Guangzhou attracts hundreds for annual water sports festival
Zhu Longzhou

After days’ of pouring rain, Guangzhou lucked out with a sunny weekend for its annual water sports competition on the noted Pearl River. Unlike on rainy days, the splashes heard were created by hundreds of boats with teams from all over the world and the thunder from cheering onlookers and the boom of drums on each competing vessel.

The Guangzhou International Dragon Boat Invitational Tournament was held along the Pearl River on June 15, snaking through Guangzhou’s urban areas. A total of 124 teams and around 4,000 athletes participated.

According to the organizing committee, the 2019 dragon boat tournament received applications from Britain, the United States, Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Nigeria, China's Hong Kong and Macao, and other countries and regions. Locals from across Guangdong Province, including its capital Guangzhou, made up half of the contestant teams. The participants competed in 600-meter water races in the Traditional Standard, Men’s Open, Men’s International, Women’s Open and University Student categories.

Dragon boats as they commence sailing. /CGTN Photo

Dragon boats as they commence sailing. /CGTN Photo

The Renhe district dragon boat association team won the championship in the men's 600-meter category. Athletes from Tuen Mun in China's Hong Kong came out on top in the international group, while the women's team from Guangdong College of Business and Technology University in Zhaoqing city won the first prize in the women's category. Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou won in the college category.

The waterway was divided into six channels which 12 teams raced in rounds. The tournament contained preliminary and final competitions to decide the ranking for each team. The preliminary contest was divided into two groups, with the top three in each group ascending to the finals. 

In addition to boat racing, onlookers were treated to boat painting competitions and bonus rowing exhibitions that showcased China's cultural heritage.

Zongzi (rice dumplings wrapped and sealed by bamboo leaves) /VCG Photo

Zongzi (rice dumplings wrapped and sealed by bamboo leaves) /VCG Photo

As one of the most famous traditional festivals in Chinese history, the Dragon Boat Festival originated about 5000 years ago in ancient China. The main elements of the celebration at that time were eating and tossing zongzi (rice dumplings wrapped and sealed with bamboo leaves) into rivers and dragon boat racing. 

According to history, dragons were worshiped by Chinese people, and the Dragon Boat Festival was a way to honor the mythical creatures and bring good luck and happiness. However, nowadays, the majority of Chinese believe the Dragon Boat Festival celebrates Qu Yuan, a well-known patriot and a poet in the Warring State Period (475 B.C.- 221 B.C.), who sacrificed himself for the nation and jumped into the river. Today, the tossing of zongzi into the river is meant to distract fish from his body and dragon boat rowing to drive away fish.

Guangzhou, as one of the cradles of dragon boat racing, embraces the evolution of this ancient activity. Once considered a royal event, the water sport is now open to everyone. People from different regions of the province can build their dragon boats in whatever shapes they prefer and decorate them with painted figures and carvings from local legends and symbols of ethnic minority groups. International dragon boat enthusiasts gather in Guangzhou every year for the festival and showcase their rowing skills and sportsmanship together with Chinese rowers elevating the event to the international stage.

(Lai Shiwen contributed to this story.)