Dragon boats full of hard-working crews raced on Brush Creek at the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri, today (June 14, 2014). I enjoyed the race loafing on the banks. It looked like hard work, especially turning the boat to return to the starting point, which was also the finish line, but I’m sure it was a lot of fun, too. Two boats raced each other in each race. Whichever boat got around the pink buoy at the turn first was hard to beat.
Dragon Boat races are a 2,000-year-old tradition in China that arrived in Kansas City ten years ago.
The annual International Chinese Dragon Boat Festival in Kansas City was founded by Mr. Robert S. Chien with the Society for Friendship with China. The crews debuted the four new fiberglass boats that were made for the event in China, part of a fleet commemorating of the death of Qu Yuan in 278 B.C. The dragon boat tradition began, according to Chinese legend, because friends and admirers of the statesman and poet used boats, noise and food to scare away hungry fish after Qu Yuan drowned after throwing himself into a river. Qu Wanshen, a 71st generation descendant of Qu Yuan, was on the schedule to attend. That’s some genealogy chart!
During the festival, sticky rice rice dumplings are eaten in honor of the rice dumplings thrown in the way two millennia ago. The rice dumplings, called Zongzi in Chinese, are sticky rice wrapped in bamboo/lotus/banana leaves. I, unfortunately, didn’t stumble across the food tent so I missed out on those. Next year, that will be my first stop!
Qu Yuan was the earliest great patriotic poet as well as a great statesman, ideologist, diplomat and reformer in ancient China. He lived in the latter part of the Warring States Period (476 BC – 221 BC). According to the Society for Friendship with China, Qu Yuan was a minister to the Zhou emperor during the Warring States Period (475 – 221 BC). He was a wise man who was strongly opposed to the corruption of the imperial court.
Because of Qu Yuan’s success, he aroused jealousy in his fellow ministers. They plotted against him and convinced the emperor that Qu Yuan was a traitor. Qu Yuan was banished, and returned to his home town. During his years of banishment, Qu Yuan collected legends and folk tales, and wrote poetry. He never lost his patriotic love for his emperor, and was greatly concerned about the future of the Zhou dynasty.
Eventually the Qin warriors overthrew the Zhou rulers and proceeded to plunder the country. On the 5th day of May, 278 BC, Qu Yuan learned about the fall of his capital city, and in a fit of despair, committed suicide by throwing himself into the Miluo River. The townspeople, hearing of Qu Yuan’s fate, rushed to their boats to try to save him. Since he was much loved, they tried to prevent the fish from eating his body by throwing rice dumplings into the water. They beat drums to keep evil spirits away.
To this day, the 5th day of the 5th lunar month is celebrated by eating rice dumplings (zong zi) and racing dragon boats. It is also a day for wearing talismans to keep away evil spirits. Adults drink Xiong Huang wine, and children wear fragrant silk pouches to guard against evil.
In Chinese culture, Dragon boat festival has been an important holiday for centuries, but in recent years dragon boat racing has become an international sport.
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