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The Story Behind the Dumpling and Dragon Boat Festival

by Michael Teh

It is the time of the year where you would see many Chinese selling, buying and eating ZongZi/Bak Chang (also known as rice dumpling). Do you know the significance of the Dumping Festival, or commonly known as The Dragon Boat Festival and the story behind its origins? Read on to learn what’s the history behind this celebration.

“As I began the journey of self-realization through meditation, my love for art, history and culture have grown by leaps and bounds. I also started to appreciate the various celebration of festivals where mankind putting down the differences between races, opinions and values, to come together to celebrate the spirit of Unity and Oneness”

It is the time of the year where you would see many Chinese selling, buying and eating ZongZi/Bak Chang (also known as rice dumpling). Do you know the significance of this festival and the story behind its origins?

Well, like many other traditional cuisines, the Chinese rice dumpling was created to honor a legendary figure in China’s history – the poet Qu Yuan (340 B.C to 278 B.C.)

Known for pioneering the art in ancient China, Qu Yuan was also known to be a beloved minister and a former advisor to the King of Chu of China, during the Warring State period of Zhou Dynasty. However, he was then exiled by the King after his reputation was defamed by corrupted officials.

And despite his circumstances, Qu Yuan did not stop to write some of the greatest poetry known in the Chinese literature of which he expressed concern for both his country and people.

However, regrettably, Qu Yuan’s hometown was invaded in 278 B.C. where he was then stricken with grief and decided to drown himself in the famous Mi Luo River in Hunan province.

Upon hearing the news of his tragic attempt, villagers rowed their boats to the river to look for his body. However, when they failed to find his body, they started beating their drums to make loud noise to scare the fishes and sea creatures away to prevent Qu Yuan’s body being consumed. Others then started making rice dumpling wrapped in leaves to throw into the river believing that the fishes and sea creatures will consume the dumpling instead of the poet’s body. Because of the story of rushing to rescue Qu Yuan with the boats, it  is also said to have been the inspiration or the origin of Dragon Boat races, a team paddling sport where the participants use a dragon boat. In other words, the Dumping Festival is also commonly known as the Dragon Boat Festival.

Ever since then, on the 5th day of the 5th month of the lunar calendar, it had known to Duan Wu Jie (Dumpling Festival) and it is a customary for Chinese families to enjoy rice dumplings in memory of Qu Yuan’s legacy.

So, what are ZongZi?

More known as Bak Zhang here in Malaysia, it is a traditional Chinese food that is made with glutinous rice with a variety of filling (but usually with water chestnuts, Chinese black mushrooms, cooked peanuts, dried shrimp and meat) that is wrapped in bamboo leaves and steamed.

Do you know that each Chinese dialect group has their own variation of the Bak Zhang, and they differ through the ingredients used and even their color? Meanwhile, in China, the northern parts prefer a sweeter rice dumpling while the Southern parts prefer a more savory flavor.

As I began the journey of self-realization through meditation, my love for art, history and culture have grown by leaps and bounds. I also started to appreciate the various celebration of festivals where mankind putting down the differences between races, opinions and values, to come together to celebrate the spirit of Unity and Oneness. I hope by writing blogs on various festive cultures I can contribute to world peace, and to celebrate the evolution of Humanity through beautiful arts, literature and culture.

Source: Mashable SEA

Michael Teh, 14th June 2021.