Happy Dragon Boat Festival! Oh, what I wouldn’t do for zongzi, delicious bundles of sticky rice stuffed with red bean paste (photo, left).
Called Duanwu Jie in Mandarin, the festival is celebrated in China, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and Chinatowns around the world. The holiday commemorates scholar Qu Yuan, who lived in the 3rd century BC during the Warring States Period.
In a Cliffs Notes version of the story, after Qu Yuan was ousted from court because other officials were jealous of his intelligence and high standing, he jumped into the Milo River at age 37 to end his life. As legend has it, people cruised the river in boats to search for him, to no avail.
So every year people race colorful dragon boats to remember Qu Yuan. They also eat zongzi because after Qu Yuan disappeared into the bowels of the river, people threw zongzi wrapped in bamboo leaves for him to eat, in case he was still alive.
I love zongzi and fondly remember buying them from vendors leaning over dilapidated piers during a river cruise along the Yangzi River to view the Three Gorges.
In China, the Dragon Boat Festival was only reinstated as a public holiday two years ago. After 1949, the Communist government thought the holiday too bourgeois to warrant a day off. To celebrate it would have acknowledged imperial China, and that was a no-no. In 2008, that all changed and people across China now get the day off for the Dragon Boat Festival.
Closer to home, I plan to enjoy dragon boat races on Saturday, July 24th in Chinatown’s Ping Tom Park. I can’t wait to bite into the sticky packets of zongzi.