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Yao Kuai Chuan (row fast boats)

During the reign of Emperor Shunzhi of Qing Dynasty, the people of southern Yangtze River area rebelled in succession to overthrow the Qing regime. Lu Zhaoyu, a scholar from Chenmu (now Jinxi), a neighboring town, was eager to answer the call. He organized an insurgent troop to fight against Qing forces. In June of the 2nd year of Emperor Shunzhi (1645), Lu Zhaoyu led his troops to march towards Suzhou.

Yao Kuai Chuan (row fast boats)

They rowed fast boats to storm and capture the South Gate in a single swoop, and drove straight on to the official residence of the Jiangsu Provincial Governor. However, when they returned in triumph, Lu’s troops were ambushed by Qing forces. Lu escaped alone and retreated as a monk.

After the event, the villagers held temple fairs on lunar March 28 and July 15, respectively, to commemorate Lu. Yao Kuai Chuan was a necessity among all the activities. As the pattern was followed for hundreds of years, Yao Kuai Chuan developed into a large-scale entertainment program popular among the people in festivals, harvesting celebrations, and weddings. Local farmers would prepare boats, garments, utensils, gongs and drums by themselves for their own enjoyment. They project the rich folk customs of the riverside town.

The fast boats of Zhouzhuang look fairly unique. The boats are decorated with color lamps and banners. Gong and drum bands sit in the cabins. Each boat is equipped with about 15 strong men, wearing tight clothes and embroidered straw sandals, to row the sculls.

On March 28 of the lunar year, dozens of fast show boats sail to Zhouzhuang from neighboring areas for chases. The spectacular scene is fairly impressive, with gongs and drums roaring in the boats, and the banks packed with innumerable people.