Legend Research Room

1. Origin of the Festival

2. Rites and Ceremonies Associated with Dragon Boat Racing

3. Eye-dotting- Origin of the Tradition

4. Chek Chu (Stanley)- Our Community Heritage

5. History of Stanley Dragon Boat Racing

6. Comparing Hong Kong & Taiwanese Boats ( 2002 Webmaster's choice )

7. Special style of Dragonboat Festival in Guizhou Province (Miao Ethnic), Southwest China (2003 webmaster's choice )

8. Links

researched by Edwin Hou



Origin of the Dragon Boat Festival

The Legend of Qu Yuan

The proper name of the Festival should actually be The "Duan Wu (or in Cantonese
dialect as Tuen Ng) Festival". Dragon Boat racing,
which is the main activity of it, is held each year
on the fifth day of the fifth Month of the Lunar Calendar to commemorate
the death of Qu Yuan (pronounced "Chu Yuan"), a well-loved statesman and poet,
who lived in the Chinese Kingdom of Chu more than 2,000 years ago.

The government of the Kingdom of Chu was a corrupt one and after jealous
rivals falsely accused him of treason, Qu Yuan was banished. In despair,
and perhaps as a final gesture agains the government, Qu Yuan threw himself
into the Mi Lo River.

The festival's distinctive dragon-boat races are a re-enactment of the
frantic, vain attempts of the fishermen who rowed out to save him.

Special rice-and-meat dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves (zong zi) are
eaten at this time of the year. They symbolize those which were thrown
into the river to prevent fish from eating Qu Yuan's body, and to appease
his spirit.

The Legend of Rice Dumplings

Although the traditional rice dumplings stem from the legend of Qu Yuan,
their distinctive pyramid shape and leaf wrappings come from another legend.
In about 40 BC a high-ranking official revealed to fishermen that their
offerings were being eaten by the River Dragon and suggested that they wrap
the rice in leaves first and then tie them with the lucky five-coloured
threads which the dragon monster dreaded.The fishermen followed his advice
and used palm leaves to wrap the rice into pyramidal dumplings, and named
them zong because zong sounds like the Chinese word for "palm".

Today, zong zi are wrapped in bamboo leaves. Popular varieties include
glutinous rice with savoury meat and beans, sweet, or salty bean-filled
dumplings, and the small, yellow-green type made of glutinous rice preserved in lye.

[ quoted from publication of HK International Dragon Boat Festival '95]




Traditional Rites associated with Dragon-boat Racing

The Dragon Boat Festival has come to be associated internationally with fun,
excitement, camaraderie and sportsmanship. Less well-known are the rituals
associated with dragon-boat racing, which has a deep cultural heritage and
springs from religious beliefs.

In Hong Kong today, it is the fisherfolk of the territory's who observe these
rituals. Although the procedures followed by different fishing communities
vary in detail, they all reflect a deep reverence for the dragon boats.

There are basically two important ceremonies which have to be performed for
the boats. They have to be blessed and "awakened" before the races and then
properly induced to "rest" afterwards.

Four days before the Festival, the dragon boats are taken out of their storage
yard and their dragon heads and tails are at-tached to them. A benediction ritual,
done with great pomp and cere-mony, follows this and involves the burning of
paper bills in front of the boats, the making of offerings and the chanting of
prayers to heavenly gods.

This ritual serves to ward off evil and to sanctify and bless the boats. In
addition, it is supposed to make the dragon boats strong and fierce and therefore
fit to compete in the exciting races.

When this has been done, each dragon boat is paddled out to sea, on a course
perpendicular to a nearby temple, then back to the temple with the drummer beating
the drum. This procedure is repeated three times. Very similar to lion-dancing,
this triple back and forth movement symbolize bowing to the Deities and/or the
honourary guests.

"Life" is given to a newly built dragon boat at a ceremony performed by a Taoist
priest a few days before the actual festival. Holding a bell and a sword in his
hands, the priest stabs the words into the mantras, a paper bill with "magic" words
written on it while also chanting some mantras. He then touches the dragon head,
tail and drum with the sword, after which paper money is burnt and "magic" sand
is sprinkled on the dragon head. A commumity leader is then invited to dot the eyes
of the dragon and, afterwards, its eyes will be drawn in red paint with a brush.

When the races are over, the dragon head, tail and drum are removed from each boat
and stored either in a temple or in another place agreed upon by the commuity.
Incense is burnt to thank the heavenly gods.

Meanwhile, the body of the dragon boat itself is usually either covered with sand
along the shore near a temple or put on appropriate racks and covered with roof-shaped
tin-foil covers. [ Boats for the Stanley events used to be put at a sand beach
near Ma Hang Village, now rest in front of the boat house of the HK Sea School.]
By performing these basic procedures, the dragon boats are considered
to be at rest until the next Tuen Ng Festival when the whole cycle of ceremonial rites
will be repeated.Traditional Rites associated with Dragon-boat Racing. The Dragon Boat
Festival has come to be associated internationally with fun, excitement, camaraderie
and sportsmanship. Less well-known are the rituals associated with dragon-boat racing,
which has a deep cultural heritage and springs from religious beliefs.

[ Text above adapted from publication of HK International Dragonboat Festival '95]




Editor's NOTEs:

(1) Much more details about the origin and rites of the Dragon Boat Festival can be found in our Chinese page.

