Today is the fifth day of the fifth lunar month. What does that mean to you? Well, probably nothing (unless you happen to be using a lunar calendar). But if you’re keeping track, you’ll know that it is Duan Wu Jie, also called the Dragon Boat Festival or the Dumpling Festival. As these names suggest, the two main symbols of this Chinese summer holiday are dragon boats and rice “dumplings”, which you know as zongzi.
The festival commemorates Chinese poet Qu Yuan (340 – 278 BC), who, upon learning his home state of Chu was conquered by the Qin, killed himself in a most dramatic and poetic fashion: by strapping himself to a rock and jumping into a river. His distraught village friends rowed their boats out onto the river, beating on drums and splashing the water to scare off the creatures below, thus starting the dragon boat craze. Then they began throwing rice into the water to feed his ghost. Unfortunately for hungry Qu, the local water dragon was bogarting his rice. So, appearing to the villagers as a ghost, he requested that all future rice deliveries be wrapped in leaves or bamboo in order to fool anyone intent on stealing his food. And so, the festival’s zongzi tradition was born.
Traditionally, Duan Wu Jie is a time for dragon boat races across the world and for families to get together and make zongzi , sharing the glutinous love with relatives and friends. Shanghaiist, who has been eating zongzi for the past five days straight, suggests you spread out your zongzi consumption, otherwise you might run the risk of overdose (or poisoning). While we don’t get the day off like the good folks in Hong Kong, it should still be a day of celebration nonetheless. Take your boat for a ride on the Huangpu and enjoy those zongzi. Duan Wu Jie Kuai Le!
Shanghai Streets has some photos from the dragon boat races on Suzhou Creek over the weekend.
Photo of a dragon boat race from info.gov.hk.