Similar to outrigger canoe racing but unlike competitive rowing and canoe racing, dragon boating has a rich fabric of ancient ceremonial, ritualistic and religious traditions. In other words, the modern competitive aspect is but one small part of this complex of water craftsmanship. The use of dragon boats for racing and dragons are believed by scholars, sinologists and anthropologists to have originated in southern central China more than 2,500 years ago, along the banks of such iconic rivers as the Chang Jiang, also known as Yangtze. Dragon boat racing as the basis for annual water rituals and festival celebrations, and for the traditional veneration of the Asian dragon water deity, has been practiced continuously since this period.
In the year 278 B.C., upon learning of the upcoming devastation of his state from invasion by a neighboring Warring State, Qu is said to have waded into the Miluo river which drains into Dongting Hu in today's Hunan Province—near the provincial capital city of Changsha and south of the city of Yueyang on Donting Hu, site of the first IDBF World Dragon Boat Championship in 1996—holding a great rock in order to commit ritual suicide as a form of protest against the corruption of the era. The common people, upon learning of his suicide, rushed out on the water in their fishing boats to the middle of the river and tried desperatedly to save Qu Yuan. They beat drums and splashed the water with their paddles in order to keep the fish and evil spirits from his body. Later on, they scattered rice into the water to prevent him from suffering hunger. In commemoration of Qu Yuan it is said, people hold dragon boat races annually on the day of his death.