Rowing dragon boat

Foshan China 2017-03-25


Introduction of rowing dragon boat

As Nanhai is located in a network of rivers in the Pearl River Delta, rowing dragon boat is a popular traditional folk custom. Some famous dragon boat events including “Yanbu dragon boat race”(盐步锦龙盛会), “Jiujiang dragon boat race”(九江赛龙舟), “birth celebration of dragon mother in Huangqi and dragon boat race”(黄岐龙母诞锦龙盛会), etc. With a history of 400 years, Yanbu dragon boat race is held on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, which is one of the folk dragon boat racing events with an earliest origin and the greatest influence in the Pearl River Delta. In 1984, folk dragon boat racing event was brought into sports events and Nanhai dragon boat team had good grades in dragon boat races home and abroad. In October, 2002, Chinese Dragon Boat Association named Nanhai as the “village of Chinese dragon boat sport”. Chinese General Administration of Sport set up a demonstration base of Chinese dragon boat in Danzao, which adopted the most advanced technology and electronic equipment and built international-standard competition venues for international-standard dragon boats and small-sized dragon boats (contain five people). In 2012, “traditional dragon boat(Danzao dragon boat rowing)” and “Dali dragon boat racing”(大沥锦龙盛会)were listed as Nanhai intangible cultural heritage. “Jiujiang traditional dragon boat” and “Yanbu old dragon boat customs”(盐步老龙礼俗)were listed as Guangdong intangible cultural heritage.



Types of dragon boats

There are two kinds of dragon boats. The first one is long colored dragon boat (长彩龙) which is generally made of high-quality Pontianak wood. It is about 10~50 meters long. In the southwest area like Jiujiang, Shatou and Xiqiao, the dragon boats can contain about 30 people; in the east area like Huangqi, Dali, Pingzhou and Guicheng, the dragon boats are longer, taking about 60~100 people. The dragon boats are usually buried under the silt at the bottom of the river, which is called “hiding dragons”(藏龙). It will be dug out before Dragon Boat Festival, which is called “awakening dragons”(起龙). There are certain ceremonies about “hiding dragons” and “awakening dragons”. After digging out dragon boats, they are painted with oil and scales and decorated with colored flags, general signs and umbrellas. Because they are very colorful, this kind of dragon boats are also called Jin dragon (锦龙) and Shi dragon (饰龙).


Another one is “five-man dragon boat”(五人龙). It has a light and flexible hull made of fir without a dragon head, a dragon tail and any other decoration. It is only one-man wide and five-man long, which is why it is called “five-man dragon boat”. It is mostly found in the dike-pond area of Xiqiao, Shatou and Jiujiang.



Dragon boat rowing is divided into “dragon boat cruise” and “dragon boat racing”. “Dragon boat cruise” will only cruise before the dragon boat racing.. However, “dragon boat racing” means participating in the “dragon boat racing for a flag”(赛龙夺锦). The competition scene is very exciting and the first one arriving destination wins. In the competition, rowers in uniforms sit on both sides and a child in colorful ribbons sits at the stern whistling to boost the morale. Two men stand at the bow and the rear of the boat, waving colorful flags. One is beating a drum and one is beating the gong. The sound of drum and gong is the signal for rowers to row at the same pace. Synchronized movement, splashing water, fleeting boats and fierce competition make a brilliant picture of dragon boat racing. This activity is very popular in Yanbu, Huangqi, Jiujiang, Pingzhou and Lishui.



Jiujiang traditional dragon boat

Jiujiang dragon boat rowing activity has a history of more than 100 years. In Guangxu period of the Qing Dynasty, dragon boat racing was very popular in the Dragon Boat Festival in Jiujiang. The dragon boat racing in Jiujiang is held once a year in the Dragon Boat Festival or in autumn with pleasant weather and abundant harvests. Local people take rowing dragon boat as a joyful and festive folk custom and pass it down.


There are many anecdotes about rowing dragon boat in Jiujiang. For example, a saying goes as “Zhongzhou gong, Shanqiao helm”. “Zhongzhou gong” refers to a dragon boat named “Zhongzhou” and the gong performer has a unique skill of “flying gong across the bridge”. When the dragon boat is about to cross a bridge over the river, the gonger will throw the 33-cm gong over the bridge that is 1-2 meters wide. When the dragon boat goes through the bridge, the gonger will fetch the gong and continue to beat it. It is so excellent that everyone cheers for it. “Shanqiao helm” means a dragon boat named "Shanqiao”. Riding in crisscross rivers that are only 5~6 meters wide with many river bends, dragon boats that are several meters long have to go back and forth in order to find the right angle to detour. And it gets harder if there is a sharp turn. However, thanks to the excellent skills of helmsman, the dragon boat “Shanqiao” can move freely and rapidly in the face of a sharp turn.



Jiujiang is closed to the West River. Thus, dragon boat racing is not limited to inland waterways. People also hold “dragon boat racing for a flag” in the West River, which is called “dragon boat sailing”(龙船出海) by villagers. The dragon boats participating in “sailing” is led by a dragon boat named "General Zhou”. It is said that General Zhou refers to a famous general Zhou Yafu in the Han Dynasty. In order to memorize him, villagers in Liushe village in Jiujiang named the boat after him. Jiujiang people admire “General Zhou” so much that all dragon boats are led by it when racing dragon boats in the river.


During the Great Cultural Revolution, most of dragon boats in Jiujiang were destroyed. After 1978, the economy developed and living standard was improved in Jiujiang. People from home and abroad voluntarily donated to make new dragon boats. More than 40 dragon boats were made and the traditional custom was revived. At festivals, dragon boat racing will be held in Jiujiang and 20 to 60 dragon boats will participate in it. All the people turn out to watch dragon boat racing, which is very bustling.



Photos from Internet

Source: & Nanhai Museum