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June 15, 2021

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Unique night boat race draws the crowds

AS night falls, the sound of gongs and drums reverberates along the river channel in Sanxi, an ancient village in Fujian Province, with constant cheers from the crowd erupting in the area.

On the riverbank, hundreds of muscular athletes wait eagerly for a fierce nighttime boat race they have long been waiting for.

The nighttime dragon boat race, native to Sanxi, is a unique custom of the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival, traditionally celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month on the Chinese lunar calendar.

“People here in Sanxi are very hardworking and in the past, they hardly had time for a boat race in the daytime, so traditionally we used to row the boat at night during the festival,” said village Party chief Pan Yinguan, adding that locals hold the boat race for fun, as well as to pray for good weather, peace and health.

Unlike other competitions that usually take place on the day of the festival, the night-time dragon boat race lasts from the first day until the sixth day of the fifth month on the Chinese lunar calendar. Villagers as well as the participants gather together for a feast dubbed “dragon boat meal” every evening before the event.

“The ‘dragon boat meal’ was originally meant mainly for paddlers so that they could propel vigorously. It later evolved into a ceremonial meal involving all the residents, as an expression of good wishes and prayers for the working people,” said a villager.

This year the dragon-boat racing competition in Sanxi has attracted more than 20,000 spectators every day.

The traditional event has now burgeoned into a popular modern sports activity among young people. In the city of Miluo in Hunan Province, 32 dragon boat teams from Hunan, Jiangxi, Shandong provinces and other regions gathered to participate in the three-day dragon boating event that ended yesterday.

“We are all passionate about boat race and our university sent two teams with an average age of 22,” said Gao Guotai, captain of the dragon boat teams from Shandong’s Liaocheng University.

Besides dragon boat racing, a range of colorful activities is also held during the festival across China. Traditions such as eating zongzi, or glutinous rice dumplings with various fillings wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves, and wearing perfume sachets are also observed.

The three-day holiday usually sees a surge in traveling across China. At least 100 million trips are expected to be made during this year’s Dragon Boat Festival holiday, roughly equal to the same period in 2019, as COVID-19 has been effectively controlled in most parts of the country.

Visitors to Mount Lushan, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Jiangxi Province, have enjoyed multiple activities as part of the festival celebrations.

Zeng Yanyan, a tourist from the city of Xinyu, witnessed a zongzi competition during her visit.

“I am super happy. It made me feel at home,” said Zeng.

“Making zongzi here is much more fun than doing it at home,” said Hu Dongmei, a local resident. “It is a very meaningful event and reminds us to cherish food and avoid waste.”


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