On the fifth day of the fifth month according to the lunar calendar, the traditional Chinese festival, known as the Duanwu, or the “Dragon Boat Festival”, is celebrated in China as well as in many other Asian societies. Although there are many stories that attempt to explain the festival’s origin, the most commonly accepted story claims that it serves as a memorial and celebration for a famous Chinese scholar, Qu Yuan, who drowned in the Miluo River.
During the Warring States period in the 3rd century BC, Yuan served as a minister for the King of Chu. Yuan’s wisdom and intelligence intimidated the King of Chu, so he decided to send Yuan into exile on charges of conspiracy. Yuan became so distressed over the situation that he drowned himself in the Miluo River at the age of 37. The citizens of Chu, who greatly admired Yuan, desperately searched for him in their boats, but their attempts were futile. During the festival, the Chinese race boats that resemble dragons to commemorate the search for Qu Yuan.
Once they knew their beloved minister was not able to be saved, the search crews threw cooked rice into the water to prevent fish from eating his body. This led to another Duanwu festival tradition which is to eat zongzi, essentially a Chinese tamale that is made with sticky rice instead of corn and wrapped in bamboo leaves instead of corn husks. Zongzi can be stuffed with a variety of fillings. Some common fillings include red bean paste, pork, cooked peanuts and dried shrimp.
This year, the Dragon Boat Festival was celebrated on June 10th in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and many other Asian nations. If you don't have the luxury to visit one of these countries during this time of celebration, don't fear, because the Dragon Boat Festival will come to you. Dragon boat races are held in many cities across the United States and Europe, including one in Atlanta that East West will participate in during September. And don't worry, zongzi can be found at Asian markets and maybe even some restaurants right in your home town.