China's dragon boat tradition making waves in UK

2024-06-13 07:55:46China Daily Editor : Li Yan ECNS App Download

Encouraged by beating drums and spirited cheering from the crowd, paddlers from more than 60 dragon boat teams made a splash at Salford Quays in Greater Manchester, England on the weekend, at a vibrant celebration of the traditional Chinese Dragon Boat Festival.

The UK Chinese Dragon Boat Festival this year featured the participation of some world-renowned sports clubs, including Manchester United FC, Manchester City FC, and Salford Red Devils rugby league club, which brought a new level of excitement to the event, and a fusion of sports culture.

Conor Muldoon, captain of the Manchester United Foundation boat team, said that the team's dragon boat race debut was "a good team-bonding experience" and that it was good to "do something new and different".

"I think the most challenging point is the rhythm of the boat, trying to get everyone in sync together, which is something very new to us coming from a football background into boat racing," he said. "But I feel like we've done really well and we really enjoyed ourselves."

This year marks the 10th staging of the UK festival, which is said to be one of the largest dragon boat events in Europe and one of the most significant culture and sports highlights in the UK. Since it began in 2012, the competition has been organized by the Xinhua Chinese Association (XCA) in partnership with Salford City Council and the British Dragon Boat Racing Association.

"The festival has made contributions to boosting friendship, enhancing exchanges and cooperation, promoting mutual understanding, deepening people-to-people friendships, and stable and long-term development of China-UK relations," Tang Rui, Chinese consul general of Chinese Consulate-General in Manchester, read from a congratulatory letter from Chinese Ambassador to the UK Zheng Zeguang.

XCA Chairman Yang Hanxin said the festival has grown into a beloved and highly popular sports and cultural event, especially cherished by the communities of Great Manchester.

This year's dragon boat festival started with races among 44 amateur teams on Saturday followed by competition from 17 professional teams on Sunday, captivating thousands of spectators.

Lin Zhongwu, captain of the Belt &Road Association UK team which won the top position in the amateur race, attributed the team's victory to its "incredible solidarity and collaboration".

"From the moment we step into the boat, there's a sense of shared effort and an unyielding spirit that resonates deeply with us, that's the true allure of this sport," he said.

It was the team's first championship title since it first competed in the race in 2019.

Over the years, Lin said there has been an increasing number of participants, and the race has fostered cultural cohesion within the overseas Chinese community.

"It has largely strengthened our bonds," he added.

Paul Dennett, the mayor of Salford, agreed, saying: "We have longstanding Chinese diasporas here in Greater Manchester and events like this are a perfect opportunity for getting together with Chinese communities and celebrating multiculturalism."

With a history dating back more than 2,300 years in China, dragon boat racing is one of the traditions of the Dragon Boat Festival that commemorates the patriotic poet Qu Yuan, who lived around 340 BC to 278 BC. The festival is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month of the Chinese calendar, which fell this year on June 10.

In addition to boat races, this year's celebration in Manchester featured a variety of cultural performances, including dragon and lion dances, kung fu, and waist drum dances. People also enjoyed zongzi, a type of sticky rice dumpling that is a traditional Chinese treat during Dragon Boat Festival.

"The event is really important because it raises the awareness to the public about what dragon boat is," said Michael Walker, captain of the Soaring Dragons, one of the professional teams in competition. "It also helps people understand the history behind this 2,000-year-old sport and the Chinese traditions and community as well."

Breathing new life

Standing as one of the oldest sports in the world, dragon boat racing is now bursting with new vitality, driven by numerous dragon boat associations.

Since the formation of the International Dragon Boat Federation, or IDBF, in 1991, the sport has been in the fast lane of development.

"We started from 12 countries to now over 90," Mike Haslam, founder and honorary president of the IDBF, told China Daily. "The sport is experiencing a huge expansion."

It is thought more than 40 million people currently participate in dragon boat racing around the world, with global and continental championships held annually, he added.

Dragon boats are usually adorned with dragon heads at the bow and tails at the stern. Paddlers are paired up along the length of the boat, which is steered at the helm near the dragon tail. Crews are inspired by a drummer at the front who sets the pace with rhythmic beats.

"We don't change the boat or the design of the panel (from China's traditions), as that would destroy what a dragon boat is. We just develop a modern sport alongside all the traditional factors," Haslam said.

"Our next aim is to be recognized by the International Olympic Committee, and after that, we can apply to become an Olympic sport. We've been knocking on the doors for 10 years. It still takes a long time, but we will get there."

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