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Dragon boat tradition returns to China as Covid retreats

Dragon boat participants from Panting village row along a canal in the historic Lychee Bay scenic area in Guangzhou in southern China’s Guangdong Province (Caroline Chen/AP)
Dragon boat participants from Panting village row along a canal in the historic Lychee Bay scenic area in Guangzhou in southern China’s Guangdong Province (Caroline Chen/AP)

The dragon boat tradition has returned in parts of China for the first time since the outbreak of the pandemic in late 2019.

It comes as restrictions are lifted along with a major drop in Covid-19 cases.

The historic Lychee Bay scenic area in the southern Chinese manufacturing hub of Guangzhou has staged boat displays and other scaled-back celebrations to mark the holiday commemorating the death more than 2,200 years ago of revered poet and government minister Qu Yuan.

Restrictions on the length of events and the size of crowds remained in place but did little to dampen the mood.

Dragon boat participants from Panting village row along a canal in the historic Lychee Bay scenic area
Dragon boat participants from Panting village row along a canal in the historic Lychee Bay scenic area (Caroline Chen/AP)

Along with the displays and traditional boat races — featuring teams of up to a dozen or more paddlers but which were not held in Guangzhou this year due to pandemic measures — the holiday is marked by community gatherings and the enthusiastic consumption of steamed rice dumplings cooked with meat, peanuts and other ingredients and wrapped in green leaves bound with string.

China recorded just 74 new Covid-19 cases on Friday and restrictions have been eased in cities such as Shanghai, which had been under strict lockdown for more than two months.

While travel restrictions, testing requirements, quarantines and mask mandates remain, the country is gradually emerging from its hardline “zero-Covid” policy that has throttled the domestic economy and severely constricted global supply chains.

The dragon boat tradition dates back 500 years in Pantang, and residents a century ago began displaying the boats as works of folk art and craftsmanship, said Liu Yongzhou, head of the dragon boat association from one of the village’s districts.

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