Chinese culture has many, many
festivals, commemorating some rather unusual events. Dragon Boat Festival
is one such festival. This year, it fell on June 15. The main thing to do
on this day is to eat zongzi, the glutinous rice dumpling, as it is
translated into English, though I think that scarcely describes it.
In some places, they actually
do have races of boats that are colorfully decorated with dragon designs,
but I have never seen such a race. I have, however, eaten lots of zongzi.
I was given several this year. You can buy them commercially and they are
commonly eaten as a snack food, but at this time of year, you are likely
to receive homemade ones. The rice is a glutinous rice and is very sticky.
The rice may be white, as shown above, and it may have some red bean paste
inside, though the ones you see here had nothing inside. Sometimes the
rice is brown from a sauce and inside is a small chunk of ham. In any
case, each one is wrapped in reed leaves and steamed, I suppose, for a
long time. At first, I thought they were rather tasteless, but I have
developed a taste for them now, and I like to eat them, though once a year
The origin of the zongzi is
as strange as the food itself. It seems that there was a Chinese poet and
official (Chinese officials in ancient times were always poets; that was
the mark of an educated and capable person) named Qu Yuan (pronounced a
little like "chew you ann.") He was an official in the kingdom
of Chu, in about 340-278 BC, which was before China had been unified into
a nation. China has a tradition of ministers who give advice to the king,
or emperor, and Qu Yuan was such a minister. Qu Yuan advised the king of
Chu to prepare for war because the state of Qin was poised to devour his
state. But the king thought he was safe, since the emperor of Qin seemed
to be focusing on other, weaker, states. But, eventually, Qin did attack
Chu, and the Chu kingdom was defeated.
Qu Yuan was so distraught over
this that he committed suicide by jumping into the Miluo River. His
countrymen, upon learning of this tragedy, rushed to the scene in small
boats and tried to find his body. They failed to find it, so they made the
dumplings wrapped in reed leaves and threw them into the river so the fish
would eat the dumplings and not Qu Yuan's body. Later, it became a ritual
to eat the zongzi on the anniversary of Qu Yuan's death and to hold
dragon boat races.
I am always amazed that
Chinese remember so many small things from their very long history, and
that these traditions can be passed down generation by generation.