The Dragon Boat Festival (Duanwu Festival, Duānwǔ Jié, Double Fifth, Tuen Ng Jit) is a traditional holiday that commemorates the life and death of the famous Chinese scholar Qu Yuan (Chu Yuan). The festival occurs on the fifth day of the fifth month on the Chinese lunisolar calendar. This year it`s on June 18th, so before it has happened let us introduce you to the holiday, it`s traditions and, most importantly, foods that everyone eat during the festival!
First of, the festival is not about dragons. The roots of Dragon Boat Festival are most often traced back to the suicide of scholar-official Qu Yuan in China’s Warring States period, an era of division and strife that gave way to unification under “First Emperor” Qin Shi Huang in the third century B.C. Qu was a minister serving the King of state of Chu. Slandered by corrupt officials who competed for royal favor, Qu eventually left the capital and lived a life of exile back in his hometown, where he wrote what’s considered some of the greatest poetry in the Chinese language.
After he got word that the Chu capital had fallen to the Qin army, however, he waded into a river and drowned himself in despair at his country’s downfall. Locals furiously paddled down the river to try to save him, to no avail. Later, they threw rice dumplings into the river as an offering to his spirit, and so that the fish wouldn’t feed on his remains. They also continued racing along the water with beating drums to ward off evil spirits, giving rise to the holiday’s two best-known traditions. Although it has been a part of Chinese culture for centuries, Dragon Boat Festival has changed names more than a few times and only became an official holiday in China in 2008.
Nowadays The Dragon Boat Festival has turned into a celebration where many eat rice dumplings (zongzi), drink realgar wine (xionghuangjiu), and race dragon boats. Other activities include hanging icons of Zhong Kui (a mythic guardian figure), hanging mugwort and calamus, taking long walks, writing spells and wearing perfumed medicine bags. All of these activities and games such as making an egg stand at noon were regarded by the ancients as an effective way of preventing disease, evil, while promoting good health and well-being. People sometimes wear talismans to fend off evil spirits or they may hang the picture of Zhong Kui, a guardian against evil spirits, on the door of their homes.
As for symbols, a dragon boat is a human-powered boat or paddle boat that is traditionally made of teak wood to various designs and sizes. They usually have brightly decorated designs that range anywhere from 40 to 100 feet in length, with the front end shaped like open-mouthed dragons, and the back end with a scaly tail. The boat can have up to 80 rowers to power the boat, depending on the length. A sacred ceremony is performed before any competition in order to “bring the boat to life” by painting the eyes. The first team to grab a flag at the end of the course wins the race.
And now – THE FOOD! Dragon boat festival is known for:
- Sticky rice dumplings (zongzi) – boiled or steamed inside a sheath of bamboo or lotus leaves, they’re known and enjoyed in all corners of the Chinese-speaking world. Local variations on the filling, however, can lead to bitter debates. Zongzi in northern China are filled with sweet red bean paste or taro, while the southern variety contain cured pork belly, sausage, mushrooms and other savories.
- Mianshanzi are a kind of wheat flour food made in a fan shape. This fan-shaped food is made up of five multi-colored layers, with each layer covered with fried sprinkles of pepper powder. The layers are pinched into a variety of patterns to make it appealing to eyes. This dietary custom is said to be trace back to the tradition of making and selling fans during Duanwu Festival in ancient times.
- Fried Cake (Jiandui) – fried round cake made of wheat and rice flour and different sweeteners.
- Eel – the custom of eating eel on Dragon Boat Festival day prevails in central China’s Wuhan region. Eels are probably eaten simply because they are in season during the festival. They are fatty and tender, and rich in nutrition.
- Thin Pancakes – made of refined white wheat flour fried in a flat frying pan. Green bean sprouts, leek, shredded meat, and mushrooms are then placed on the pancake, which is then rolled up and eaten as a wrap.
- Eggs Steamed with Tea – a custom for people in Central China’s Nanchang region to eat eggs boiled with tea at Dragon Boat Festival. The shells of the boiled eggs are then dyed red, put into colorful net bags, and hung round children’s necks, which is believed to bring them good luck.
- Egg with Garlic – in the rural areas in Central China’s Henan Province and East China’s Zhejiang Province, people eat egg with garlic on Dragon Boat Festival. Eggs are steamed with garlic and then shared with families as breakfast. Eating eggs with garlic is believed to promote health.
- Dagao – glutinous rice cakes are eaten by the North Korean ethnic minority people, who live in Yanbian Prefecture in Northeast China’s Jilin Province. Served with honey or sugar, they taste super delicious and chewy.
So, enjoy the delicious food, activities and festive atmosphere on 18th of June with us or join your local Chinese community for the celebration!