Today is a special holiday in China, where families gather together to commemorate the death of Qu Yuan, a scholar and government official from China’s Warring States Period. He was an influential figure but ultimately was banished by the king of Chu because other officials were jealous of Qu Yuan’s influence, and so slandered the man’s good name.
Qu Yuan returned to his hometown, depressed about his fall from grace. He spent this time writing poetry and was well loved by the people in his village. When Qu Yuan heard about the capture of his country’s capital, he committed suicide by jumping into a river, as a form of protest against government corruption.
In order to keep the fish from eating his body, the people in the village threw balls of rice wrapped in bamboo leaves into the river, hoping that the fish would eat the rice instead. They also launched boats into the river in a race to find Qu Yuan’s body.
And so, these two acts, eating the rice balls, called zongzi, and racing dragon boats, became the way to celebrate the life and death of Qu Yuan. Called Duanwu Jie (端午節) in Chinese, this day is the 5th day of the 5th month of the lunar calender.
Zongzi can be found in any Chinese supermarket at this time. Just look for a triangular shaped object wrapped in bamboo leaves. There are many different kinds of fillings in the zongzi: the most popular are mung bean, red bean, or pork.
In the parts of China and Taiwan with access to rivers or oceans, people re-enact the search for Qu Yuan’s body by racing dragon boats. These boats are powered by a crew of rowers, each equipped with a paddle to maneuver the boat. There is a drummer on board who beats out the rhythm to row to and a steerer in the back.
Dragon Boat Racing has gained popularity all over the world, and now there are competitions held all over the world.
So celebrate the life of a man who protested government corruption. Or just gather together with family and dig into some zongzi.
Have you had zongzi or seen a dragon boat race before? Let us know in the comments!