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History of Sticky Rice Dumpling (Zongzi or Bacang) - Traditional Chinese Food

Updated on June 5, 2013
Rice dumpling is called Bakcang or bacang in Indonesian and Malaysia, machang in Philippines and bachang in Thailand.
Rice dumpling is called Bakcang or bacang in Indonesian and Malaysia, machang in Philippines and bachang in Thailand.

Like many traditional Chinese food, zongzi (or also called as bakcang in Indonesian, machang in Philippines or bachang in Thailand) is also intended to honor either the divine persons or gods in history. Zongzi, this glutinous rice dumpling is traditionally wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves. There are such thing as Hokkien, Cantonese, Hakka or Teo Chew dumplings on the general.

Traditionally held on the 5th of May on lunar calendar, zongzi is created to honor Qu Yuan, the pioneer poet of ancient China (340-278 BC). Qu Yuan (pronounced as Chue Yuan), was a famous and patriotic poet who was also very concerned about the fate of his government.

Bak Chang
Bak Chang
Zongzi are eaten during the Duanwu Festival
Zongzi are eaten during the Duanwu Festival

The Story

Long ago during what is known as the Warring States period, there was a kingdom called Chu. Qu Yuan was an important minister and he had been known for his loyalty for his country and the emperor. At that time, there were also other kingdoms in China and they had frequent wars and minor battles. Of the seven states, Chu was the largest but Qin was the strongest.

Qu Yuan always advised his king to increase the wealth of his own people and build a strong military. The king had other ministers who always said that the king should not worry and he could continue to have great fun and enjoy himself. All of them were jealous of Qu Yuan and therefore they convinced the king that Qu Yuan was actually a traitor who gave seditious advice. Because of that, the king got very angry and finally banished Qu Yuan from the state of Chu. Qu Yuan went to his hometown in the countryside and wrote poetry expressing his concern for the emperor and his country.

In 278 BC, when Qu Yuan heard that the state’s capital was captured by the enemies, he tied himself to a big rock and then threw himself into the river of Puo Luo. The people of Chu rushed to that river trying to rescue their patriotic minister but it was too late. They then threw rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves into the river as a sacrifice to his spirit as well as to stop the fish from eating Qu Yuan’s body. Some of the people would even row down stream in a boat, shouting out loud and beating drums in the hope to scare all the fish away – this was believed that it is how the popular Dragon Boat event is related to the festival.

Zong zi, Wrapped in bamboo leaves. Fillings salted egg, roasted pork, red bean, chestnut.
Zong zi, Wrapped in bamboo leaves. Fillings salted egg, roasted pork, red bean, chestnut.

What Is It Made Of

Sticky rice dumplings (zongzi) are traditionally eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival, commemorating the death of this famous Chinese poet. This pyramid-shaped dumpling is usually wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves but sometimes it can be found wrapped in other leaves such as lotus, banana, maize, canna, shell ginger or pandan leaves. Different type of leaf gives its own unique smell and falvor to the rice. You can also find all sorts of different fillings in the rice: mushroom, egg, saltd egg, chestnut, pork, roasted pork, red bean, or just simply without filling. However, the rice used is always glutinous rice (also called “sweet rice” or “sticky rice”).

A glutinous rice dumpling without any filling
A glutinous rice dumpling without any filling
Ba Chang
Ba Chang
Duanwu or Dragon Boat Festival, commemorating the death of Qu Yuan the Chinese poet
Duanwu or Dragon Boat Festival, commemorating the death of Qu Yuan the Chinese poet

Duanwu the Dragon Boat Festival

People race dragon boats during the Dragon Boat or Duanwu Festival (the day of Qiu Yuan’s death) in order to honour his memory. This special activity also represents how the Chu people at that time trying to recover Qu Yuan’s body from the river. In the past, only men row dragon boats but now women can also participate. The boat would be rowed by the participants in cadence with the drumbeats, their captain would stand at the head of the boat beating the drum to coordinate the rowing.

Before the race, there is usually a ceremony held to worship the Dragons by making a spot in aech of the pupils of the dragon eyes. Hong Kong people also believe that swimming in this special day can bring luck and good health. Other story about the origin of the festival relates to the people’s worship of dragons (which they believe is the water god). And therefore people raced dragon boats and provide the rice dumpling in order to entertain the god so that the god would grant them a year of favorable weather.


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    • My Cook Book profile image

      Dil Vil 

      7 years ago from India

      Good hub, thanks for good share!


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