The Dragon Boat Festival, as it is known in the West, is a festival on the fifth day of the fifth month in the Chinese calendar. The Chinese calendar works on lunar months, which means that the date in the Western Gregorian calendar is different each year.
In Chinese, this festival is known as Duanwu Jie (Mandarin), or Tuen Ng Jit (Cantonese) and it is a public holiday in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau. On this holiday, it is customary to celebrate by racing dragon boats and eating Zongzi, a traditional glutinous rice parcel wrapped in bamboo leaves.
There is a famous legend linked to the eating of zongzi during the Dragon Boat Festival, which recounts the death of poet Qu Yuan. Qu Yuan (c. 340BC – 278 BC) was accused of treason by the king and banished from the kingdom; it was during his time in exile that he wrote the poetry that he is now remembered for.
Upon hearing of the capture of his country’s capital by the Qin state, Qu Yuan waded into the river carrying a great rock in order to commit suicide in protest to the corruption that led to this event. Villagers deperately tried to rescue him by rowing into the middle of the river to no avail. Later, they splashed their paddles in the water, beat drums and threw rice dumplings into the water to keep fish and evil spirits away from Qu Yuan’s body. These actions became traditions performed to comemmorate Qu Yuan each year on the fifth of the fifth.
Zongzi are rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves with various sweet and savoury fillings. These rice parcels are made from glutinous rice, and require steaming or boiling for a number of hours. The parcels are wrapped in the shape of a tetrahedron and tied with string. The process of wrapping and filling the dumplings is commonly conducted as a family affair. Popular fillings include:
- Mung beans with salted duck egg and pork
- Sweetened red bean paste
- Dried shrimps