The fifth day of the fifth month, according to the Chinese lunar calendar, is the date on which the Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated. This festival has been held annually for more than 2,000 years and commemorates the Chinese poet Qu Yuan (340-278 BC). The festival also acts as a chance to build healthy bodies and dispel disease. There are several legends surrounding this festival, but the most popular is the story of the patriotic poet Qu Yuan.
He was a minister in the state of Wu, which was warring against the powerful State of Qin. He supported the decision to fight together with the State of Qi against Qin. However, he was slandered by the aristocrat Zi Lan and so was exiled by the King. He wrote many poems expressing his love for his country, masterpieces such as Li Sao (The Lament), Tian Wen (Asking Questions to the Heaven) and Jiu Ge (Nine Songs) and upon completing his last poem he threw himself into the river, preferring to drown rather than see his beloved country occupied by the State of Qin.
The local people were distressed. As fishermen searched for his body in their boats people threw food such as eggs and zongzi into the river to attract the fish away from Qu Yuan’s body. People continue to imitate these acts in great respect of this man and today the central customs of the festival are dragon boat racing and the making and eating of zongzi. The festival is celebrated on the anniversary of his death, the fifth day of the fifth lunar calendar month. Other customs are the wearing of perfumed pouches, tying five-colour silk thread and hanging mugwort leaves and calamus on doorways. Children usually wear the perfumed pouches to ward off evil and have five colour silk thread tied around their ankles, wrists and necks, which is thought to have magical and healing properties.
Zongzi is a type of dumpling made with sticky rice, it has different shapes and various fillings such as sweetened bean paste, fresh meat, egg yolk and dates. The sticky rice is wrapped in bamboo leaves and comes in triangles and pyramid shapes. The festival is celebrated in other countries outside China such as Vietnam, Japan, Britain and in Australia. You can get a taste of excellent Zongzi at the Tang Food Emporium, 185 Russell Street, Melbourne CBD (two doors up from Little Bourke Street in China Town). They have four types – minced pork, red bean paste, red date and plain rice dipped in sugar or honey.