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Dragon boat race

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A more specific term for dragon boat as a sport is dragon boat race, which is a team paddling sport on water, using painted wooden boats attached with decorative dragon heads and tails. The length of the race should be no longer than 500 meters and the normal crew number is 22, including 20 paddlers, 1 steerer and 1 drummer. However, a team could be consisted of maximum 27 people, namely a team manager, and 26 racers including 4 substitudes. Teams could be divided on the basis of the age or gender of their crew, while for instance a crew comprised of at least 8 men and 8 women would set a perfect example of a 'mixed team' of gender-based category.

During the dragon boat race the paddlers are sitting in two rows, facing forward unlike in rowing. The steerer, also called a tiller or steersperson, is either sitting or standing at the back of the boat. It is required for a good steerer to keep a straight course during the race, and also keep the boat and the crew as safe as possible. During the race, he is using a steering oar mounted on the left side near the rear of the boat, which looks like a long paddle or row (usually 20 feet), and by pulling the handle of the steering oar to right, the boat will then go left, and vice versa. Besides that, a steerer should also instruct the paddlers to take specific actions. In order to overcome all kinds of noises, instructions need to be spoken loudly and clearly so that the entire team could hear them. To ensure safety, he also needs to familiarize himself with the rules and other safety considerations such as the use of personal floatation devices, the weight distribution of paddlers, and the local water and weather conditions, etc.

The drummer who is sitting opposite the steerer and facing backwards, is often seen as the one who sets the pace of the boat by beating the drum. Together with the steerer, they have the full command of the boat. And it is always the drummer who enforces the team strategy like how much strength should be taken in what kind of stroke at what particular period of time, he also serves as a key role encouraging the crew overcoming fatigue.


The history of dragon boat can be traced back to more than 2000 years ago along on the bank of the life-sustaining rivers in Southern China. There are mainly two stories related to its origin.

Firstly, it was primarily held as a rite to awaken the hibernating Heavenly Dragon, which plays a most venerated role among the Chinese zodiac figures and was traditionally believed to be the ruler of rivers and seas that dominates clouds and rains. Sacrifice, sometimes humans, were involved in this ritual, and for this reason it remains a violent clash even centuries later as the crew members of the competing boats threw stones and struck each other with cane sticks. Eventually rowers or even a entire team felling into the water could receive no assistance from the onlookers as it was considered the will of this Dragon Deity and could not be interfered with. This belief coincides well with the time of this festival, which is anually held on the 5th day of the 5th Chinese lunar month (varies from late May to middle June), which is traditionally reckoned as a month of death and disease, a period of evil and darkness. Thus the awakened Dragon was able to avert misfortune and encourage rainfall which is needed for the fertility of the crops and prosperity.

Some other rituals also serve as evidence of this theory, one of which called Awakening of the Dragon[?] involved a Daoism priest dotting the protruding eyes of the dragon head carved on the boat, in the sense of ending its lumber. Another one required red paper being cut into the shape of the five most poisonous animals-the snake, centipede, scorpion, lizard and toad, that lures the Evil Spirits[?], and placed in the mouth of the wooden dragons in the front of the boats.

Another suggestion concerning its origin is more reliable, which integrated this festival with a touching saga of a famous Chinese patriot poet named Qu Yuan[?]. He lived in the period called the Period of the Warring States (475-221 B.C.) during which the country was torn into seven main states battling each other with unprecedented height of military strategy. As introduced above, Qu Yuan was a minister as well as a poet of the southern state Chu, a champion of political reform and truth that secure a healthy state. The king, however, fallen under the influence of the other corrupt ministers who considered Qu Yuan as 'a sting in flesh', banished his most royal counselor. In his exile, Qu Yuan produced some of the greatest poetry in Chinese literature expressing his fervent love for his state and his deepest concern for its future. In the year 278 B.C., learning the upcoming devastation of his country from the foreign invasion, he leaped into the Mi Lo river[?] holding a great rock. The people learning his suicide rushed out in their fishing boats to the middle of the river and tried desperatedly to save him. They beat drums and splash water with the oars in order to keep of the fish and evil spirits from his body, and later on, scattered rice into the water to prevent him from hunger. However, late one night, the spirit of Qu Yuan appeared before his friends and told them that the rice meant for him was being intercepted by a huge river dragon. He asked his friends to wrap their rice into three-cornered silk packages to ward off the dragon. This has been a traditional food ever since, although the dumpling are wrapped in leaves instead of silk. In order to commemorate him, people held Dragon Boat Race every year on the same day of his suicide.

Becoming an International Sport:

Twenty years ago, dragon boats were mainly paddled in China by around 20 million people. But ever since then, it has spread westward (mainly in North America) to become an international sport with huge following. Nowadays it is among the fastest growing sport and remains amazingly the largest team sport with over 60 million participants in over 120 countries. Main racing federation includes Dragon Boat Canada, the Canadian Community Dragon Boat Association as well as the United States Dragon Boat Federation. Biggest racing events such as the Stanley Dragon Boat Races from Hongkong, or the Toronto GWN race festival from Canada etc. are usually associated with huge festivals and are thus held annually. Moreover, as co-operation plays a most important role in it, Dragon Boar Race has also become an influential social sport, during which friendship as well as strength and endurance is developed.

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