Sunday, May 24, 2009

of 粽子 and 屈原

Since the dragon boat festival is around the corner, Chinese meat dumpling (粽子)is ubiquitous. Everywhere you turn, 粽子 is there to greet you. I'm sure most of you guys know about the story of how 粽子 came about. For the benefit of those who aren't exposed to the Chinese culture, it is a story about a patriotic Chinese minister, Qu Yuan upon hearing that the Zhou had been defeated by the Qin, fell into despair and threw himself into the Milou River. It is said that 粽子 had been thrown into the river by the villagers who resides nearby in order to lure fishes away from their folk hero, to prevent the fishes from eating Qu Yuan's flesh, so that he can have a proper burial.

Thats the introduction. The question that bugged me since a few days ago, is the origins of 粽子. Is it that the 粽子 had been there before the incident and is made famous by its application to save the minister, Qu Yuan, or it is created by the villager for the purpose of luring the fishes away from the corpse? Personally, i am sided towards the former proposal. The crux of my argument is that the villagers wont take time to steam or bake the rice just to lure the fishes away. The natural tendency is that they grab whatever they had that is potentially more appealing than the corpse, not create something new just to lure the fishes away.

People in favour of the proposal that the 粽子 is created initially to lure away the fishes might argue that the initial 粽子 is just cooked rice that the villagers happened to be cooking at the time of the drowning, wrapped in lotus leaves in order to help the rice to descend into the river. It just so happened that the original 粽子 slowly evolved into a delicacy that we enjoy today. There are some truth in it. I agreed that the 粽子 is the evolved form of the first lotus-leaf-wrapped-rice. But somehow, i'm skeptical about the fact that the firsts of the 粽子 were fish lure. Who would want to eat fish lure? As a Chinese myself, i wouldn't think of fish lure as delicacy, let alone eating it and modifying it in order for it evolve into the 粽子 we see today.

In contrast, if 粽子 WERE to exist before the incident, it will certainly gain fame due to its application as a tool to help salvage the corpse of a folk hero. Superstitious Chinese of yore would do whatever they can to get associated with something good or prestigious, in this case, eating a delicacy that supposedly helped in luring aquatic animals away from the minister's corpse, no matter how morbid or gross it might be to the current generation. Hence, possibly, due to the association with the minister, 粽子 gained fame. The increasing demand for the delicacy helped the food to evolve into the form we see today.

So what do you think? Let me hear your thoughts and argument. Though it wont change the history, it is an interesting topic that one as a Chinese should ponder, one as a outsider should marvel, one as a Historian to not take for granted, and last but not least, for a cook to appreciate Chinese cooking to a greater degree.


~yiqing~ said...

i wan eat bak zhang~~

路特 hidprelude said...

The rice and filling symbolizes Qu Yuan's body; the bamboo leaves symbolizes the sack that was used to seize Qu Yuan; and the string symbolizes the rope that was used to tie him up.

It's created to tell the truth of Qu Yuan's death. He didn't commit suicide. He was killed.


*JIING--------------JIUNN* said...

nice... never heard of it that way be4..