Legend Reasearch Room
Origin of the Festival
Rites and Ceremonies Associated with Dragon Boat Racing
Eye-dotting- Origin of the Tradition
Chek Chu (Stanley)- Our Community Heritage
History of Stanley Dragon Boat Racing
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
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
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
"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. 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 adapted from publication of HK International Dragonboat Festival '95]
NOTE:(1)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 for reference). (Edwin 2000/6/25)
Please also view Alvin's page for reference on this topic.
"Eye-dotting"- Origin of the Tradition
[ Chinese Text from Ming Pao Daily, Translated by E. Hou ]
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 t
hat 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 add
the 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 life-like 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!
Back to Homepage
* Dragonboat Festival (Malaysia Chinatown Homepage)
* Alvin's International Dragon Boat Racing Homepage
* Sandiego Chinese Community Homepage
* Story of Qu Yuan - Chinese Culture, "Shanghai on Internet"
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