Dragon boat racing brings fun, adrenaline to Boston

Participants battle it out on the river, while celebrating the festival's historical significance and traditions

By MINGMEI LI in Boston | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-06-12 09:36
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The Living Root club team races in the 45th annual Boston Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival on Sunday. WILL WANG/FOR CHINA DAILY

Editor's note: In honor of an age-old traditional Chinese festival, China Daily takes a look at the Dragon Boat races held in the United States, gaining insight into how culture continues to bring people together.

On the Charles River over the weekend, thousands of people enthusiastically participated in dragon boat races, with a cultural fair on land celebrating the traditional Chinese festival.

Known as the first and oldest event in the United States celebrating the Dragon Boat Festival, the Boston Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival was held on Sunday and featured 68 teams with about 2,000 participants from New York and the New England states.

"We want to promote dragon boat racing. We want to use this platform to promote Asian culture … people come here to learn, for exchange or just for fun, too," Gail Wang, president of the Boston Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival's board, told China Daily.

Wang said dozens of volunteers for the 45th annual festival have been working diligently over the past year to preserve the tradition, while also offering a fresh perspective to attendees.

"It's very important for (connections) of people … culture exchanges, and that's what we do," she said.

The festival, also called Duanwu, is a traditional Chinese festival observed on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. It commemorates the life and death of Qu Yuan, a poet and politician during the Warring States Period (475-221 BC). Upon hearing that his state, Chu, had fallen, he committed suicide by drowning in the Miluo River.

Legend says that the people of Chu rushed to the river to rescue him, but they were too late. So they threw zongzi, or traditional rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves, into the river to keep the fish away from eating his body.

Today, zongzi and dragon boat racing have remained traditions for Chinese people. The historical significance, combined with fun, competitiveness and athleticism of racing, has transformed dragon boat racing into a sport that attracts participants from around the world. It also serves as a gateway for people to learn more about Chinese history and culture.

"I love to come to the Dragon Boat Festival. I think it's one of the best things that happens in Cambridge, and we're so delighted to welcome all of the rowers and everyone to Cambridge," said Jason Weeks, executive director of the Cambridge Art Council.

"It's very, very strong. We have just a robust community of folks here who keep all of the creativity alive." He said it was nice "to have a festival like this where we can all come together for the day and celebrate not just the races and the sporting aspects, but also especially the cultural aspects".

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