Behind “Women can’t go on dragon boats”: customs are disappearing and cannot be simply regarded as sexism

During the Dragon Boat Festival holiday, a video of a woman boarding a dragon boat in Foshan, Guangdong was attacked by Internet violence, sparking a discussion on whether women can board a dragon boat.Behind "Women can't go on dragon boats": customs are disappearing and cannot be simply regarded as sexism -Behind-Women-cant-go-on-dragon-boats-customs-are-disappearing

On the afternoon of December 2, 2018, in Foshan, Guangdong, the finals of the 3rd “Voyage to Jiujiang” Dragon Boat League were held in Yanqiao Ancient Village.Visual China Data Map

“It’s no longer an era where boys are more important than girls. Why can men participate in dragon boat competitions, but women can’t?” After seeing this video, he once served as the coach of a local women’s dragon boat team, leading the team to win the Asian Games championship, Zhao Ting (pseudonym), gold medalist at the World Dragon Boat Championships, commented.

In the video posted on the Internet, a woman sits on a dragon boat, takes a mobile phone while filming, and says, “Dragon boat, ready to start the competition.” But soon a male voice shouted, “Come on, girls can’t sit.” “Spread it out, women go away!”

The woman posted the video on her short video social platform, which immediately sparked heated discussions among some netizens. Some netizens left a message in the comment area, saying, “You are ready to accept criminal responsibility, which has destroyed our Guangdong tradition.” “The dragon boat that has been handed down for thousands of years has been abandoned for you, and your attitude is still so arrogant.” Since then, Jiujiang, Nanhai District, Foshan City Mr. He of the Dragon Boat Association responded to the media that there is a traditional dragon boat in the local area, and there is a traditional custom that women cannot board the boat.Behind "Women can't go on dragon boats": customs are disappearing and cannot be simply regarded as sexism -1655345318_536_Behind-Women-cant-go-on-dragon-boats-customs-are-disappearing

The performance of the Guangdong Women’s Dragon Boat Team in the first World Dragon Boat League in 2022.Source: Nanyue Female Voice

For a while, the debate around “women can’t board dragon boats” showed a trend of polarization. Some views condemned the “habit” of “women can’t board dragon boats” as reflecting strong discrimination. Some netizens commented, “Women want to board dragon boats.” should not be shut out of traditional culture”; another point of view is that this is just a traditional local custom, and does not reflect disrespect for women.

Is there any basis for the folk custom “Women can’t go on the dragon boat”? Some folklore experts once pointed out in their research, “The ‘dragon’ of a dragon boat is a divine ‘animal’ with a male gender symbol. In a male-dominated society, people generally take it for granted that it is a natural expression.”

Some experts also made it clear to CIC that “women can’t go on the dragon boat” is excluding women from the Dragon Boat Festival cultural tradition, and “this is a mistake”; some experts believed in an interview with CIC that “women can’t go on the dragon boat” cannot. Simply seen as sexism, “it’s more of a cultural taboo, or a conflict caused by this cultural taboo not being recognized.”Behind "Women can't go on dragon boats": customs are disappearing and cannot be simply regarded as sexism -1655345318_979_Behind-Women-cant-go-on-dragon-boats-customs-are-disappearing

The performance of the Guangdong Women’s Dragon Boat Team in the first World Dragon Boat League in 2022.Source: Nanyue Female Voice

Women’s dragon boat race has broken the “ancestral rule”

“The older generation did have this saying (women can’t get on the dragon boat), but it’s gone. Twenty or thirty years ago, a women’s team came to row the dragon boat.” Luo Yi (pseudonym) once served as a dragon boat in Shanwei, Guangdong. The team leader, in his opinion, the current dragon boat competition culture atmosphere in Guangdong Haifeng, Foshan and other regions is still very strong. He admitted that in the early days, the older generation did have a traditional cultural requirement that women could not board the dragon boats that men row, but in recent years, this phenomenon has gradually disappeared, and there are also women’s dragon boat teams in the local area.

But Luo Yi said that “women can’t go on the dragon boat” cannot simply be regarded as gender discrimination. It does involve local cultural customs and cannot be explained rationally.

The Dragon Boat Festival has a long history. Chen Huawen, a folklore expert and director of the Zhejiang Intangible Cultural Heritage Research Base, published a study on “The Cultural Heritage of the Dragon Boat Festival: Phoenix Boat Races and Women’s Participation” in 2018. In the research, Chen Huawen clearly pointed out that the Dragon Boat Festival is a special festival with thousands of years of inheritance history, and the dragon boat race on the Dragon Boat Festival is the most typical symbol and symbolic culture in the Dragon Boat Festival culture. Chen Huawen wrote that the dragon of a dragon boat is a divine “animal” with a male gender symbol. In a male-dominated society, people generally take it for granted that it is a natural expression.

