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People carry forward tradition of dragon boat racing

By ZOU SHUO in Miluo, Hunan | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-06-11 07:17

A tourism worker dips realgar wine on the forehead of a child in Neijiang, Sichuan province, on Dragon Boat Festival, which fell on Monday. The wine — rice wine mixed with a tiny bit of realgar, or xionghuang, a traditional Chinese medicine — is a common drink during the festival, and dabbing some wine on the faces of children is believed to help them keep healthy and expel evil spirits from their body. [LAN ZITAO/FOR CHINA DAILY]

With family and friends cheering, 54-year-old Weng Yanping said she felt energized while paddling a dragon boat to compete in the annual race in her hometown of Miluo, Hunan province, on Monday.

Weng and the other 21 members of the all-female team, with an average age of over 40, participated in the annual dragon boat race held on the Miluo River to commemorate Dragon Boat Festival.

Each team consisted of 22 members — 20 paddlers, one drummer and one helmsman.

The women's team competed with 19 all-male teams in the 500-meter race and finished last, but Weng said she was excited and motivated by the experience.

The women's team was founded in 1988, and Weng has been a member since then and has participated in the race annually.

"For people in Miluo, boat racing during the festival is in our blood, and we are the proof that no matter your age or gender, anyone can participate in and enjoy team sports," she said.

One of the most popular stories of the festival's origins is that of Qu Yuan, an exiled poet and politician during the Warring States Period (475-221 BC). Upon hearing that his state, Chu, had fallen, he committed suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo River.

Villagers paddled out in boats to save him and, upon realizing it was too late, threw zongzi, or glutinous rice dumplings, into the river to prevent fish from eating his body. They also thrashed their paddles and beat their drums to scare them away.

Therefore, boat racing and eating sticky rice dumplings have become two of the most prevalent traditions for people to commemorate the festival and Qu.

According to a big data analysis by China Mobile, boat racing is most popular in provinces such as Guangdong, Hunan, Guizhou and Fujian.

In Guangdong, people who watched the races accounted for 15 percent of the total number of tourists from other places.

Xu Cheng, 27, took a month's leave from his job in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, to train for the boat race in his hometown of Miluo.

There is a saying in Miluo that people would rather not have a good harvest for a year than lose the annual boat race, so he believes that his decision to take a month's leave from work was totally worthwhile.

"Some things cannot be bought with money," he said. "Boat racing is a tradition. My grandfather and my father both participated in the races, so I am inheriting the tradition."

Wan Bing, 40, trained for 15 days for this year's race. It was the third year he had taken part. His team finished in seventh place, but he said he was satisfied even though achieving first place has always been his goal.

"People in Miluo learn about the spirit and patriotism of Qu Yuan since their childhood. As we grow older, we join the boat racing teams. The whole team unites together and paddles like one, overcoming fatigue and pain while practicing, until they cross the finish line."

Thousands of people gathered on the river banks to cheer on the racers.

Among them was 7-year-old Zheng Anti, who stood out because she was wearing traditional Chinese clothes.

She was cheering for her father, whose team achieved first place in the qualifying games.

"He did a great job and I am very proud of him," Zheng said.

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