Dragon Boat in Dragon Boat Festival

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Dragon Boat in Dragon Boat Festival


Dragon boating was said to be an activity popular among ancient folks in sacrifice of Qu Yuan, a great patriot who committed suicide for his motherland by way of jumping into Miluo River. As time went by, it developed into a boat race gradually. There are records in Wuhan history of boat race in Dragon Boat Festival. During Daoguang Period of Qing Dynasty, Ye Diaoyuan wrote three poems in Hankou Zhuizhici ?C an ancient book recording stories about Wuhan, one of which was: 「 thousands of oars are being sculled and the water spatters towards the sky; cheering is echoing from crowds on banks; boats left gradually after reaching the thither side, leaving the setting sun lingering beyond.」 In note it said: the sailors, forty, fifty or sixty sometimes, gathered together at the call of the drum. They wore headbands and short-sleeved costumes with the same color as the dragon boat. On both banks, people set up stages, hung up red lanterns, and fired guns to cheer when boats launched and berthed. That was dragon boat race. At the rice factory (now the Wangjiaxiang dock), all the dragon boats would be put together and decorated to form a big stage for performances. It was quite a busy and joyous picture. Later however, many emulators often fought during races thus interrupting the continuous holding of dragon boat races.

The grandest dragon boat event in Wuhan was held in 1936. During that race, Hankou city at that time established a dragon boating committee which stipulated that all the attendees should submit a written application in which a description of dock name, length, color and symbol of the boat and number of oarsmen was required. In case of being ratified, the committee would denominate the boat teams after the names of historical national heroes such as Yue Wumu, Wen Tianxiang and Shi Kefa and make banners accordingly. At that time, each dock and boat team were named following old tradition, such as Old Green Dragon, Old Yellow Dragon and Old White Dragon. The size of boat depended largely on the funding of each team, of which the longest was about 30meters while average length was 20-odd meters. An investigation showed that the racing dragon boats in different docks during that period amounted to thirty-five, and all were self-financing.

Each dragon boat had two rows of oars, one for standing paddling, and the other for sitting paddling. At front and back respectively there was a not more than chi square desk. May 1 of lunar year was the day for boating trying. Thousands of sailors, who wore costumes and headbands with the same color as the dragon boat, paddled and stopped to the drum. The desk players were all young people, among whom those funded the most acted as No.1 sailors and accordingly those funded at the second place acted as No.2. The desk players wore silk flowers, Fanyang hat, silk warrior costumes and silk socks and shoes, behaving quite handsome on the desk. On the mast of the boat there was a silk square banner. At the stern there was a several-steps long ladder with comparatively bigger front and smaller end, on which a comedian was sitting winding an ox horn for cheering. The two sides of the ladder were inserted with a seven-star banner and a title banner respectively. Those who beat drums and controled the stern were mostly experienced water dogs. On each boat there was an important pilot-like person called baotou directing the boat straddling on the dragon whiskers who held a tiger-head oar and wore skewly on left shoulder a red silk. The tiger-head oar was seldom used except at boating race or ceremonial visit. Diantou stood at the boat front, holding a tiger-head oar and wearing on left shoulder a red silk as same as baotou. He ordered the sailors to halloo 「Paddle! Paddle! Paddle!」 according to baotou’s direction. His oar was not used for paddling either, but for brandishing to cheer for the sailors. Sailors stood or sat on left and right sides of the boat according to their roles and paddled to the drum on basis of paddling steadily to slow drumbeat and post to quick drumbeat and stopping to dispersed drumbeat. The desk player at the front and the end held a barge pole and brandished it in circle, like two feelers were waggling at far distance.

On May 5 of the lunar year, the boat race commenced. Due to ill organization, a boat named Li Taibai turned over and drowned a sailor called Yin. After the finish of the race, all boats could be oared freely. During that period, at each dock from Zongguan to Dragon King Temple there was a biaochuan anchored in the Yangtze River made up of two barges which was decorated and canopied. Sometimes bands were invited to give performances for fun. When dragon boat came, people would display fireworks and played music to welcome. The dragon boat would be oared quickly two or three circles around biaochuan and then closed for rest. Each biaochuan had prepared candies, tea, steamed stuffed buns and cigarettes for entertainment. On that day, nearly all citizens swarmed there and both banks were filled with huge crowd. However, although dragon boat race was held intermittently, it was far from the previous pomp. During recent years, state authority has approved dragon boat race, the traditional folk activity, as a physical competition item.