Island villagers celebrate Dragon Boat Festival


A 17-year-old high school student learns to make zongzi, a pyramid-shaped dumpling 

made of glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves, to celebrate the upcoming Dragon 

Boat (Duanwu) Festival in Kinmen County of southeast China’s Taiwan, on June 10, 2013. The 

Duanwu Festival falls on the fifth day of the fifth month in the Chinese lunar calendar, or 

June 12 this year.    Photo by Tao Ming 



By Wen Chihua and Liu Lu

Outside a temple in the village of Zhushan, a dozen women are giggling and gossiping while preparing ‘zongzi,’ or rice dumplings that will be served during the Duanwu Festival, or Dragon Boat Festival, which falls on Wednesday of June 12.

A breeze wafts the smell of delicious pork stewed with mushrooms and shrimp over the village on Kinmen, an outlying island of Taiwan.

Xue Jiaxin, a 17-year-old student at Kinmen High School, finds herself struggling to wrap rice stuffed with pork filling inside two bamboo leaves.

“You put in too much pork. Take some out,” Xue Jiaxin’s mother Xu Xiuyi advises.

“Look at these two, mother and daughter. Neither of them can do it better than I,” Xue Jiaxin’s grandmother Li Jinlian chuckles. She is 80 but dresses much younger, wearing a pair of tan leather sandals, black rayon pants and a lavender short-sleeve shirt.

“I learned how to make zongzi from my mother when I was a little girl. Young people today don’t bother to learn, because they can easily get it from the supermarket anytime, not only during the Duanwu Festival,” Li laments.

Duanwu Festival occurs on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese lunar calendar. For thousands of years, the festival has been marked by racing boats and making and eating zongzi.

The tasty dish is made of glutinous rice stuffed with different fillings such as pork, chestnuts, lotus seeds or salted duck egg yolk, and wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves to form a pyramid-shaped dumpling.

The festival is held to commemorate the death of Qu Yuan, a poet and minister from the Warring States Period who committed suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo River on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar.

Local residents who admired him dropped zongzi into the river to feed the fish so that they would not eat Qu Yuan’s body. At the same time, they paddled out on boats to retrieve his body. This is believed to be the origin of dragon boat racing today.

However, the significance of making homemade zongzi seems to be disappearing both on the mainland and Taiwan.

“That’s a consequence of an industrialized and commercialized society,” says village head Xue Yongtuo.

“Only 20 years or so ago, the whole village was engaged in farming. People would make zongzi at home,” he says. “Now, most young men have gone to cities for jobs, leaving elders and kids behind in the village. It’s difficult for any individual household to hold commemorative rituals during the festival.”

There have been efforts to keep the tradition alive. “Ten years ago, the village started to conduct group activities to get villagers, most women, to make zongzi together the day before Dragon Boat Festival,” says Xue Yongtuo.

“Making zongzi together is an intimate way to experience life, share stories, connect with one another and resume kinships that have become very remote in big cities like Taipei,” says Guo, a retired accountant who just moved back to the village with her husband this year to tend to her 94-year-old mother-in-law.

“My children never tried to learn how to make Zongzi. They thought making zongzi yourself is old-fashioned,” Guo said.

“It feels wonderful, sort of like you’ve wrapped something more than just rice stuffed with pork. It’s your feeling towards your family members and your ancestors. That’s something you cannot get from books,” Xue Jiaxin says.

She’s wrapped 20 zongzi herself, a decent amount for her first time wrapping the dish. She and the other women of the village have wrapped a total of 800 zongzi, and the entire village smells like pork and rice. She and the other villagers will gather later to eat their zongzi and worship their ancestors, as is their custom.







A little boy eats zongzi, a pyramid-shaped dumpling

made of glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves,

as the Dragon Boat (Duanwu) Festival is approaching in

Kinmen County of southeast China’s Taiwan, on June 10,

2013. The Duanwu Festival falls on the fifth day of

the fifth month in the Chinese lunar calendar,

or June 12 this year.    Photo by Tao Ming 



Local residents prepare to make zongzi.   Photos by Tao Ming 


Local residents gather to make zongzi.   Photos by Tao Ming


A glimpse of the island village of Zhushan.   Photo by Tao Ming





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