Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Story Behind the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival

By Asia Pop Culture

Chinese Dragon Boat

Chinese Dragon Boat Festival occurs on the fifth day of the fifth month each year based on Lunar Calendar.  In 2017, the festival fell on May 30.  It is considered one of the most important Chinese festivals in many Asian countries. Today, we are going to talk about the origin and the signature food behind this traditional Chinese festival.

The Dragon Boat Festival is a name best known to the West.  It is celebrated by its traditional name -- Duanwu Festival (端午節) -- in China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Macao.  The best-known story behind the Festival in modern China holds that the festival commemorates the death of the poet Qu Yuan (屈原, c. 340–278 BC).

Qu Yuan was a famous poet, a high government minister and politician during the Warring States of China.  He was banished for opposing the regional king making a doomed alliance with Qin (秦). During his 28-year exile, Qu wrote a great deal of classical poetry.  Qu eventually committed suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo River (汨羅江) after Qin (秦) captured the king and conquered the land he was loyal to.

Note: The decedent of that king of Qin (秦) was the emperor who eventually consolidated the Warring States, established the first dynasty (秦朝) of Imperial China, and built the Great Wall of China (萬里長城), plus the Terracotta Army, etc. in his massive tomb.

After Qu's death, people admiring his will and patriotism started boat racing with loud gongs and drums while tossing sticky rice dumplings wrapped in lotus or bamboo leaves into the river every year on the day he drowned to commemorates and as a respectful symbolism to rescue Qu and to keep the fish away preserving his body and spirit. Now the boat racing has turned into a sports event with ornate and elaborate designs of dragon boats (龍舟) not only held in China, but also observed in Japan, Vietnam, and Britain.

The Miluo River (汨羅江) where Qu Yuan drowned is located in today's Jiangxi Province (江西省) in Southern China.  So the Festival enjoys higher popularity in southern China areas, such as Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Guangdong and Fujian Provinces. Today, the Festival (端午節) is a 3-day holiday in China with a high number of traveling crowds.

Chinese Zonzi
The simple sticky rice dumpling has gone through many reiterations and regional influences to become the Zonzi (粽子) today with many varieties.

Zonzi is basically a pyramid-shaped sticky rice dumpling wrapped in wide plant leaves such as lotus or bamboo.  It is the special Chinese traditional food to eat to celebrate the Dragon Boast Festival.  It has various fillings with different regional preferences.  For example, in north China, people favor the jujubes as the filling, while the south sweetened bean paste, fresh meat, or egg yolk.  Today, Zongzi has become a common snack food easily found in supermarkets, night markets and street food stands.  However, some families still retain the tradition to hand-make Zongzi on the festival day, which requires considerable skills and practice.

In addition to Zonzi and dragon boat racing, other common activities include drinking realgar wine (雄黃酒), taking long walks, and people also wear perfumed medicine bags or hang them at the main door.  Some people like to play a game of making an egg stand at noon on the Festival day. Supposedly if someone succeeds in making the egg stand at exactly 12:00 noon, that person will have good luck for the next year.  These traditional activities were regarded by the ancients as effective in preventing disease, snakes and evil spirits, while promoting health and well-being.

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