History of the Sport


History of Dragon Boat Racing

Dragon boat racing originated in China over 2500 years ago. The dragon boat festival commemorates the death of the poet Qu Yuan (pronounced "choo wan"), who drowned himself in the third century BC as a protest against a corrupt government. The legends are that the towns people attempted to rescue him by beating drums to scare fish away from eating his body and threw rice dumplings into the river to tempt the fish away from their hero. ​

Qu Yuan's sufferings had gained the sympathy of the people of Chu, and his tragic death is commemorated each year on the fifth day of the fifth moon, the day he drowned himself, when the fishermens’ attempt to save the poet is re-enacted in the form of dragon boat races. Traditionally, one paddler stands in the boat searching for Qu Yuan's body, while a drummer on board and the ferocious-looking dragon designs were added to frighten away evil water spirits.

While competition has taken place annually for more than 20 centuries as part of folk ritual, it emerged in modern times as an international sport in Hong Kong in 1976.​

The original Chinese dragon boats are constructed from teak planks, with camphor wood ornamental heads and tails. However, most modern dragon boats, such as the ones used in Canberra, are constructed from fiberglass, with wooden benches and detachable fiberglass ornamental heads and tails.


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