Story of the Zongzi and Dragon Boat

I missed blogging about the history of Dragon boats and Zongzi last week, so here’s my post, better late than never.

A dragon boat racing at the 2008 San Francisco...

A dragon boat racing at the 2008 San Francisco International Dragon Boat Festival held at Treasure Island from October 4-5. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the fifth day of the fifth month on the Chinese Lunar calendar, zongzi (sort of triangular tamales made of savory rice, beans and meat or sweet rice with different bean fillings or if you are familiar with what a tamales is, it kind of is like that) is eaten and many people today celebrate this day with dragon boat racing. Due to the popularity of Dragon Boat Racing, it’s an International event and many races now take place in different cities and around different time. Not always in June anymore. 🙂

A popular version of Zongzi with rice, meat, and peanuts or beans. This was a gift from one of my auntie.

Since lunar year follows the moon pattern, the May 5th day in lunar calendar shifts every year, and this year, it fell on June 23, last Saturday. That day is refer to in Mandarin as Duānwǔ. Despite how we celebrate this event internationally today, with food and dragon boat racing fun, Duānwǔ’s origin was much more solemn.

Duānwǔ is a day that commemorates the death of an exiled statesman and poet, Qu Yuan, who lived in the Warring State Period in China.

The story goes that the Poet Qu Yuan loved his country so much that when his advice and warnings were not taken by his King, he fell into a depression. Around this same time, he was kicked out of court by the King due to him listening to Qu Yuan’s jealous and manipulative rivals. When the neighboring kingdom took one of the states and advance toward taking the entire kingdom, his grief for his country was so intense and he probably felt that there was nothing he could do to save the kingdom, that he went to a certain river and killed himself by drowning.

He was beloved in his home village, so the villagers, upon finding out what he had done, rushed out to search for his body in that river. With rice wrapped in little triangular packages, the villagers jumped into their boats, raced out into the river banging drums and splashing water in their boats in hope that they can find his body before the fishes can eat it. In order to keep the fishes from eating the body, they threw in the small packages of food. Dragon heads and tails were later fashioned on these boats to ward off evil spirits while commemorating the event.

And that was how dragon boat racing started and why zongzis are made and eaten today.

Dragon boats on the Cuyahoga River in Clevelan...

Dragon boats on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

4 responses to “Story of the Zongzi and Dragon Boat

  1. This zongzi dumpling looks slightly different to the ones we have in Malaysia.
    Ours are pyramid in shape, and we use dark soya sauce to mix with the glutinous rice. 🙂

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