As China celebrates the Dragon Boat Festival, one rower explains the teamwork and trust at the heart of the sport

As Chinese celebrate the Dragon Boat festival this weekend, one of the rather important elements is often missing from the radar: the Dragon Boats! Although there are celebrations around the country, from the somewhat bizarre (a sinking festival in Guangdong province) to boating in Beijing, few take time to think about the effort that goes into these annual races.

Dragon boat racing is associated with Qu Yuan, the exiled Warring States-period poet and official associated with the Dragon Boat Festival. After Qu Yuan learned of the invasion of his home state, Chu, he drowned himself in the river. and the people rowed out onto the water believing the noise would scare the fish away from eating Qu Yuan’s body. Thereafter, holding a dragon boat race became an annual tradition.

Dragon boat competitions take place all over the world, not only on the Dragon Boat Festival. The International Dragon Boat Federation organizes a World Championships every two years, and clubs all over the world compete. In competitive dragon boat, the most common distance is 200M. There are three competitive categories,  小龙 (xiǎolóng, small dragon), 中龙 (zhōnglóng, medium dragon), and 大龙 (dàlóng, big dragon), based on the size of the boat. Xiaolong and Zhonglong are the most common categories, with around 12-20 rowers on board, plus a “rudder” who controls the direction of the boat, and a “drummer,” who helps make sure the rowers all paddle at the same speed.

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Rachel Wang is a contributing writer at The World of Chinese.

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