LIFE / CULTURE
UK’s Manchester hosts Chinese Dragon Boat Festival
Embodiment of teamwork
Published: May 31, 2022 07:02 PM
File photo of people attending the dragon boat race in Manchester, the UK Photo: IC

File photo of people attending the dragon boat race in Manchester, the UK Photo: IC

At the sound of the starting signal, the athletes in four colorful dragon boats at Salford Quays near Manchester shot ahead and paddled mightily to the exhilarating beat of drums, watched and cheered on by crowds on the bank.

The fastest boat earned even louder cheers at the finishing line, where hundreds of spectators gathered. A few meters away, another crowd was enjoying Chinese cultural performances by singers, dancers and Shaolin kung fu warriors against the backdrop of a traditional costume show.

The boat race and the performances were the highlights of the UK Chinese Dragon Boat Festival, organized by the Xinhua Chinese Association, on Sunday.

Launched in 2012, the festival has grown to be one of the biggest of its kind in Europe.

This round was the eighth edition of the event - after a two-year interruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic - with 36 participating boats, including corporate teams, student teams and teams comprising sports enthusiasts.

A highly popular national holiday in China, the Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month of the Chinese calendar, which falls on Friday in 2022.

The festival commemorates the legend of the Chinese patriotic poet Qu Yuan. As per tradition, people eat zongzi (sticky rice dumplings) while cheering on the dragon boat rowers.

During the race, about a dozen paddlers sit in pairs along with a drummer who sits in front to keep the paddlers in rhythm. Each boat is decorated with a dragon head at the bow, scales on the canoe and a tail in the stern.

"Dragon boat racing is the best embodiment of our national spirit of pulling together in times of difficulty and marching ahead with courage," said Zheng Xiyuan, China's consul general in Manchester, at the opening ceremony.

The return of the festival "fully demonstrates our solidarity, determination and courage to prevail over the pandemic," Zheng said.

Fancying the medieval and tribal drumbeat, Nuno Gil, who competed in one of the boats along with his wife, Maria, was excited by the teamwork. "We're rowing and someone is setting the beat. It's different from other sports," he said.

After the exhausting race, the couple replenished their energy by gobbling down zongzi with traditional double fillings of salted egg yolk and pork.

"Today's festival is a real spectacle and a celebration of Chinese culture. Communities in Greater Manchester come together in an absolutely fantastic competition and sportsmanship," Paul Dennett, Salford's mayor, told the Xinhua News Agency.

The mayor said events like this bring the Chinese community and others together, deepen mutual understanding and also create business opportunities.

"There's been a lot of activity over the past decade in Greater Manchester. We have Beijing building and investing here. We have great institutions associated with our universities that immerse themselves in Chinese philosophy and culture," Dennett said.

"These exchanges all culminated here today in the celebration of the Dragon Boat Festival," he added.

For Wang Mingchu, a PhD candidate at the University of Leeds and a member of one of the competing teams, dragon boat racing is a sport whose charm easily connects the Chinese and British people.

"The British love punting, which is similar to dragon boat racing in a way, except that the latter requires more team effort. I'm glad to see that many of my British friends enjoyed the race today," he said.