Hong Kong Dragon Boat Racing Festival

About China — By on 17/07/2012 4:50 pm

Dragon Boat Racing In Hong Kong

One of the most exciting, fascination and traditional festivals you can see in Hong Kong is the Dragon Boat Racing Festival that takes place every Spring/Summer. The festival is a series of races around Hong Kong in colourful Dragon boats that are great fun to see.

The festival can be traced back to an ancient legend over 200 years old. The hero of the legend was an ancient poet and patriot by the name of Qu Yuan who lived from 340BC to 278BC. He was an early advocator of reforms which put him on the wrong side of the King who promptly banished him from Chu for his evil thoughts.

Qu spend his time wandering through the country side composing poetry and expressing his concern for his home country and his people.  In 278BC while walking along the bank of the Ni Lo river Qu he heard that the Qin Kingdom and invaded Chu and captured the capital so he jumped in the river and drowned himself.

According to legend, the local fishermen raced out to the river to rescue him but arrived too late. To prevent his body from being eaten by fish they threw rice dumplings into the water as an offering to his noble and heroic spirit. The fishermen’s race to save Qu was the first of the dragon boat races and it is modern custom for rice dumplings to be eaten on the day of the Dragon Boat Festival which is held on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar.

A part of tradition is that every year four days before the festival starts, the dragon boats are taken from their mooring points and their heads and tails are attached to the actual boats. The completed boats are then blessed by Buddhist monks and later brought to life before the races by having their eyes dotted in red paint.

Since the start of the traditional dragon boat race on Qu’s death, dragon boat racing competitions have taken place for over 20 centuries as part of religious ceremonies and folk customs. During this time dragon boat racing has evolved to its present form as an international sport that began in Hong Kong in 1976.  Foreigners in Hong Kong during the 19th century witnessing the race were ignorant of the tradition behind it and called the celebration the “dragon boat festival”.  Since then the term has stuck in the international world and we now know the tradition as the Dragon Boat Festival and Dragon Boat racing not the original Chinese name of Duanwu..

The importance of the festival and tradition to China was recognised by the central government of the People’s Republic of China who added Duanwu festival to the schedule of official national holidays such as Qingming and Mid-Autumn festivals.

Dragon Boat racing started to receive world wide attention 36 years ago when a foreign team from Japan joined a dragon boat race organised by Hong Kong fishermen off Shau Kei Wan. Since then the humble Dragon Boat Festival has taken the world by storm and transformed an ancient folk custom in to a modern dynamic sport. These days over 3,000 athletes from over 12 different countries take part in Hong Kong’s international Dragon Boat Races that take place on the waters of Victoria Harbor with the brilliant Hong Kong skyline as a back drop.

The Races
The Dragon Boat Festival has two types of races, International and local races. The international race is dominate by the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Carnival and the local races much smaller low key affairs held all around Hong Kong. As a tourist in Hong Kong, you’ll most likely enjoy the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Carnival but if you have a chance, enjoy one of the local races which will have more of a Chinese flavour.

The international have open, mixed and women’s competitions.  These are further broken down into age with a number of races manned by very “mature” crews.

The length of the races ranged from an easy 200 meter sprints to back breaking 2000 meter marathons.

Boats and Crews
The boats used in the races are made of teak wood, have ornately carved Dragon heads and tails and are over 10 meters long.

The boats are crewed by 20 to 22 paddlers with a drummer at the front of the boat and a steers person at the back of the boat.

Festival Times
Traditionally the dates for the festival were set using the Chinese lunar calendar and was held on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calender. This date is normally in June for the Gregorian calendar and sometimes in May or July.

This year tradition was waived a little and the carnival ran from the 2nd to the 8th of July. Local dragon boat races this year were held from the 20th of May to the 15th of July.


The international carnival was on Victoria Harbor at the East Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront and promenade.

The best way there from the mainland is to take the MTR on the Tsuen Wan line to the Tsim Sha Tsui station and leave visa the G exit. From the G exit walk along Mody road for around 15 minutes. From Hong Kong Island catch the Star Ferry from Central or Wanchai to the Tsim Sha Tsui pier then walk east along the water front (past the Avenue of the Stars) for around 15 minutes.

The venues for the local dragon boat ranges around Hong Kong range from Shing Mun River in the New Territories and Tuen Mun to the outer Islands such as Lamma Island and Lantau Island. All of these venues are easily accessible by train, bus or ferry.

pixel Hong Kong Dragon Boat Racing Festival
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1 Comment

  1. Fisher Tom says:

    I have seen the festival a few years ago and it was fantastic. BTW, I have not even thought that dragon boats are so long. 12 m! Thanks for enlightening!

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