Dragon boat racing dates back to feudal China, at least 2,300 years ago, developing around the time of year when heavy rains threatened to destroy young crops and cause disease.
To protect against plague and evil spirits, designs of tigers eating poisonous insects were embroidered on children's clothing. The dragon, a symbol of water that ruled the rivers and seas and dominated the clouds, had to be placated. By celebrating boat racing, an optimal amount of rainfall was ensured.
The ancient rite of dragon boat racing took on political significance with the legend of Qu Yuan (340-278 B.C.), a beloved patriotic poet who advocated reform. Exiled by a corrupt regime, he nevertheless wrote poetry and lectured on his patriotic ideas, then threw himself into the Miluo River when his home state Chu was defeated by its rival Qin.
Villagers raced to the site to look for his body, beating the waters furiously with their paddles and throwing rice dumplings into the river to draw the fish away from his body. Today, the eating of rice dumplings and dragon boat races are a symbolic re-enactment of Qu Yuan's passionate protest.