This year’s Dumpling Festival or 端午节 falls on 2nd June 2014(Mon). It is always on the 5th day of the 5th Lunar month. 2 yrs ago, I blogged about this festival when some of my German frens came over for a visit. They were curious about this festival. Click on the link to read. I then decided to do a write up on this traditional Chinese festival celebrated throughout the Chinese world. It is observed not only in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore but in most Chinese communities around the world. It is also celebrated as a sporting event in the form of The Dragon Boat Festival.
This Dumpling Festival or 端午节 快乐 brings back many nostalgic memories for me. I remember as a teenager living in the kampung, myself and my brother were tasked to hunt for discarded furniture for pieces of wood as fuel to boil those dumplings my mother painstakingly wrapped on pieces of leaf. We would just place few pieces of bricks outside our zinc home compound to boil those dumplings in a big aluminum tin. Whilst my mother was busy wrapping those dumplings, we would take turns to attend to the fire with topping up of pieces of wood and stir those dumplings inside the big container tin. My non-Chinese neighbors such as Ah Yaw (Indian), Meka (Sikh) and others would also rally around us to help out in the cooking knowing full well that they would be rewarded with some dumplings at the end of the day. There was no Cultural Appreciation Day then. It was unnecessary. Those memories still etched vividly on my mind whenever 端午节 (Duan Wu Jie) is around the corner.
My fren Red Bull from EM bought 5 pieces of dumplings at $5 each the other day for us. I refused to eat. I don’t eat dumplings except those made by my mother. When I told my mother earlier today that it’s selling at $4 or $5 per dumpling, she was outraged. Words like unhygenic preparation, lacking in ingredients or inferior ingredients, oily etc sprout forth from her mouth. Yup, I know all these cuz she uses to drum it into our heads since young. That is why I refused to touch Red Bull’s dumplings bought by him.
The other striking thought about this special festival is about Qu Yuan. Read the following short write-up here.
Living in the latter part of the Warring States Period (476 BC – 221 BC), Qu Yuan was the earliest great patriotic poet as well as a great statesman, ideologist, diplomat and reformer in ancient China. He has the reputation of being one of the world four great cultural celebrities. The traditional Chinese Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated to commemorate him. His patriotic influence has left its mark on many subsequent generations in China and beyond.
The Warring States Period covers a period during which the seven individual kingdoms, Qi, Chu, Yan, Han, Zhao, Wei and Qin – contended with each other for hegemony. Qu Yuan, who lived in the Chu State, was trusted by King Huai and did much to assist the King in governing the state. Following reformation in the Qin state, the Qin gained in strength and invaded the other six states. he suggested an alliance with Qi in order to resist Qin. However, this was rejected by some of the ministers as they could see that they would lose some of their power and privileges. They made false accusations against him that were believed by King Huai. The misguided monarch became alienated from his valued advisor and sent him into exile as a consequence.
In the years that followed, Huai, lacking the wise counsel of Qu Yuan, was deceived by the Qin into thinking that they could live together in peace. However, King Huai was subsequently detained by the Qin State for years until his eventual death. King Huai was succeeded to the throne by his son who was even more fatuous than his father. He disregarded Qu Yuan’s advice not to surrender to the Qin. Qu Yuan was exiled to an even further away than before.
In 278 BC, upon learning that the Chu State had been defeated by the Qin, Qu Yuan, in great despair and distress, ended his life by drowning in the Miluo River in the northeastern part of Hunan Province.
As a Poet
Not only was he a true patriot, he is famed for leaving many immortal poems for us. During the days of his exile, Qu Yuan wrote many famous poems. In them, his love for his country and its people are revealed naturally. Among his greatest works are Li Sao (The Lament), Tian Wen (Asking Questions of Heaven), Jiu Ge (Nine Songs), and Huai Sha (Embracing the Sand).
Of these, Li Sao was the representative work of Qu Yuan and the longest lyric of romanticism concerning politics in the history of ancient Chinese literature. Tian Wen is characterized by 172 questions put to heaven. The questions concern aspects of astronomy, geography, literature, philosophy and other fields.
Qu Yuan was respected not only by the people during his own time but also after, and not only by people in China but also in the wider world. On March, 5th, 1953, great commemorative activities were held in China in honor of him. In September, the World Peace Council held a meeting to remember him and urged people around the world learn from him. He was also listed as one of the world’s four literary celebrities for that year.
Nowadays, the Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month annually to commemorate Qu Yuan. And other countries like Korea, Japan, Burma, Vietnam, and Malaysia etc. now celebrate this festival. HIs masterpiece Li Sao has been translated into many languages and his portrait displayed in libraries in many countries.
This great man lived more than 2,000 years ago, yet he is still remembered till this day throughout the Chinese world. He is immortalized in 端午节. He lives on. His patriotism and love for his country and people are worshipped by countless generations. Some older folks literally pray to him. My mother will offer those dumplings to him and our ancestors in tomorrow’s prayers. Of course, the young generations don’t pray to him anymore. The young sportsmen regardless of race or creed worship him figuratively through the Dragon Boat sporting event.
In our tiny red dot here, do we have the likes of Qu Yuan amongst our leaders? The late Ong TC, Goh KS, Toh CC and much earlier pioneers like Tan Tock Seng etc are some of our local sons I could think of. Let us hope that more such patriots will surface as we mature as a society. I take this opportunity to wish all a “Happy Dumpling Festival – 端午节 快乐!”
From Li Sao:
I set out from the bay at early dawn,
And reach the town at eve.
Since I am upright, and my conscience clear,
Why should I grieve to leave?
I linger by the tributary stream,
And know not where to go.
The forest stretches deep and dark around,
Where apes swing to and fro.
The beetling cliffs loom high to shade the sun,
Mist shrouding every rift,
With sleet and rain as far as eye can see,
Where low the dense clouds drift.
Alas! all joy has vanished from my life,
Alone beside the hill.
Never to follow fashion will I stoop,
Then must live lonely still.
Now, the phoenix dispossessed,
In the shrine crows make their nest.
Withered is the jasmine rare,
Fair is foul, and foul is fair,
Light is darkness, darkness day,
Sad at heart I haste away.