Linking the Dragon Boat Festival to Rice Cakes

June 10, 2011

A friend reminded me of the Dragon Boat and Rice Cake Festivals that took place in China earlier this month.

These festivals came about because of the suicide of Ch’u Yuan (343 – 289 BC), an aristocrat of the Ch’u State. He is considered one of ancient China’s greatest and earliest recognized poets.

History/myth tells us that the festival celebrates and honors Ch’u Yuan, who drowned himself in the Mi Lo River as a protest against his government’s actions.

What we do know is that when he was banished from his home, he left in despair feeling his exile was unjust. As he traveled about, he wrote poetry, observed shamanistic folk rites, and learned of legends that influenced his work.

The Dragon Boat Festival, held on the fifth month of the Chinese lunar year, originates from the search for the poet’s body. A popular legend says villagers raced in their boats to the middle of the river and desperately tried to save him, but were unsuccessful. They threw the rice filled dumplings or rice cakes into the water as a food offering to distract the river’s god and the fish away from his body.

The Dragon Boat Festival is also celebrated in San Francisco (and many other cities around the world) and I learned that a Dragon Boat race takes place in San Francisco Bay. While Dragon Boat races are being held in China this month, San Francisco holds its races in September 17-18, 2011 from Treasure Island.

In Beijing, China, the Dragon Boat Festival, also known as Duanwu Festival, was celebrated early in June.

As for the rice cakes, I suggest watching the embedded YouTube video to see how they are made, which demonstrates a process similar to how my wife makes them.

However, besides the essential sticky rice, the other ingredients are optional.  Sticky rice cakes may also have raisins and black beans added. For centuries, Silk Road caravans leaving China carried rice cakes as rations since they have a long shelf life.

When I checked a list of China’s Public Holidays, the only one listed for June was the Dragon Boat Festival. Then I read that “Zongzi”, traditional rice cakes wrapped in bamboo leaves, are eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival, which is a three-day holiday.

Discover more about Chinese dragons

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

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Chinese Poetry

May 3, 2010

Traditional Chinese Poetry is very similar to Western poetry.  Lines in Chinese poetry may have a fixed number of syllables and rhyme was required, so ancient Chinese poetry resembles traditional English verse and is not at all like the free verse in today’s Western culture.

Modern Chinese poets have written in free verse, but many still write with a strict form.

In the end, the form is not as important as what the poem says. Western poetry often focuses on love while painting an image of the poet as a lover.

Influenced by Confucius and Taoism, the ancient Chinese poet shows he or she is a friend—not a lover and often paints a picture of a poet’s life as a life of leisure without ambitions beyond writing poetry and having a good time.

Chinese Dragon Boat Races

According to legend, this Chinese poet killed himself to protest the corruption of the time, and it is said that the Dragon Boat Festival was named to honor his sacrifice.

Battle
By Qu Yuan (332-295 B.C.)

We grasp our battle-spears: we don our breastplates of hide.
The axles of our chariots touch: our short swords meet.
Standards obscure the sun: the foe roll up like clouds.
Arrows fall think: the warriors press forward.
They menace our ranks: they break our line.
The left-hand trace-horse id dead: the one on the right
is smitten.
The fallen horses block our wheels: they impede the
yoke-horses?”

Translated by Arthur Waley 1919

If interested in Chinese art and/or opera, see Peking Opera.