The Dragon Boat Festival is one of the traditional Chinese holidays. As there are now many Chinese people around the world, it’s celebrated in many places outside China, including Cambridge. A feature of the festival is dragon boat racing. These are rowing boats with a dragon’s head and tail, where the rowers are urged on by the rhythmic beating of a drum. It’s a straight race between two or more boats, point to point (not like the more complex bumps used in Oxbridge rowing).
The races take place in Cambridge on the river by Jesus Green and the lower part of Midsummer Common. There was a good mix of Chinese and non-Chinese today, which is the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, when the festival happens.
Confusingly for those of us trying to learn the language, the Chinese Duānwǔ jié (端午节) doesn’t translate directly as Dragon boat festival, which would be Lóng zhōu jié (龙舟节). Chinese have sometimes tried to persuade me that the character 龙 does resemble a dragon but I’m afraid I can’t see it. I try to remember it from the name of the Chinese province 黑龙江 ( Hēilóngjiāng) which literally translates as black dragon river. Sadly this province is part of China’s “rust belt”, a region of excessive capacity in coal and steel production, facing the prospect of heavy job losses when the government decides to get to grips with China’s unsustainably rising corporate debt.
Some Chinese place names are made to sound like the original (伦敦 Lúndūn – London). Oxford is translated literally as 牛津 (Niújīn) which means ox and ford or port (as in the city of 天津 (Tiānjīn). A mischievous Chinese teacher told me that 津, which has various meanings connected with water, could mean saliva, so really the Chinese refer to Ox saliva.
Cambridge translates as 剑桥 (Jiànqiáo). The second character is indeed bridge but the first is sword, so this seems to be a hybrid of sound and meaning.