HANGZHOU, June 22 (Xinhua) -- An ancient brass axe inscribed with images of dragons and canoe rowing men suggests the dragon boating tradition has been prevalent in east China for many centuries.
The golden-colored axe was unearthed in 1976 on the outskirts of Ningbo, a city in Zhejiang Province, where an irrigation system was being built, said Zhang Liang, curator of the city museum.
The axe is now a centerpiece collection of the museum. "It is most probably made in the Warring States Period (475 BC to 221 BC) when axes functioned as a tool, a weapon, a symbol of power, or a ceremonial object," said Zhang.
He said one side of the axe was carved with a dragon boating scene, with two dragons looking up to the sky and four men underneath rowing a canoe. "Each of the four men wore a giant headwear decorated with feathers, and paddled with both hands," said Zhang.
The rhythm in the movements of the feathers on their heads and the paddles in their hands reflects the aesthetics of modern sports, he added.
Zhang said the four rowers were believed to represent the people who lived in today's Ningbo, which belonged to a regional state known as "Yue" that existed from 2032 BC to 222 BC.
"The Yue people learned to make canoes and paddles at least 7,000 years ago," he said, citing archeological discoveries from two major Neolithic sites near Ningbo -- Hemudu and Tianluoshan.
In Chinese history books, they were recorded as "traveling by boats instead of chariots and using paddles instead of horses," said Zhang.
The Yue people were also known to perform regular dragon worship rituals, he added. "To celebrate the Duanwu Festival, which falls on the fifth day of the fifth month in the lunar calendar, they would hold boating races and the boats were always carved with the dragon totem."
As they rowed along the river, they would throw "zongzi," a glutinous rice ball wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves, into the water as a sacrifice to the imaginary "dragon god" who was believed to control over the water, including granting rainfall during a drought.
The Chinese still celebrate the Duanwu festival with dragon boating and "zongzi" today, though legends about these activities vary in different parts of the country.
This year, the holiday falls on Thursday. ■