The word "swimming" can be found in a verse in the" Book of Songs, " Chinese earliest collection of poems. It reflects the practice of the sport in ancient times. Ancients swimming against swift currents are also described in books of the pre-Qin periods (prior to 221 BC). Swimmers are seen in an amphibious battle vividly portrayed in the designs of an unearthed bronze pot of the Warring States period (475-221 BC). Four women frolicking in the water are pictured in one mural of the Northern Wei Dynasty (AD 386-534) in the grottoes of Dunhuang.
The superb swimming skills in ancient China were best demonstrated at aquatic meets on the Oiantang River in Zhejiang Province. Historical records have it that on the eighth day of the eighth lunar month every year, when high tides surged forward with the momentum of an avalanche at the mouth of the Oiantang River, local young people would swim against the mighty waves, some holding up coloured flags while" bobbing and swirling ahead with a hundred strokes, " some standing on small boats and manoeuvring their way through the mounting waves with perfect ease. This was what was called "playing with the tides. "
With abundant rivers and lakes, China boasts many good swimmers. Even today old swimming styles like "goupashi" (dog paddle), "zhamengzi" (head-long diving) and "biandanfu" (treading water) are still quite popular among the people.
As a traditional activity, dragon boat racing has retained its popularity to this day, especially in regions to the south of the Yangtze River. Legend has it that Qu Yuan (c 340-278 BC), a great poet of the Warring States period, was drowned in the Miluo River in Hunan Province on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month before the local people rushed to the scene by boat in an effort to rescue him. Since then, dragon boat races have been held on that day every year to commemorate Qu Yuan's death.
Dragon boat races were held on a large scale in the Tang Dynasty (618- 907). On such an occasion, a dozen boats went off like so many shots at the starting order, each striving to outpace the other amid the beating of drums on the vessels and cheers of onlookers on the banks.
Emperors of the Song Dynasty (960-1279) made it a rule to watch dragon boat races when they reviewed their water-borne troops. The winners were not only given handsome awards but gained high fame.