- Editor's Note:
The Dragon Boat Festival falls on every May 5 of the Chinese lunar calendar. The festival, bearing the 2000-plus years'Chinese culture and undergoing the ablution of the long history, is still shining for its rich traditional cultural connotations, delivering the diligence and wisdom of the working people. The traditional Dragon Boat Festival is coming again; the ancient customs are turning into beautiful wishes of the common mass. Once again the fragrance of the indocamalus leaves is drifting in the air, and the drum on the dragon boat is beating. Let us deliver our common wish that the people in the quake-hit area would be far from disasters and diseases and begin their new life with high morale.
The Origin of the Dragon Boat Festival
Early in the Tang Dynasty, the festival was named "duanwu jie" or "chongwu jie" (double fifth festival). It is said that August 5 was the birthday of Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty; to avoid writing "wu" (five), the word was substituted by its homophone, "wu" (noon). About the origin of the Dragon Boat Festival, there are varied sayings which can be summed up as follows:
Version 1: The saying of summer solstice---people deem that the Dragon Boat Festival originates from the custom of summer solstice in the ancient Xia, Shang, and Zhou Dynasties.
Version 2: Totem C it holds that the Dragon Boat Festival originated from the totem worship of dragon of the ancient Wu and Yue people. May 5 of the lunar calendar was the day when the people in the Wu and Yue areas held the totem sacrifice. Boat racing has an especially deep relation with the ancient Wu and Yue areas; moreover, among the people in the region there was the custom of cutting hair and tattooing so as to "look like the son of the dragon".
Version 3: "Vicious Day" C It is said that the custom of hanging mugwort and calamus on the Festival is to ward off diseases in summer, which is correspondent to the pre-Qin Dynasty myth that May was a "vicious month" and May 5 "vicious day".
Version 4: In honor of Qu Yuan C It is commonly recognized that the Dragon Boat Festival is to memorize the loyal official of the Chu State C Qu Yuan, who drowned himself in the Miluo River during the Warring States Period. Qu Yuan was slandered by some treacherous official and exiled to the south by King Huai of the Chu State. Seeing that his homeland was declining day by day, Qu Yuan, in great grief and despair, drown himself in the Miluo River near Changsha, giving voice to his persistent ideal as well as the spirit of adhering to his lofty personality by sacrificing his own life. It is to memorize the patriotic poet Qu Yuan that the custom of eating zongzi (steamed glutinous rice wrapped in indocalamus leaves) has been handed down until now. This version is the most commonly-believed one among the general public.
Do It Yourself - How to Make a Zongzi
- Clean the sticky rice with clear water and soak it with 60 water for 5 hours, or steep it in cold water for 12 hours. Soak the wrapping material (it can be indocamalus leaves, or the leaves of bamboo, reed, lotus etc) in cold water for 12 hours. After all the preliminary jobs have been done, you can start to wrap the rice. First of all, take two well-soaked indocamalus leaves, and fold them into a funnel with one end longer than the other.
- Fill in some sticky rice and dates (or pork) into the funnel. The dates can be put in first before being covered with sticky rice, or be put in the middle of the rice.
- Then cover the mouth of the funnel with the longer end of the indocamalus leaves.
- Wrap the stuff into a pentagonal shape, or triangular or quadrangular shape. The key point is to wrap the stuff tightly so that it will not be dispersed while being boiled.
- Finally, tie up the zongzi with a thread. It is essential that the zongzi is fast tied, or it will also be dispersed while being boiled.
- You've made it!
Major Customs of the
Dragon Boat Festival
Hanging the Portrait of Zhong KuiZhong Kui is a legendary figure who was believed to be capable of catching ghosts. In the Jianghuai area (the region north of the Yangtze River and south of the Huaihe River), it is the tradition for every household to hang a portrait of Zhong Kui on the Dragon Boat Festival, in the hope of warding off evil spirits and safeguarding the house.
- Zongzi was called "jiaoshu" (horned millet) in ancient times. The real origin of eating zongzi was not to commemorate Qu Yuan, but somehow it demonstrates the love and esteem of the common people towards the patriotic poet.
- This custom is prevalent among the households of the Yangtze River valley.
- Woven by five-color threads, or sewn by rags, the sachet would be filled with aromatizer and worn in front of the chest, giving off pleasant smell.
Paint the ForeheadThe typical way of painting the forehead is to dip some realgar wine to write the character "wang" (king) on the forehead of the children, to drive away venoms on the one hand, and to ward off evil spirit on the other hand.
- It is a folk belief that May is the time when the five deadly venoms come up, so people will use all kinds of methods to prevent the harm the five venoms can possibly do to them.
Hanging Mugwort and CalamusIt is said that to hang mugwort and calamus, or guava and rocambole can keep away the evil spirits and bring in good luck.
- Dragon boat racing, also called dragon boat competition, has had a history of over 1500 years. It is said that the activity is related to Qu Yuan.