Chen Huawen believes that in a society centered on patriarchy, the dominance of culture is bewitched by various male-dominated phenomena, so that women only become a supporting role and a vassal of male cultural dominance, while ignoring the details. Even the main or leading role in the process of specific cultural inheritance.

Under such logic, Chen Huawen said that “women can’t go on the dragon boat” involves cultural taboos.

CIC reviewed relevant information and found that, as a popular place for dragon boat sports, in Guangdong’s tradition, women were usually forbidden to engage in dragon boat sports. In traditional folk customs, only men can participate in dragon boat races, but women are not. The explanation is that when the boat was made into the shape of a dragon, it was endowed with divinity, “Wouldn’t a woman be blasphemous when she sat on the dragon?” Simu Gong”) is also not allowed to get on the dragon boat.

On the Dragon Boat Festival in 1993, Shanwei Yanding head people broke the “ancestral rules” and decided to add a women’s dragon boat race before the men’s dragon boat race, taking the lead in breaking the taboo that women were not allowed to board dragon boats. The Shanwei municipal government recorded on its official website, “This is the first ever women’s dragon boat race in Shanwei.”

“It’s no longer an era where boys are more important than girls. Why can men participate in dragon boat competitions, but women can’t?” Zhao Ting once served as the coach of a women’s dragon boat team in Guangdong and won the Asian Games championship, the World Dragon Boat Championships gold medal and many other awards . She loves dragon boat racing.

After watching the video “Women can’t get on the dragon boat” on the Internet, Zhao Ting said that the dragon boat in Jiujiang, Foshan has a long history and a long-standing reputation. In addition, the activities held on the Dragon Boat Festival were very lively. This female tourist may have been involved for a while. In the lively atmosphere, I accidentally got on the traditional dragon boat and wanted to feel the charm of the dragon boat. I didn’t expect the consequences would be so serious. “In the current situation, especially the pressure of speech from the society, is the punishment a bit severe for her?”

Zhao Ting said that in the past, the boundaries between male and female dragon boats were clear, and they each had their own boats, but now it is also possible for males and females to row together. “In some traditional dragon boat races, taking into account the physical differences between men and women, they will be divided into men’s and women’s groups. In the mixed race, the number of men and women in each group will be the same to ensure fair competition,” she said.

Zhao Ting recalled that she once posted a video of a women’s dragon boat race on Douyin, and received a similar message: A netizen suggested that the women’s dragon boat race should be cancelled, believing that it was not in line with tradition. But she said that at that time, there were also many netizens who spoke up for her and responded to the difficulties of the netizen.Behind "Women can't go on dragon boats": customs are disappearing and cannot be simply regarded as sexism -1655345318_0_Behind-Women-cant-go-on-dragon-boats-customs-are-disappearing

Guangdong Women’s Dragon Boat Team Source: “Southern Guangdong Women’s Voice”

The spirit of struggle and solidarity in dragon boat sports does not distinguish between men and women

In Zhao Ting’s view, there is indeed a strong dragon boat atmosphere in Foshan, and various competitions will be held from various districts to villages. Among them, it is divided into competitive dragon boats and traditional dragon boats. Most of the competitive dragon boats are used for competitions, and most of the traditional dragon boats are used for memorial or display purposes.

Traditional dragon boats can also be divided into dragon boats and traditional dragon boats for competitions. “Youlong’s dress is more beautiful. Lighting, flower cards, etc. will be installed in the dragon boat. For the dragon boat used for the competition, the dragon boat will be polished and waxed, so that the dragon boat will be polished cleanly.”

Zhao Ting said that in some traditional dragon boat races in folk areas, such as the five-person dragon in traditional dragon boats, only men could row in the past, and now some competitions also accept women’s five-person dragon rowing. Both men and women can participate in the competitive dragon boat, and there are mixed events for men and women.

She also witnessed the efforts of many female dragon boat players.

She recalled that one of the first women’s dragon boat team members had been rowing dragon boats for more than 10 years. She joined the club in 2008, when she was in her 30s and kept practicing. “She’s the ‘late bloomer’ type.”

In the team, there are still many female players who have married and have children, but they have been insisting on high-intensity training. Some players have missed their children’s high school entrance examinations in order to prepare for the competition. “I also admire their sense of responsibility for their careers.”

“In the past, women could not get on the dragon boat and could only stand on the shore to watch the competition, so they had less chance to get in touch with the dragon boat when they were young.” Zhao Ting said, however, the grandfathers or fathers of these women are often masters of dragon boat rowing. They grew up in the atmosphere of dragon boat racing. Even if their skills and abilities were not very good at the beginning, their “water sense” for dragon boats would be much better than that of team members in other places.

The sense of water is a fit between the paddle and the water, and between the human and the paddle when holding the paddle. “It’s like playing billiards, holding a billiard cue in your hand,” Zhao Ting explained.

She misses the atmosphere of the dragon boat team very much, and the feeling of everyone working together and making progress together. Just like she has seen the movie “Chinese Women’s Volleyball”, she feels that Jiujiang women’s dragon boat also has the spirit of unity and hard work.

