Dragon Boat Festival, Hong Kong

Dragon boat

When I lived in Hong Kong in the late seventies, one of the highlights of my year was the Tuen Ng Festival, characterised by dragon-boat races.

It’s an ancient festival that celebrates the death of Qu Yuan, who drowned himself in the Mi Lo River over 2,000 years ago as a protest against corruption. According to legend, as people tried to rescue him, they beat drums to scare fish away and threw dumplings into the sea to stop them from eating his body.

This year, the festival is celebrated on 23rd June as it always coincides with the 5th day of the 5th month of the Chinese lunar calendar, and it is also the time of the summer solstice. Whereas the moon is considered to be Yin, both the sun and the dragon are Yang and at their most potent during this time. Tuen means directly overhead and ng refers to the sun at its highest position during the day.

I used to love going to Stanley to watch the races. Participants train for weeks for the competition. Sitting two abreast, with a coxswain at the back and a drummer at the front, the paddlers race to reach the finishing line, urged on by the pounding drums and the roar of the crowds.

The boats are incredibly fierce-looking. Before the festival, a Taoist priest dots the bulging eyes of the carved dragon head attached to the craft to wake it from slumber and reanimate its bold spirit before the race. I’ve included a dragon-boat race in my novel.

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