The Dragon Boat Festival [端午節] is an official public holiday in Mainland China. This traditional holiday is celebrated on the 5th day of the 5th month of the Chinese Lunar New Year Calendar. This means that the festival is celebrated at a different date every year, with it falling on 14th June 2021 this year.
The traditional Chinese holiday has been around for thousands of years. The story begins with Qu Yuan [屈原], a poet and a government official in the State of Chu during the Warring States period of China (approx. 475 to 221 BC). He was exiled by the emperor for perceived disloyalty. Qu Yuan spent his many years in exile travelling and composing great poetry. His works, The Lament (Li Sao), The Nine Chapters (Jiu Zhang), and Wen Tian are masterpieces and invaluable for studying ancient Chinese culture. Known for his patriotism, the news of his home state being defeated by Qin State sent him in such despair that he ended his life by drowning himself in the Miluo River in Hunan Province. During his time in exile, Yuan had become very loved by local people for his talent and loyalty to serve the country. Legend has it that when they realised he was attempting to commit suicide, fishermen rushed over to the river attempting to save him. They beat on drums and splashed their paddles in the water. To no avail, people threw sticky rice or Zongzi in the water, in hopes that the fish would choose the rice over Qu Yuan, for years after his death.
Today, people commemorate Qu Yuan's life through competing in dragon boat races, eating Zongzi and other activities on the anniversary of his death. The Dragon Boat Festival is a fun and energetic holiday, with most people from parts of China gathering outside on river banks and lakes to enjoy the warm weather whilst watching traditional dragon boat races. In relation to Qu Yuan's death, the racing dragon boats mimic the actions of the villagers who rowed out into the river to save him. Additionally, dragon boat racing has a history of thousands of years and some scholars believe the practice began as a way to worship the Dragon God.
Zongzi [粽子] or Zong [粽] is another ubiquitous part of the festival, a special kind of dumpling made of glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves and then tied tightly in a bundle. Zongzi can be found in different shapes with a variety of fillings including jujubes, meat, egg yolk, mung bean, mushrooms, Chinese sausage (lap cheong) and much more. They are cooked by steaming or boiling.
It is hard to find freshly made Zongzi at just any time of the year, however in the weeks leading up to the Dragon Boat Festival, Zongzi becomes available in a lot of places. Many Chinese families make their own, and they are also sold at Chinese supermarkets. If you'd like to give homemade Zongzi a try, we have our version available here. With glutinous sticky rice stuffed with pork, shiitake mushroom, salted egg yolk and a red bean filling, wrapped in bamboo leaves. We also sell Dried Bamboo Leaves if you would like to make your own!
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