Monday, June 9, 2008

端午节 Dragon Boat Festival

We went back to our parents' last night to have our first bbq of the year, as well as celebrate 'Duan Wu Jie' (aka Dragon Boat Festival). This holiday is celebrated on the 5th of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar.

The most popular theory of the origin of this day is that it was derived from the activities of commemorating a great patriot poet, Qu Yuan.

"Qu Yuan served in the court of Emperor Huai during the Warring States (475 - 221 BC). He was a wise and erudite man. His ability and fight against corruption antagonized other court officials. They exerted their evil influence on the Emperor, so the Emperor gradually dismissed Qu Yuan and eventually exiled him. During his exile, Qu Yuan did not give up. He traveled extensively, taught and wrote about his ideas. His works, the Lament (Li Sao), the Nine Chapters (Jiu Zhang), and Wen tian, are masterpieces and invaluable for studying ancient Chinese culture. He saw the gradual decline of his mother country, the Chu State. And when he heard that the Chu State was defeated by the strong Qin State, he was so despaired that he ended his life by flinging himself into the Miluo River.

Legend says after people heard he drowned, they were greatly dismayed. Fishermen raced to the spot in their boats to search for his body. Unable to find his body, people threw zongzi (aka Chinese tamales), lotus-leaf wrapped parcels of cooked rice into the river, hoping to tempt
fish away from eating his body, as well as to bargain for his life with a dragon that lived in the river. Villages also trawled the waters looking for Qu Yuan’s body, making a massive din in a bid to scare away fish. Today, teak rowboats holding up to 20 peddlers, a drummer, and a tiller are rigged with flamboyant dragon regalia and race in competitions to commemorate the villagers’ original search for the patriot’s body. Since then, people started to commemorate Qu Yuan through dragon boat races, eating zongzi and other activities, on the anniversary of his death, the 5th of the fifth month.

Zongzi is the most popular food for the festival. It is usually made of glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves. Fresh bamboo leaves are the best for the wrapping since the taste and smell of the fresh bamboo leaves is part of zongzi.

Today you may see zongzi in different shapes and with a variety of fillings, dependent on individual family traditions, preferences, city of origin, etc.. The most popular shapes are triangular and pyramidal. The fillings include shitake mushroom, taro, chestnut, meat, yolk of egg, etc. The festival is closely associated with zongzi and dragon boat races. More importantly this is also a national patriot festival through commemorating the great patriot poet, Qu Yuan. People are reminded that the importance of loyalty and commitment to the community in the festival."

note: above content is mostly quoted via various online web sites

Happy Chowing!

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