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Chinese Dragon Boats: 2,000 Years of Tradition

Boats come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, from tiny dinghies to gargantuan oceangoing vessels. Few watercraft, however, are as elegant or as ancient as dragon boats, which have played a central role in Chinese culture for at least two millennia.

This website introduces modern boat enthusiasts to the fascinating world of dragon boats, which first originated in China’s southern Pearl River Delta region. Here, readers will find countless essays and articles about these exquisite vessels and their remarkable history, accompanied by colorful photographs.

Racing and Ritual

Traditionally fashioned from teak wood (known for its durability and resistance to water), dragon boats are long, sleek waterborne vessels typically rowed by 18- or 20-man crews. They first appeared in southern China roughly 2,000 years ago, when rival villages would organize dragon-boat races that featured elements of religious ritual and ceremony.

Despite popular belief to the contrary, the existence of dragon boats is not confined to the southern Chinese mainland. Variations of the traditional dragon boat can also be found elsewhere in Asia, as well as in Africa, the Pacific Islands, and even in certain parts of South America.

Dragon-Boat Racing Today

In 1976, dragon-boat racing was institutionalized as an official sporting event in Hong Kong, where it remains extremely popular. However, today’s dragon boats are typically built from fiberglass and other lightweight materials, unlike their ancient counterparts.

Further cementing the cultural importance of dragon boats and dragon-boat racing, Beijing formally recognized China’s traditional Dragon Boat Festival as a national holiday in 2007.