Qu Yuan (Chinese: 屈原; pinyin: Qū Yuán) (ca. 340 BCE – 278 BCE) was a Chinese scholar and minister to the King from the southern Chu during the Warring States Period. His works are mostly found in an anthology of poetry known as Chu Ci. His death is traditionally commemorated on the occasion of the Duanwu Festival (端午节/端午節), which is commonly known in English as the Dragon Boat Festival or Double Fifth (fifth day of the fifth month of the traditional Chinese calendar).
Qu Yuan suffered from depression caused by political intrigues and corrupt practices. After losing the ear of the king he went into further depression. This upright man in favour of negotiating with neigbhouring countries and forming friend alliances failed in making his proposals heard and saw the downfall of his beloved country.
In 278 BC, learning of the capture of his country's capital, Ying, by General Bai Qi of the state of Qin, Qu Yuan is said to have written the lengthy poem of lamentation called "Lament for Ying" and later to have waded into the Miluo river in today's Hunan Province holding a great rock in order to commit ritual suicide as a form of protest against the corruption of the era.
The folk lore related the stories of how the local people wanted to save his body from being eaten by fish. They made rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves for the fish as offerings.
Today many Chinese continue to pay homage to Qu Yuan an honest and loyal minister. However it is the making of dumplings which is has a longer impact on Chinese cuisine and it has really become a much honoured cuisine (and skill) throughout China and amongst the overseas Chinese.
This festival would remind me of the amazing hands of my maternal grandmother Lian Tie who could make more than 20 DAI's (l dai = 10 changs or zhong zi) of chang with different fillings for her children and grandchildren. Grandma would come to our house in Brooke Drive and start preparing the glutinous rice two evenings before the festival. She would pick any inpurities from the rice and by the time the rice was ready we could see that it was remarkably clean and pure.
And one day before the festival while many other relatives would prepare the different fillings throughout the day and make the dumplings my grandmother did it her way. She would wash the rice and had her fillings gotten ready. She would tie the dumplings which would all be the exact size actually sitting near the back door. The straws would hang from a long nail at the door post and she would methodically wrap and tie all the dumplings have them boiled in our huge kuali. By afternoon we would eat the beautiful and fragrant dumplings. Without refrigeration her rice dumplings could remain fresh for at least a week. She would hang them from bamboo poles stretched across our spare room. Each time we desired a dumpling we would ask for one and cut from the different dai's of our choice.
Grandmother would ask us to distribute the rice dumplings amongst the children of her two other daughters who lived in Sibu. I am wondering if my cousins can remember this.
Her fillings were (a) red beans (b) meat with mushrooms (c) meat with salted eggs (d) peanuts. She also made a special Kee Chang (which is pure glutinous rice with just a bit of salt to taste). She also made another kind of Chang called Leper's Chang (to make us very cheerful). this chang was actually just glutinous rice mixed with cooked red bean or cooked peanuts. When eating these we bit into the beans or nuts and by appearance they were very rough to look at.
She would cook these zong zi (changs) in batches and all of them would have a coloured tag for easy recognition.
I believe my grandmother must be a great "categoriser" of her day. She was already knowledgeable in colour coding!!
At times like this you want to wish that grandmothers last forever!!