail, it is launched and will be paddled out to worship the dock. The dock gang has a specially-assigned person to set off firecrackers on the shore to greet them. The dragon boat rows 3 times on the river and then returns to shore. The boatmen then get out of the boat to rest. If the two dock gangs are particularly close, there would be wine and meat waiting. After worshipping the dock, the dragon boat would set out again. The dragon head is covered with seven feet of red silk by the host, and each of the boatmen are gifted three feet of red silk as well. When the dragon boat returns to it’s dock, it would also set off firecrackers to greet it. It pulls in after three rounds of rowing, then the boatmen carry the dragon head and tail back to the temporary dragon shed for worship, where they are invited to come out the next day. The dragon head and tail cannot stay on the dragon boat overnight.

·Dragon Boat Racing

On the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, a dragon boat race is held in a wide area on the river to see which gang will row to the other side first and win the flag on the bank. This is the climax of the Dragon Boat Festival. On this day each year, both sides of the river are lined with children and adults. Some businessmen take the opportunity to set up stalls to do business while enjoying the fun.

In 1946, on the first Dragon Boat Festival after the victory of the War, all of the 48 gangs in Chongqing raised their flags. It was the largest dragon boat race ever, and each gang wanted to win the race. The "Qinglong" gang at the Xuantan Temple made careful analysis: the race was going upstream on the Jialing River, so many boats would fight for the slow left channel and make it crowded. Although the current in the right channel was a little more rapid, there would be fewer dragon boats. This analysis proved correct on the day of the race! On the day of the race, many dragon boats competed fiercely for the left channel, and several ships were even sunk colliding. On the other side, the Qinglong gang paddled alone on the right bank, where they feigned intense struggle. Suddenly, they increased their speed and sprinted to the finish line with all their might. By the time the other gangs understood what they were doing, the Qinglong gang had won the race.

The Dragon Boat race on the Chuanjiang River and its tributaries is only held on the day of the Dragon Boat Festival, but rowing practice requires at least half a month. In fact, people here do not row dragon boats except for the pleasure of competing in the festival.


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