Back in ancient China, there was a scholar who was a government official by the name of Qu Yuan. Known for his contributions to classical poetry and verses, Qu Yuan was very dedicated to the Chinese government.
As the Kingdom fell into the hands of the corrupt rival Kingdom, Qu Yuan was very disillusioned, upset and outraged at the deep corruption he saw across China at that point of time. As the ultimate act to protest against the corruption, Qu Yuan in despair drowned himself in the Miluo river holding a great rock in a display of heartfelt sorrow.
Qu Yuan was well loved all across China, especially by the villagers. Upon learning about his suicide, the villagers rushed out on the water in their fishing boats to the middle of the river and tried desperately to rescue Qu Yuan. They beat drums and splashed the water with their paddles in order to keep the fish and evil spirits away from his body. Later on, they scattered rice into the water to prevent him from suffering hunger and also to prevent the fishes from devouring the poet’s body.
However, late one night, the spirit of Qu Yuan appeared to the villagers and told them that the rice meant for him was being intercepted by a giant mystical dragon lying in the depths of the river. He asked them to wrap their rice into 3-cornered silk packages to ward off the dragon (the traditional food now known as zongzi or sticky rice wrapped in leaves).
The act of the villagers racing to search for Qu Yuan’s body in boats gradually became the cultural tradition of dragon boat racing and to commemorate Qu Yuan, dragon boat races are held annually on the day of his death.