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The Chinese Boat with a Dragon’s Heartbeat

Jun. 14, 2021

By now, many people are familiar with “赛龙舟 (sài lóng zhōu) dragon boat racing” and how it has origins in a folk activity meant to commemorate Qu Yuan, a famous poet and politician, in the Warring States Period who drowned himself after being banished by the emperor.

Or perhaps you may have heard about the alternative and lesser known pre- 1940s rural custom of “龙舟抢亲 (lóng zhōu qiǎng qīn) dragon boat kidnapping” which was practiced in order to circumvent paying to obtain brides and also known as “抢亲 (qiǎng qīn) bride-snatching”. If both of these are news to you then read the in-depth article from last year first. This year we are going to get into the more technical side of the Dragon Boat Festival, the intense sport of racing dragon boats.

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The Anatomy of a Dragon Boat

Traditionally, dragon boats are intricate with complex and beautifully ornate details. The portion of a ship’s bow above water, the “船头 (chuán tóu) prow” is made of a single block of teak wood and carved as a dragon head while the “船尾 (chuán wěi) stern” is made to look like a dragon’s tail and along the length of the boat’s body, called the “船体 (chuán tǐ) hull”, are innumerable dragon’s scales painted on one by one or carvings of traditional auspicious patterns like the waves, clouds, or beasts with bright colors. Modern boats are typically made of carbon fiber, fiberglass, and other lightweight materials. During training, decorative regalia is usually removed, although the drum often remains aboard for drummers to practice.

“船头 (chuán tóu) prow”

“船尾 (chuán wěi) stern”

“船体 (chuán tǐ) hull”

How to Row a Dragon Boat

The number of the paddlers varies accordingly since the boats are in different sizes but mostly, there are 22 members in a standard racing dragon boat, a steersman, a drummer, and 20 sailors. Sailors sit on both sides of the boat, 10 on each side to keep balance and row forward with the dragon boat paddle. The steersman in the back guides the direction. The drummer in the front beats the drum to encourage sailors and control the movement and frequency of the sailors’ paddling. The drummer is the soul of a dragon boat team in that he guides the rowers to paddle at a unified pace.

It could be argued that the most important part of the dragon’s anatomy is the heart which in the boat’s case is the drum. And thus the most crucial crew member would be the drummer. The pulsation of the drum reverberating is akin to the beating heart of the dragon boat. The drummer leads the paddlers by creating rhythmic drum beats to signal the paddlers’ strokes. The drummer keeps the crew on rhythm and pace to enable the crew to work as a single entity. Almost as a cohesive being, summoning the spirit of the dragon to commemorate a somber event.

Example Sentences Using 龙舟 (lóng zhōu) Dragon Boat

Gāi  jié   rì   de   tè   sè   shì   sè  cǎi  bīn  fēn  de  lóng  zhōu  jìn  xíng  jìng  sài.
该   节  日   的   特  色   是   色   彩    缤    纷   的   龙     舟    进    行     竞    赛。
The festival is marked by races of colourful dragon boats.

Sài  lóng  zhōu  zài  zhōng  guó  hé  yà  zhōu  qí  tā   dì    qū   hěn  shòu  huān  yíng ,
赛    龙     舟     在      中      国    和   亚   洲    其   他   地   区     很     受     欢     迎  ,
yǐ   jīng   chuán   bō  dào    wǔ   shí    duō   gè    guó   jiā.
已     经      传     播     到      五    十    多     个      国     家。

Dragon boat racing is very popular in China and other parts of Asia and has spread to more than 50 countries.

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Why Dragon Boat Racing has Gained Popularity

Paddling hard can burn a tremendous amount of calories and top speeds of 14.5km per hour/9 mph can be reached. It can be an exhilarating feeling for the boat to seem incredibly heavy for about the first 15 strokes then feels as if the boat and crew are gliding across the water’s surface. The camaraderie between the crew members is special as well. Without perfect synchronization the boat fails to pick up speed or go in a straight line.

The distance that the crew races for can vary. Formal races can be anywhere from 250m-1,000m, medium distances from 5,000m-20,000m, and rally races can be more than 10km long. That’s a lot of calories and a lot of time spent together training. It’s a fantastic team sport and a sport full of history and legend. No wonder it became so popular.

Don’t forget to download the Chinese New Year Traditions and Origin Stories ebook for free to learn more about various traditional Chinese festivals all while improving your vocabulary and expanding your understanding of modern Chinese culture.

You May Want to Learn More :
“Other Chinese Expressions for “Embarrassment””
“Different Manners (and Mannerisms) from Around the World”
”A Day More Exciting Than Your Birthday”

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