Fri, Jun 10, 2005 - Page 13 News List

Riding the dragon

Taiwan has been dragon boat racing during the Duanwu Festival for 120 years and this year will be no different

By Gavin Phipps  /  STAFF REPORTER

The hugely popular annual dragon boat races will be the focus of a series of festivities nationwide this weekend, when hundreds of teams from across the country and a dozen international squads take to rivers in the Taipei, Bitan, Kaohsiung, Tainan, Ilan and Lukang in celebration of Duanwu Festival (端午節).

Falling on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, Duanwu, or Dragon Boat Festival as it is more commonly known in English, can be traced back over 2,000 years to the death of the poet and respected bureaucrat Chu Yuan (屈原) in 290 BC.

Legend has it that Yuan, a trusted adviser to the Chu emperor during the Warring States period (475 BC to 221 BC), was

discredited by a group of jealous and scheming rivals. Unable to regain the emperor's favor following the accusations of corruption, Chu decided to commit suicide by drowning.

Clasping a heavy stone to his chest Chu flung himself into the raging river. News of Chu's suicide shocked the nation and upon hearing it citizens leaped into their boats in an attempt to save him. They arrived too late, however, and Chu met his end in the waters of the Milo River in Hunan Province.

The beating of drums and the splashing of oars that are now such an integral part of the dragon boat races today are meant to mimic the frantic search for Chu.

The legend may be a couple of thousand years old, but Taiwan's dragon boat races are a mere 120 years old. They have become hugely popular and if the weather remains sunny, then the combined attendance figures for the nation's half dozen races is expected to number well into the hundreds of thousands.

This year over 500 teams will participate, both for fun and competitively. Smallscale races will be held in Ilan and Lukang and larger races will take place in Kaohsiung and Tainan.

A total of 88 teams will be competing in Kaohsiung and pitting their strength against each other on the Love River (愛河). In Tainan a staggering 150 teams will be going up against each other along the city's Anping Canal (安平運河). Both the Kaohsiung and Tainan races are evening affairs and begin at 6pm tomorrow and Sunday.

While The races outside of Taipei promise to be entertaining and competitive affairs, it is the Taipei City Government sponsored President's Cup that is once again expected to draw the largest crowds and the lion's, or rather the dragon's share of media attention.

Organized by the Education Department of Taipei City Government (臺北市政府教育局), the 2005 Taipei City International Dragon Boat Championship (2005台北國際龍舟錦標賽) will take place along the Dachia (大佳段) section of the Keelung River (基隆河) adjacent to Dachia Riverside Park (大佳河濱公園).

This year over 2,000 individuals representing a total of 111 teams will be competing in the Taipei City Government sponsored event. The first round of races will take place from 8am until early afternoon today. On Saturday races will again begin at 8am and will continue until 6pm and on Sunday those teams still in with a chance to raise the Presidents Cup will race from 8am until early afternoon.

Divided into two categories -- competitive and civil -- and subdivided into over a dozen small divisions, the President's Cup attracts a good mix of both competitive and less competitive teams. Each team, regardless of its will or ability to win, comprises 18 rowers, one coxswain and a drummer.

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