A long, long time ago, during the Pre-Imperial Warring States Period in China (475 – 221 BC), there lived a great statesman and poet by the name of Qu Yuan (pronounced “choo wan”). A very popular and just leader, he was banished from his state by his emperor, who was influenced by a malicious group of corrupt bureaucrats who wanted Qu out of their way. In exile, Qu wrote some of the greatest and most loved poems in Chinese literature. His poems expressed his great nationalistic fervor and his love and concern for his people.
After some time, a neighboring Warring State prepared to invade the state of Chu, his kingdom. Upon learning of this impending attack. Qu went to the river Miluo, in northeastern Hunan province, to commit suicide as a sign of protest. He grabbed a big rock and threw himself into the river to end his life.
When the people learned about Qu’s suicide, they rushed to the river to try to save him. They took their fishing boats and tried desperately to look for him, in the hope that they could still make him come back to life. They splashed the water hard to scare away the fish and other evil spirits that may seek to devour or mangle Qu’s body. They threw rice dumplings in the river to feed the fish, in the hope that the fish would not consume Qu’s body. Alas, their actions were to no avail. Qu’s body was never to be found again.
After that, to honor their great leader and poet, Qu Yuan, the local community would organize dragon boat races during his death anniversary, which is the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar. This practice would spread, from generation to generation, and from China to the world. And its popularity – in the recent past – has begun to soar.
Today, there are no less than 74 countries which have national Dragon Boat teams or local clubs, and this is growing very fast. Dragon Boat Racing is now a sport embraced by the modern world. The very core message of Dragon Boating – that of teamwork, synchronization and a common goal; that of paddling together, in one direction, and at the same time; that of listening to one leader and one beat; – all these provide the perfect model and inspiration for the different peoples of the world.
As humanity faces the challenge of global warming and the threat of big natural disasters today, we can only look at the example and the lessons of dragon boating for us to survive in the future. Indeed, as an unknown contemporary writer grimly suggests: in this day and age, what matters now is no longer who wins the race, but how many of us will finish the race.