The Dragon Boat Festival

June 6, 2011

Today is the Dragon Boat Festival. There is a reason that I bring this up in the context of the I Ching, which you’ll see in a few entries. But for the moment, here is some information about the Dragon Festival.

Most people associate this festival with Dragon Boat races the rice dumplings called zhongzi, and the poet Qu Yuan.

Now popular around the world, the dragon boat is wooden and looks like a long and low canoe. It is often brightly painted with a fully carved dragon head at the prow.

The standard crew consists of twenty paddlers facing the bow, a drummer at the bow facing the paddlers, and a sweeper at the rudder. However, there can be boats with a crew as small as ten or more than eighty. When the boat is large, the drummer is placed in the center of the vessel.

The drummer is the leader of the boat. The paddlers synchronize themselves to the beat, and the drummer signals to them with the drum, hand signals, or by calling, exhorting the crew to do their best during the race.

Dragon Boat racing developed into a modern sport in Hong Kong during the 1970s. According to the International Dragon Boat Federation, the sport is thriving in more than sixty countries and any colleges and organizations sponsor competitive teams.

Zongzi, Sachets, Lucky Strings and Tigeer Head Shoes

Called Rice Dumplings or Chinese Tamales, zongzi consist of glutinous rice stuffed with different kinds of fillings wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves in a pyramidal shape and then cooked by steaming or boiling. The shapes range from tetrahedral to cylindrical. Each family has its own recipes, but common ingredients include mung beans, red bean paste, jujubes, pork, chicken, sausage, black mushrooms, salted duck eggs, chestnuts, cooked peanuts, green beans, dried shrimp, dried scallops, and taro.

Increasingly, people are tending to buy their zongzi in stores and even online, and in China and Taiwan, the price of zongzi and the rate of sale is seen as an economic indicator.

Another custom is to hang calamus (a fragrant wetland plant ) and moxa (mugwort) on one’s door and giving pyramid-shaped silk sachets to children. This emphasis on fragrant plants is reminiscent of Qu Yuan’s own poems. In “Lady of the Xiang” (“Xiang Furen”), there are many references to fragrant plants and flowers. White sedge, duckweed, lotus, irises, perfumed pepper, cassia, orchid, lily, peonies, fig-leaves, sweet clover, and wild ginger enrich his imagery and he is extravagant in his love of scent:

Combine a hundred plants! Fill the courtyard!

Let fragrance build! Scent the halls and gates!

Baisuo—five colored strings, sometimes with little bells, are given to children to wear around their necks, hands, and legs for good luck. Tiger Head shoes—embroidered red cloth shoes—are also popular for small children.

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