Last week, I was in China and I had the honor of celebrating the Dragon Riverboat Festival with some very good Chinese friends. The festival is called “Duan Wu Jie” in Chinese; it is held to celebrate a poet and patriot, Qu Yuan.
Admittedly, I don’t know enough about Chinese history to teach it, but I do know that, from what I have heard, Qu Yuan would have to be one of the most respected people in Chinese history. Here is his story (…and I must thank the University of Missouri for some of this information):
Qu Yuan was a famous Chinese poet who lived 2300 years ago in State of Chu during the Warring States Period. Qu Yuan was a versatile government official at that time. He was highly esteemed for his wise counsel among the common people.
The King did not like Qu Yuan’s straightforwardness and some jealous officials said bad words behind his back. Sentenced for slander, Qu Yuan was exiled by the King. After his banishment to the remote countryside, Qu Yuan helplessly watched the gradual downfall of Chu and grieved that he could no longer serve his people. Out of despair, Qu Yuan plunged himself into the Miluo River. In order to keep his body safe in the water, many people threw Zongzi into the river to prevent the fish from eating his body.
Nowadays, Zongzi has become a symbol for Chinese people to express their homage to Qu Yuan’s spirits, such as his patriotism and selflessness. The ritual of eating Zongzi and racing dragon boats helps pass on this tradition.
To articulate his grand love of his motherland, Qu Yuan began to compose beautiful patriotic poems that are now held as masterpieces. He swore to live together or die with his beloved country… and he fulfilled that promise when the fall of the capital burst his last hope.
So, you must be asking yourself, what is Zongzi? Well, that is the sticky rice that is cooked in bamboo leaves and shaped in a triangle. A word of warning to you, if you are not skilled with chopsticks, I promise you your hands, face, and probably clothes will become sticky while eating Zongzi!