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Celebrating Chinese Dragon Boat Festival in Yueyang

Last updated by wendysong at 2016/4/11; Destinations: Yueyang

The City and Legend

Situated at the northeastern part of Hunan Province, Yueyang City is a beautiful travel destination nourished by Lake Dongting (洞庭湖). It covers a land of 14,896 sq. km (5,751 sq mi) and has history dating back to 2,500 years ago.

dragon boat racing

There are a lot of historical interests in Yueyang City, including the famous Yueyang Tower, Nanhu Park, Miluo River, Junshan Island, Zhang Guying Village, Dayun Mountain and Memorial Temple of Quyuan. Yueyang is also known as the place of origin of the dragon boat racing. Besides the historical sites, the biggest reason for traveling in Yueyang is the celebration of the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival.

Yueyang has a typical eastern subtropics monsoon climate and high rainfalls in the monsoon seasons from late spring to summer. The best time to visit Yueyang is in spring and autumn, when it is not so hot. However, tourists tend to pour it when it is the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival, also known as Duanwu (端午). This traditional festival often falls in May and July. It is 2nd of July in 2014.

The festival is paid in honor to the great poet and patriot Qu Yuan (屈原), living from 343BC to 278BC. At the time he was serving as an official of the Chu State (楚国), he watched his country got invaded by the Qin (秦国) and the Chu emperor would do nothing about it. His protests and suggestions were turned down again and again, which led to his final breakdown. On the 5th of the 5th Lunar Calendar, Qu Yuan ended his life in the Miluo River.

Villagers heard about his death and began to search for his body in the river. The boatmen also joined in the search and were trying all their best to be the one to find Qu’s body. The scene of hundreds of boats rowing on the river became a regular event on the Miluo River and Lake Dongting. Since then the tradition of Dragon Boat Racing is passed down. 

Local Folklores of the Festival

Yueyang has hosted over 20 dragon boat races since 1991. Anually, the race attracts boat teams from across the country. The battle takes place on the Miluo River, with finishing line as the Yusun Mountain (玉笋山).
Dragon boat racing is not just a race. One local saying states out the importance of the race: Better to have one year of famine than to lose the dragon boat race. It comes with some serious rituals and ceremonies related to Qu Yuan’s death.
Preparation work before the race usually takes one month. It can be detailed as: setting the theme colors of all the racing boats; setting the racing routes, starting point and finishing lines; meeting of all the racers - from home and other provinces (like Guangdong and Fujian); selecting the boatman at the finishing line - who will toss a buoy down the river for the racers to plunge to get, and the buoy can be a live duck, live fish or an iron buoy. As for the racers, each team has one drummer and everybody will be dressed in the same color as their boat.
Firstly comes the worship. People donned in new dress will walk in circle about their boat, holding candles in their hands. This is called Lighting Up (亮灯), as a honor paid to Lu Ban (鲁班, the God of Construction and Craftmanship). Afterwards, the dragon boat will be carried, with the dragon head held up high, to the Memorial Temple of Qu Yuan (屈子庙) and people will pray for good luck and weather.
Here follows the real battle. The race starts once the gun goes off. The drummer starts drumming hard and loud as a way to cheer up the crew and to keep them rowing at a sync pace. At this moment, viewers on the shore are cheering and shouting, drumming noise and oars evoking against the water. Every boat is determined to win.
At the finishing line, there is a boat with a buoy, live duck, live fish or a piece of iron. The boatman will drop it into the river, here goes the final battle:a selected racer, the buoy-catcher, will plunge into the water and try to catch the buoy. It is almost impossible to catch a live fish or duck. Whoever catches the iron buoy wins the game.

Tips for Dragon Boat Festival Travel 

Learn about the culture and blend in

Before you go, some homework shall be done. Search on the internet or library for information about the festival, events and places to watch the race. This helps you make the decision about your travel and you will know what to expect ahead.
Once you are in Yueyang, try to be a part of the events. This means you shall shout and cheer at the game, no matter if it is going to turn you deaf or raucous. Also, try some spicy local cuisine.

Pack the bag

Things you should pack for this special holiday: camera of course, long lens if possible, water-proof bags to protect your cellphone and camera, pills for flu, diarrhea and bus sickness, and an umbrella. When you are in a crowded place, it is wise to keep your bag close to you and a fanny pack that holds your valuable stuff can be very handy.

Know your way in and out

The festival means crowds to clog the city and the lake. Transports and accommodations shall be booked ahead of time.
Per transfer, since there’s no airport in Yueyang yet, entering from other provinces should take Changsha as transmit. High speed train from Changsha to Yueyang is about half an hour and cost 109.5RMB for first class seat.
You have a lot of hotel choices in Yueyang, ranging from 30RMB/night guesthouse to Grand Skylight, a local deluxe brand. Yueyanglou District is the city center, it is best to stay here and take a cab to the lake or river on the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival.

Pick a right spot

The place to watch the race changes and you need to get the exact address from the local newspaper. In past years, it was held on Nanhu Square by the Miluo River.
Standing by the river shore is not necessarily the best way to get a great shot of the race. In fact, it has some serious safety issues. You can get to the Yueyang Tower or Junshan Island; both of them offer wide-open eyesight of the river as well as the race.

Spice it up a bit

Mix yourself with the celebrating locals; you can also try out the local cuisine, Xiang Cai. It is hot, flavorful and just a good way to spice up your holiday.