On the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar in
295 B.C. a virtuous minister named Wat Yuan committed suicide by drowning
in the Tung Ting Lake in protest of the decadence of the court. His body
was never found in spite of the local people racing out in boats trying to
find him whilst, at the same time, scaring the fish with drums and
throwing glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves into water to feed the fish.
The day in the calendar is now known as the Dragon Boats Festival and is
celebrated by races between specially built Dragon Boats crewed by members
of different villages, guilds or other organizations. The races take place
in southern China and throughout South East Asia, wherever there are
Chinese communities. The crews have about one month's practice before
coming together to race each other on the day of the festival.
The boats can be up to 120 feet in length with depth of
about two and a half feet crewed by up to 40 paddlers. There is very
little freeboard and a boat can easily become swamped. A large drum
located in the middle or stern of the boat is beaten to maintain the
The bow of the boat is decorated
with a dragon's head and the stern
with its tail. These are detachable, and when the boat is not in use,
are often kept in the local temple, reflecting the religious
significance of the festival.