(2)The text above shows that the Western Name "Dragon Boat Festival" is actually not a good one for the Duan Wu Je (or 'Tuen Ng Jit'). (For the meaning of the Chinese characters,please view
Adrian Lee's e-mail from Canada for reference). (Ed. 2000/6/25) [ Adrian is now the vice-president of IBDF ]

Please also view Alvin's page for reference on this topic.

(3) Foreigners usually distinguish competitive dragon boats as so-called Hong Kong style or
Taiwanese (Kaoh Shiang) style . The Hongkong style (actually the boats are similar or the same in Mainland China) is more popular in international races which usually specify the use of wooden boats of medium size, while the Taiwanese style boats are bigger and heavier and has much bigger dragon heads. The Taiwanese style of racing , which is not allowed in any IDBF sanctioned championships, also requiry a "flag catcher" up front, lying on the Dragon's head and pull a flag out of a marker buoy at the finish point and wave it to signify the finish. The first flag up wins. Those dropping the flag will add 10 seconds (depending on organiser) to the finishing. [If the catcher drop in water with the flag in hand, then only the tail will count the finish ]. Pleasse view Taiwanese Government's official Duen Wu Festival site for video clip ( http://www.gio.gov.tw/info/festival_c/dragon/dragon.htm) (ed. 2001/5/1, revised 2003.2.5)

see note (4) below

(4) Alvin' message mentioning the Taiwanese dragon boats on the E-group :2002/6/11 :

" Portland uses Taiwanese flag catching boats. The only other places in
North America that uses them are Iowa and Hawaii. The boats are 40'6"
long, 5'4" wide and weigh 1760 pounds (800kg). They hold 8M, 8F, 1
flag catcher, 1 steersperson, and 1 drummer.

The flag catcher is key in close races. S/he does nothing until the
end of the race. However, if they miss the flag, the team is
disqualified. In close races a flag catcher can grab the flag and wait
for the boat movement to pull the flag or they can yank it out. The
difference can be up to one second......"

Subject: [dragonboats] Happy Dragon Boat Day
From: "alvin@alvin.org" <alvin@bayareadragons.org>
Reply-To: dragonboats-owner@yahoogroups.com
To: dragonboats@yahoogroups.com


>> see more new links with Taiwanese boats below


(5) On 29 April 2001, China had arranged a 76km international dragon boat race 'Yangtze River Three Gorges
Marathon'. The best time was five hourssomething. This race was officially recorded by the Guinness World Record
as world longest DB race. DB team from the Hong Kong Amateur Dragon Boat Association is one of the 18 teams.
Time record is from 5.5 to 7.5 hours.
The HK Amateur DB Assn has been arranging a 22km dragon boat (relay?) marathon in Sep / October every
year and it will be the 8th Oct for 2001 and it attracted around 10 to 15 teams every year. Time for such was about 1 hour 45 minutes.
(7/6/2001 info from Paul Kan & Yale Leung as in yahoo e-group)

(6)E-group info that deserves posting up here : "Long distance dragon boat events"






"Eye-dotting"- Origin of the Tradition

It is generally believed that the tradition of "eye-dotting"
originated from 2 Chinese stories concerning printing pictures.
During the Eastern Jin Dynasty [314-420 A.D.], a painter named Gu Kai Zhi was famous for painting portraits. However, he had a strange habit of leaving the eyeballs out, even for several years. When he was asked why,he said, "The most life-like strokes of a subtle portrait come from the eyes." Actually he implied that even a single stroke should not be done casually.

Furthermore, when a painter called Zhang Seng You was designated to paint a mural for the An Le Monastery in Nanjing during the Southern Dynasty [420-589 A.D.] , people found that all the dragons on the wall-paintings lacked pupils in their eyes. Wen the Abbot invited him to addthe pupils, Zhang said, "It must not be done, otherwise they will fly away from the wall into the sky."

The Abbot was not convinced. Eventually those dragons with eyeballs painted on them emerged and flew away, while those without stayed on the wall -( This is the origin for the Chinese proverb "Draw the dragons, dot the eyes".)

In fact, when we dot the eyes, we are dotting out the essence. When extended to literature, we may say that the most vivid words as "the stroke that dots the eyes."

When we dot the eyes for dragon-boats, lion dance or masks, the meaning is the same: We draw the eyes, we give them life ! We are conveying our personal feelings!

[ Chinese Text from Ming Pao Daily, date unknown, possibly around yr 1993/94,Translated by Edwin Hou ]

Mr C.K Ng, Commissisoner of Correctional Services, dot the eyes for the dragon boats in Stanley 2000

@ @






* Dragonboat Festival (Malaysia Chinatown Homepage) (simplified Chinese characters)

2003 special feature:

Special style of Dragonboat Festival in Guizhou Province ( Miao Ethnic Minority ), Southwest China:

>>more links on this topic in our Chinese page


2002 Special Feature ( Taiwanese Boats )

* www.hisport.net.tw -
good picture and articles ( tradition, structure, and
rules about dragon boating in Taiwan (regrettably chinese only)*



* The World of Chinese Culture
-site of Overseas Chinese Commission (Taiwan Government) - traditions related
Highly Recommended to see Taiwanese Style DragonBoats / [ wonderful Movie clips ] 1. Origin 2. Activities [ Trilingual ] do turn on speaker of your computer.



Site focuses on USA and Canada Dragonboat teams, club crews, Races &
Festivals including a large International compliment. The history page
introduces Qu Yuan and the cultural relevance to the Chinese community.

* Alvin's International Dragon Boat Racing Homepage

* Sandiego Chinese Community Homepage

* Story of Qu Yuan - Chinese Culture, "Shanghai on Internet"


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