History of Dragon Boating
Dragon boating has been celebrated in China since ancient times. Qu Yuan, one of China's most famous poets/patriots, lived more than twenty-three hundred years ago. He hated corruption, but he was surrounded by it. When he tried to introduce fair policies, his fellow ministers wouldn't hear of it. They told the king lies about Qu Yuan and he was sent away in disgrace. But he remained loyal to the king. For 67 years, he lived in exile writing beautiful poetry that told of his passion and love for his country. In time, he became a hero who was admired and loved by all the people.
In 278 BC, on the 5th day of the 5th month of the lunar calendar, Qu Yuan heard that enemy troops had invaded and were storming the palace to overthrow the king. He was heartbroken. Rather than see his country conquered by the enemy, he decided to kill himself. He went to the edge of the Milo River, grabbed a huge rock as a weight and threw himself in the river. He sank and drowned.
Fisherman along the river jumped into their boats and paddled out to rescue Qu Yuan. When they realized that there was no hope of finding their hero alive, they threw dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves into the river as an offering to feed the spirit of Qu Yuan and the River Dragons.
The people of South China remember the sacrifices made by Qu Yuan with the custom of racing dragon boats adorned with dragon heads and tails. The dragon boat festival is celebrated as a public holiday and is believed to protect the people from evil spirits and disease for the rest of the year.
An ancient ritual called "Awakening the Dragon" is also performed where the eyes of the dragon are literally dotted as a symbol to awaken the spirit of the dragon at the beginning of the season. Honorees are usually selected to dot the eyes of the dragon head. They should bow 3 times to the dragon head, and then dot the eyes of the dragon. The paint used to dot the dragon eyes is red and is mixed with a little bit of water from the river and the earth we are standing on.
The eye dotting ceremony is performed around the world as a celebration and the opening of the paddling season and to bless the boats and paddlers.