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Culture Note: Chinese DuanWu festival !!


Oh, sorry I have to skip the weekend recipe today, and talk about this Chinese festival, which will be celebrated in China tomorrow — Duanwu festival, one of the important festivals in China.

The Chinese Dragon Boat Festival (Duanwu)

It is said that Duanwu festival originated over two thousands years ago. Although there are many versions of stories explaining the possible origin of the festival, the most popular one is the death of great patriotic poet ‘Qu yuan’ in 278 BC.

The legend is that he strongly opposed the idea (by the king of Chu) of allying with the emerging power – another kingdom ‘Qin’. After being demeaned and exiled, he wanted to awake the public and the king by committing suicide (jumping into the river), on 5th May in Chinese lunar calendar.

Local people were shocked and saddened by his patriotism, and started making reed leaves wrapped rice(Zongzi in Chinese) and throwing them into the river to feed the fish, hoping that this could help preventing his body from being eaten by fish. Quyuan would forever be remembered for his poems and patriotic gesture.

Hence, Duanwu festival was established on 5th May in Chinese lunar calendar in memory of Quyuan, and making and having rice wrapped by reed leaves became a main part of the festival.

Since Chinese calendar is different from Western calendar, the date of Duanwu festival changes every year, but it
always happens either in May or June. This year it is on 6th June, but you can see the celebrations everywhere already. Three years ago, the government set this day as public holiday (since all the traditions have been ‘rediscovered’, there are more and more holidays in China now.:)

However, in Southern China, where the ‘story’ took place, the festival atmosphere is probably much more intense than in the Northern provinces. For example, there are traditional ‘dragon boat’ races in the rivers.

Chinese Zongzi

But, one thing that North and South have in common when celebrating this festival is making Zong zi (rice wrapped by reed leaves). It is made by reed leaves (sometimes it is lotus leaves) with glutinous rice filling, and boiled in water. The fillings can be different, in Northeast, it commonly embeds a dried date in the glutinous rice, where in South, especially Canton area, it can be meat (for example) with glutinous rice (you can buy them in Chinese supermarkets here). Well cleaned reed leaves are said to have medical properties, and they are also very aromatic.

Every year, before Duanwu comes, I remember my dad and auntie busy making Zongzi – as a part of traditions, people normally give each other their own homemade Zongzi.

I never properly learned how to make them, my mum used to freeze some, so only I went back home I could have them. Couple of years ago, I decided to make them myself– actually I am soaking the rice and cleaning the leaves right now, so that is going to be tomorrow’s recipe. :))

Along with eating ‘Zongzi’, having boiled eggs and wearing ‘five colored’ thread are also part of the common celebration. I remember when we were in school, on Duanwu day, my mum would boil couple of eggs for me to take to school — then I could push my eggs against my friends’, and see who has the stronger egg — as part of the celebration of  the festival — a sweet memory, sometimes really wish I could go back to that age. :)

‘Five colored’ thread is made up with red, yellow, blue, green and purple five colours, and wrap it around wrists and ankles. It is said to be able to prevent from ‘bad luck’ or toxins — ha… saying Chinese are superstitious- :))) — Nowadays it is more like having them for decoration purpose rather than the superstitious meaning, and as part of traditions. :))) I actually like the look of these threads, very pretty. Normally it needs to be worn for a month, on 6th of June (Lunar calendar) it needs to be taken off and thrown into the river, let it drift away with water. Hanging diamond shaped fragrant bag is another form similar to the five coloured thread.

Ok… for now, off to make Zongzi, (I cannot wait to eat them,) and introduce more tomorrow. :)))

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