Chinese wrap up glutinous rice, cherish traditions on Duanwu Festival

BEIJING, June 4 (Xinhua) — As the Duanwu (Dragon Boat) Festival is to fall on Monday, Chinese housewives spent Saturday wrapping up glutinous rice with reed leaves or buying red-made rice balls at restaurants and supermarkets.

Today the rice ball is an indispensable dish on the Chinese dinner table on the Duanwu Festival. Traditionally, however, it should be thrown into rivers to spare from the fish’s mouths the body of a poet who drowned more than 2,000 years ago.

The poet, named Qu Yuan, lived in the state of Chu during the Warring States period (475 BC to 221 BC). He drowned himself in the Miluo River in the central Hunan Province in 278 BC, hoping his death would awaken the king to revitalize their kingdom.

The date of Qu Yuan’s death, the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, has since been remembered as the Dragon Boat, or Duanwu, Festival. On that date, fishermen row dragon boats along the Miluo river to search for Qu Yuan and scatter glutinous rice balls in the water to prevent the fish and shrimps from eating his body.

The festival is celebrated throughout the country, featuring dragon boat races, rice ball cooking competitions, traditional art shows and herb harvesting to keep fit.

DRAGON BOAT RACE AMID DROUGHT

Twelve teams of dragon boat racers arrived in Miluo city of the central Hunan Province Saturday to train for one of the country’s most important rowing events scheduled for Sunday and Monday.

Organizers have managed to hold the annual event though the worst drought in 60 years has reduced the water level in Miluo River significantly.

“The river has shrunken so much that it’s hard for many boats to compete in one round,” said Huang Songbai, a press official in Miluo City.

Huang said the local government has mobilized workers to build a dam in the river’s lower reaches to store enough water for the race.

Construction of the 400-meter long, 2-meter tall dam continued Saturday, though long-expected rain sprinkled in most parts of the province and the weather bureau has forecast moderate to heavy rain in the coming three days.

The city’s water resources bureau said the drought has caused water shortages for 78,000 people in Miluo city, 13,000 hectares of cropland and 200 hectares of fish ponds.

Drought has forced the city’s paddy rice growers to turn to corn, which survives drought more easily.

A similar dragon boat race was held Saturday in Yinchuan, capital of the northwestern Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, to celebrate the upcoming festival.

Dragon boat race is also popular in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao. “It has become an international event,” said Zhang Zhongyi, a specialist on Chinese culture and history based in Yueyang City of Hunan Province.

SNACKS AND HERBS

Besides the rice balls, traditional Duanwu Festival snacks also included eggs boiled with onions or wormwood to keep fit.

Parents in southern China often hang a pack of eggs on their children’s neck to protect them from evil. As a legend goes, the god of plague has promised a fairy to spare all her children of pestilence. The token for her children is a pack of eggs on the neck, the fairy says.

The Duanwu Festival is also an occasion for health care, as people in southern China traditionally harvest herbs, bathe in herbal liquid and drink herbal wine on that day.

In many parts of China, people also make small herbal packs as a means of decoration and amulet.

“Diseases, snakes and insects are prone to attack around the Duanwu Festival, when it becomes hot and humid,” said Prof. Wang Laihua with Tianjin Academy of Social Sciences. “The herb helps fight them off.”

He said some of the traditions are making a comeback these days as more Chinese people cherish traditional culture.

The Chinese government’s decision to include the Duanwu Festival as a public holiday since 2008 also gave people more time to celebrate.

This year the holiday runs from Saturday to Monday.

Ministry of Railways predicted the country’s railways will transport 23.1 million passengers during the three-day holiday, up 11.4 percent year-on-year.

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