The Dragon Boat Race

History and culture – how they feed our food.


What do the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, sticky rice parcels, dragons, Chinatown and 24th June have in common? 4Manchester Women regular guest blogger, Bonnie Yeung from the Yang Sing fills us in!


Over to you Bonnie ……

Bonnie Yeung - Yang Sing


Emerging food trends range from the exciting and exotic from far flung lands; to an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients from the friendly neighbourhood grower.

Britain, with her historical taste for imperial exploits has always had an adventurous palate.


With foodstuffs brought to the islands from the great and the good of her conquests: imports of tea, spices and sugar have irrevocably altered British menus.


Piles of spices


In this year, with the Queen’s diamond jubilee, it is especially important to recall the historicity of British cuisine.

In our fine ‘Mancunian’ fayre we are lucky enough to have access to an array of ingredients; with their origins, far-far away, but available to us on our doorsteps. There are foodstuffs hailing from the hinterlands of China; from the tropical climes of Thailand and the heady heights of Nepal.

An anthropological approach to the study of food not only tells us the provenance of something but also a little about the purveyors of this food; their culture, history and religion. My family hails from all parts of China and all ethnicities; from the far North ‘Dongbei’, to Hakka ‘guest people’; to the oh so exotic Mancunian generation.

My family is not religious but when we all get together, there is always a reason to celebrate, and boy do we celebrate! And our celebrations are almost always food oriented.


Food from the Yang Sing

Chinese decorations


There are a plethora of celebrations in our calendar, the next being the Dragon Boat Festival or more properly called the ‘Duanwu’ – double fifth festival; where preparing, and eating of ‘zongzi’ is customary. Drinking is ‘de jure’ as are the racing of dragon boats. This festival is as old as the Olympics and steeped in Chinese history.

The festival occurs on the 5th day of the 5th month of the lunar calendar on which the Chinese calendar is based, hence why it is called the festival of the double fifth.


Dragon Boat head

Two bows of dragonboats with dragon heads and drums

On this date we commemorate the death of poet Qu Yuan who was banished by his king and accused of treason. During his exile, Qu Yuan wrote a great deal of poetry, for which he is now remembered. Years later the king was hunting him down and for fear of the worst, Qu Yuan committed suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo River on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month.

It is said that the local people, who had admired and sheltered him for so many years, dropped sticky rice parcels wrapped in bamboo leaves into the river to feed Qu Yuan in the afterlife.


Sticky rice parcels


The rice was wrapped so that fish would not eat the rice meant to be eaten in the afterlife. This is the origin of lotus wrapped rice. The local people were also said to have paddled out on boats, to scare the fish away when they were delivering their rice parcel offerings to the murky rivers: the beginnings of the Dragon Boat races.


Dragon boat festival

Dragon Boat Races

Our Dragon Boat Festival is taking place in Manchester Chinatown on Sunday 24th June 2012 from 10am. However, in a modernist twist there is no river, nor any dead poets. It is instead a full day of fun and festivities on dry land. Teams of 4 runners will be running inside the “Dragon Boats”, which were especially commissioned and designed by local artist Lydia Meiying.


Land dragon boat

Dragon boat being made


The race will start and finish beneath the famous imperial Chinese Arch in Chinatown. It is going to be an exciting multicultural inclusive community day; with representation from many of Manchester’s communities and most importantly an assortment of fantastic food purveyors!

We’ll have stalls from Italian mozzarella bar Salvi’s; a Yang Sing dim sum stall; a jubilee tea stall and many many more! I look forward to seeing you all in Chinatown on Sunday 24th June, eating, having fun and finding out about the festival, the food and the people who helped put it together.


Bonnie x


Photographs: Yang Sing, image © Michael Jastremski for CC:Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike, Wikipedia, Flickr (Daniele Sartori, Telstar, V Pickering,avlxyz)

This is not a sponsored blog post.


Other articles by Bonnie:

Yang Sing – Finding fresh ingredients









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