“In the team, everyone doesn’t want to be left behind, they will consciously get rid of inertia, they just want to keep moving forward and forward, so that the dragon boat can row faster.” She said that in the dragon boat team, no one fights alone. Behind the individual is the entire team, and everyone moves forward hand in hand, and no one can do without the other.

She introduced that in a common small dragon boat competition, there are 10 paddlers in 5 rows, one for each left and right paddle, plus a drummer and a helmsman. The drummer is the soul of the dragon boat and plays the role of controlling the rhythm, and the helmsman controls the direction of the boat. Different positions have different functions.

The first row leads the oar at the front, and takes on the responsibility of the leader, controlling the rhythm of the entire dragon boat, while the second, third, and fourth rows are the power motors of the dragon boat, which are responsible for transmitting power, and the last row is the dragon boat. The “driver”, try to make the rowing easier for the teammates in front. The rowers in the fifth row will be more demanding, requiring more coordination and fluidity.

“Every position on the dragon boat is very critical, responsible for different functions, and we work together to make our dragon boat row faster and better.” She said.

Zhao Ting said that the daily training of the dragon boat team is very hard. It takes four or five hours for special training every day, plus some on-land physical fitness, running and other training, the overall training time is more than seven or eight hours. “Dragon boat pays more attention to the strength of the waist, shoulders and arms, as well as the overall coordination of the body.”

Before she became the coach of the Dragon Boat Team, Zhao Ting was a member of the Guangdong Kayak Team. She said that as far as sports are concerned, effort and gain are not necessarily proportional, but if you don’t make effort, you will never gain anything. Not only as an athlete, but also as an athlete. The same goes for other things.

Two years ago, Zhao Ting stopped working as a coach due to pregnancy. She said that she had left home since she was a child and grew up in a sports team, and she also longed for a family atmosphere, so she hoped to accompany her children more and did not want them to go back to their childhood paths. “After practicing sports for so long, I want to stop and rest for a while before planning.”

Folklore expert: Cultural traditions that exclude women are anachronistic

“The problem with cultural taboos is that they are inviolable locally. From the dragon boat owner’s point of view, ‘Can’t I have this taboo?’ To violate this taboo is to be against women. Disrespect, is this too absolute?” Chen Huawen, after examining the culture of the Dragon Boat Festival, combined with the video on the Internet, believed that the practice of “women can’t go on the dragon boat” is too absolute to discriminate against women. .

Chen Huawen believes that from the perspective of dragon boat culture: 1. From a physiological point of view, the difference in strength between men and women is too large. “Every beat of dragon boat requires everyone’s strength to be very coordinated, and the strength is very important to win, because it is a kind of competition. Form.” Second, the cultural taboos of the people can easily rise to the level of belief, which has a certain religious character, and the meaning of this culture will be very complicated. 3. There is also “phoenix boat racing” in the dragon boat culture, and then there are also women’s dragon boat teams. The dragon boat culture has been improving, reflecting the diversity of cultures. “Women have begun to participate in the male-dominated dragon boat culture,” Chen Huawen said.

Chen Huawen emphasized in his research that women should be encouraged to participate in the inheritance of this festival culture. He believes that this can balance the so-called inequality between men and women in the tradition to some extent. In some male-dominated power activities, a special incentive is obtained due to the participation or viewing of women, so that cultural cohesion is guaranteed during the activity.

Tian Zhaoyuan, a professor at the Institute of Folklore Studies at East China Normal University, believes that “women can’t go on dragon boats” is an outdated and backward cultural tradition, and is discriminatory. “This is definitely unacceptable.” Gender equality and ethnic equality are the basic principles that contemporary human society and culture must follow.

In his view, when the culture of the Dragon Boat Festival was passed down, there was a serious tendency of simplification and simplification. ” Tian Zhaoyuan said.Behind "Women can't go on dragon boats": customs are disappearing and cannot be simply regarded as sexism -1655345318_945_Behind-Women-cant-go-on-dragon-boats-customs-are-disappearing

Sichuan Guangyuan phoenix boat.Picture of Tian Zhaoyuan

Tian Zhaoyuan pointed out in his research that the traditional Dragon Boat Festival culture includes both dragon boat racing and phoenix boat racing. In many places such two traditional cultures run side by side, providing a broad space for women’s participation. In many areas, there is a reality that men and women row together, such as Guangyuan in Sichuan and Fengzhou in Honghu, Hubei, which reflects the gender equality awareness of the traditional Dragon Boat Festival culture, which is very valuable. This debate on “women can’t get on the dragon boat” highlights the important issue of the lack of space for women to participate in the Dragon Boat Festival, and it also highlights the urgent issue of the need to revive the phoenix boat race in the Dragon Boat Festival and allow women to participate widely.

“Excluding women is not part of a good cultural tradition,” Tian said.

(This article is from CIC, for more original information, please download the “CIC” APP)

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