Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

Dragon Boat Racing: What Games Are We Playing?

The practice of dragon boat racing demonstrates how local communities established their own mechanism of maintaining social relations and distributing resources. Contrary to the view that this practice was closely related to the commemoration of Qu Yuan, racing here was closely associated with local politics and the ritual alliances formed within the Wenzhou plains.

The extensive water system certainly played a significant role in the formation of this tradition. As this module reveals, villages built dragon boats to join regional alliances. They confronted and negotiated with one another through racing and rituals. The rivers provided a great site for them to compete and develop rivalries, not only over games but also over the distribution of lands, water, woods, and other resources.

As a result, one can hardly ignore the significance of water in the exploration of the dragon boat race. Nor can one neglect the dynamics between humans and the environment in the operation of local governance. The city of Wenzhou was apparently built on the methods of managing water (e.g. building seawalls), as well as on the techniques of managing the practices regarding water. Thus, the games played here were not just popular festivals but also games between communities who had long used water to develop local politics and social relations.

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