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Racing paper boats to save an ancient poet

23 June 2021

Pupils from Maes Y Coed Primary School making boats for the Dragon Boat Festival
Pupils from Maes Y Coed Primary School in Pontypridd and their finished dragon boats

The Dragon Boat Festival, ‘Duanwu’ or 端午, is an important traditional festival in China and many other Asian countries.

The festival is actually a celebration of the ancient Chinese poet Qu Yuan who, according to legend, drowned in a river during the ‘Warring States’ period (c. 475 to 221 BCE). It is said that after discovering what had happened, local people frantically raced their boats to search for him, dropping lumps of rice into the river in the process so that fish would not feast on his body. This is the reason that so many boat races are held at this time, and why families make and eat ‘zongzi’ - a kind of sticky rice dumpling wrapped in bamboo leaves.

As Qu Yuan is said to have drowned on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar, then the festival is held every year on this day. The date changes for those of us who use other calendars however so in 2021, the festival landed on 14 June. To celebrate, Cardiff Confucius Institute’s tutors prepared some special online resources for teachers to use in class, or for children (or adults!) to enjoy at home. Pupils were particularly keen on making their own dragon boats and racing them themselves, so here is what some of them did.

Pupils from Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhymni were asked to make presentations on everything that they had learnt about the Dragon Boat Festival. The year 8 class even read and performed a drama about the Qu Yuan story, and wrote and performed a chant in Mandarin to make the rowers go faster!

Pupils from Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhymni design their own dragon boats
Some intricate design work going on at Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhymni...
Pupils from Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhymni with their completed dragon boats
…and the final results!

“It was great to see pupils working together and learning from each other” said Maes-Y-Coed Primary School teacher, Sue King. “They absolutely loved watching the clip of an actual boat festival and couldn't believe how fast the people were rowing!”

Maes Y Coed Primary School pupils and their dragon boats
Even though they found the folding tricky, Maes-Y-Coed pupils persevered with their paper dragon boats.
Children from Millbrrok Primary School - Dragon Boat Festival 2021
Millbrook Primary School pupils hard at work on their dragon boats.

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