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It has been suggested that the earliest dragon boat contests were in fact violent struggles where at least one boat had to capsize as an offering to the Dragon God who controlled the rivers and rainfall. Later, these ceremonies gave way to swimming and wading contests. Eventually, boat races were substituted for swimming contests in Central and South China. If one were to inquire about the origin of the Festival, however, most Chinese would claim that it was to recall the soul of Qu Yuan, a loyal minister in the 3rd century BC. He tried to advise the king on how to keep peace with neighboring states, but his advice was rejected and he was banished from the kingdom. When he later learned that the capital city was destroyed in war, he despaired and wrote one of China’s most famous elegies, the Li Sao, (Lament on Encountering Sorrow). Then he threw himself into the Milo River (in Hunan Province) and drowned. The people got into their boats and raced to find him, but to no avail. When they realized he had drowned, they threw rice into the water as a sacrifice or, according to some versions of the legend, to prevent the fish from eating his body. To this day, dragon boat races are held to reenact the search for Qu Yuan.


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