June 16, 2010

Zhongzie - Remembering Chu Yuan 端午節

Publish Post
Tne of the saddest memories I had as a child was that of the year when my mother could not make zhongzi for my siblings and I. That was the year when we had to mourn the untimely passing of my father. We could not celebrate the duanwu jie like others. Zhongzi could only be given to us by close relatives as we were not allowed to make our own.....

The Foochows in Sibu continue  to observe this kind of mourning rites. So for a long time whenever I saw a zhongzi (in those days zhongzi were not sold every day in eateries) I would be thinking of how hard it was to be fatherless. Zhongzi also reminded me to be strong and independent and to disregard the sideway looks of relatives who were so wearied that we the young orphans would drop by and ate at their homes or my mother would need to borrow some money.

But I have always been very very grateful that my resourceful mother was able to support all of us - aged 11 months to 16 years old at the time of my father's passing -  through university. If she ever borrowed any money she would stinch and we would all eat less in order for her to pay the debt before the month was over. Her dignity and her noble heart served her well into the time when our fortunes turned for the better. No one would ever say that we lived on hand outs.

So each year as we eat our zhongzi we remind ourselves of Chu Yuan and something more : steadfastness and self determination - which are important values we have to adhere to. Siblings moreover have to stick to each other tight like the rice grains in the dumplings. If we don't our family like the loose zhongzi would burst and the rice grains would be everywhere in the pot. The string of love must tie us tightly together as a family.

Extra notes:

Duanwu Festival (or Dragon Boat Festival, is a traditional and statutory holiday associated with Chinese and other East Asian and Southeast Asian societies as well. It is a public holiday in Taiwan as well as in Hong Kong and Macau. In 2008, the festival was restored in China as an official national holiday.

The festival occurs on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar on which the Chinese calendar is based.

The focus of the celebrations includes eating the rice dumpling zongzi, drinking realgar wine, and racing dragon boats.

Today 16th of June 2010 is Duanwu Festival when the Chinese community in Malaysia will make rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves to commemorate the death of Chu Yuan who ended his life because he was saddened by the unrelenting Emperor who did not listen to his wise guidance.

The common people rose to the occasion. They did not want the fish and other aquatic animals to eat up his body so they threw specially made dumplings into the river to deter them from tearing up his body.

To this day since 600 BC the Chinese have remembered this great and wise man in this way.

This festival which is a summer festival in China follows the Spring festival which is also known as the Chinese Lunar New Year.

Dumplings made by Brunei Chinese hawkers sold in Kuala Belait tamu. Different coloured raffia would identify the different fillings.  The pink ones are nyonya zhongzi and the purple ones the ordinary pork filled zhongzi.

These are the special reed tied ones with salted eggs and mushrooms and pork.

For a  few years after my father's passing we ate dumplings with fillings of peanuts and red beans because they were less costly. Dumplings with pork filling were rare but my maternal grandmother (the best zhongzi maker in the world) made sure she sent a few bundles or dai (10 dumplings in each bundle).  These would be identified by a red string at the top of the knot. Red bean or dou sah would have a green thread. Peanuts would be identified by the lack of an identity coloured thread or string. Grandma used the dried reed (or keng chou)  from China to tie her zhongzi. Today most people would use raffia strings or strong kitchen strings.

We hanged them from a bamboo pole to air  the dumplings which if sparingly eaten would last  us for a few days or even a week. My mother and maternal grandmother would never stop us from eating a few more. - although as children we would lovingly count how many dumplings were still available for us to eat each day!!

One very important ingredient found in the rice dumpling of good quality today is salted eggs with a  very red egg yolk. I love the rich texture and taste of a rice dumpling with a salted egg yolk. For this occasion I will forget about cholesterol and let my taste buds have their festival too!!

Although some Chinese would not remember why we  still make this type of rice dumplings on this occasion many continue to celebrate the day when Chu Yuan stood up for righteousness and justice for the people. Chu Yuan has been remembered for centuries but few can remember the Emperor who drove him to his desperate death.


Ann, Chen Jie Xue 陈洁雪 said...

I remember how shocked my parents were when your Dad died.

When I was growing up, nobody in my family had died, so I didn't know about this no making Zhung Zhi. But when my Hakka father in law died, my MIL told me about this. Perhaps it is practised by all Chinese, and not just the Foochows.

Today, a good friend gave me some Zhung Zhi and I happened to be teaching about lunch at ESOL adult class. A student mentioned this dumpling, and so I took them out to show my Algerian and peruvian student. I only was given 4, so I didn't let them sample. Besides, the Algerian is a Muslim.

Ah Ngao said...

i only take this dumpling in the morning and not at night - stomach bloating after taking in the evening. do you ?

Ensurai said...

From across the miles I can feel your empathies and sympathies. My mum is still grieving after more than 45 years!
Yes I do think that not making zhongzi while mourning is a Chinese tradition.
Now most of our generation don't make. We buy....hehehe..just saw on CCTV that the Thais make them like pulut pangang - wrapped in pandang leaves in triangular shape but the filling is palm sugar...or gula melaka. May be one day we have pizza kind of fillings to be made by Chinese-Italians!! We have halal zhongzies here now on sale.

I love the pillow type (Cantonese) as I like the yellow beans.

Ensurai said...

Ah Ngao...it is not wise to eat glutinous rice in the evenings. We can eat as much as we like for breakfast. Dinner should be meagre and no carbo if possible.

Ensurai said...

Ah Ngao...sorry...Yes I get bloated from eating pulut especially with santan...so I have to be very careful with pulut. In fact too much rice is not good for me at my age.

I have stopped eating pizza too...No burgers for a long long time. My first hospitalisation was actually after a pizza dinner because of the cheeze and something else which sent me on a vomiting marathon..it was not so much food poisoning (none of my family got it) but being older...

Ann, Chen Jie Xue 陈洁雪 said...


I didn't know about the Do not eat in the evening. We were so greedy that I thought we ate too much.

When ever my mum made things, she made so much. Like paos, we would eat 4 or 5.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the memories. My favourite Zhong Zhi is the one with no fillings made for me specially by my late maternal grandmother.

Ensurai said...

Hi Ann
May be it is always advisable not to eat glutinous rice in the evenings as it causes a lot of gas. Overeating of course is never wise...but we kids tend to over eat things which come by only once a year!! kekekek

Ensurai said...

Dear Anonymous...
Mother's and grandma's zhongzie were always the best...just the right taste...just right size and just the right shape!!

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