The annual Dragon Boat festival – or Duanwu, or Tuen Ng Jit – is celebrated all over East Asia, but nobody does it like Hong Kong. This is probably due to two elements: the city is surrounded by water, making the boat races easier to hold, and attend, and Hong Kongese know how to party. Today the whole city partied down in celebration of the annual holiday.
The celebration actually has its roots in a very somber event. Legend has it that in 278 BCE, a poet named Qu Yuan who had been accused to treason threw himself off a bridge. Variations of the tale exist, but they’re all sort of a bummer.
But, in Cantonese fashion, this sad story was turned into a huge party. The boat races come from the legend of townspeople riding into the water to find Qu Yuan and scare off fish that might eat him.
The boat races are kind of like an Ivy League crew meet, but the boats are decorated, and coxswains play the drums, and judges look the other way if there’s a bit of paddle-bashing of competitors now and again. In Hong Kong, this has been a traditional activity for 2000 years and an official, organized sport since 1976.
After the races, the people drink wine and eat zongzi, the glutinous rice dumplings wrapped in leaves that are served in remembrance of the rice that was thrown in the water after Qu Yuan’s body, to give the fish something to snack on other than him. A little grim, but what national holiday isn’t? And this one has watersports.