The Dragon Boat Festival begins at noon on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month – a time corresponding to the arrival of summer. This festival commemorates the death of the scholar Qu Yuan in the third century B.C. Though he served the king of Chu faithfully, he became unpopular with others in the king’s court. Falsely accused of conspiracy, he was exiled. Overcome by concern for his country’s future, Qu Yuan drowned himself in the Milo River.
Though he lost the favor of the king of Chu, Qu Yuan was loved by the people. After his suicide, they threw packets of rice, called zongzi, into the water in hopes that fish would eat these rather than Qu Yuan’s body.
People no longer throw zongzi into water. Today they commemorate the attempt to rescue Qu Yuan with dragon boat races. We attended the races at Keelung’s Bisha Fishing Harbor. Vendors on the shore lent a carnival atmosphere as people enjoyed the competitions.
After watching the races and returning home, other family members arrived with dishes to share for dinner. Plenty of zongzi were on hand. Zongzi are made by combining condiments with rice, wrapping the mixture in bamboo leaves, and then suspending the bundles over a steaming pot.
Depending on the condiments used, zonzi come in two varieties — sweet and salty.
In addition to zongzi, several fresh vegetables, associated with the arrival of summer, are traditionally eaten. These include: Chinese long beans, Japanese eggplant, and bottle gourd.