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It's Time to make yuanzi
China's Peasants Painting (3)

28 January 2011

The dawn of the lunar Tiger Year December 23 (January 26, 2011) proclaims the food preparation for New Year's Eve dinner has formally begun.

In the old days, it was a time to kiss goodbye to Kitchen God who was scheduled to take a brief business trip plus annual leave to his native celestial motherland (or should say motherheaven) and would only return to his post (literally) that was stuck on the supporting wall of the brick stove shortly before the New Year. No one knows where his new office is since nowadays his portrait no longer appears in Chinese kitchens, but still, Chinese people take this moment very seriously and regard it as the Minor Chinese New Year.

Traditionally from this day on, tuanzi (团子) clubs everywhere in Jiangnan region (South Yangtze River) would begin to hold annual gatherings. The clubs normally accept female members only, albeit sometimes some young boys also get a chance to join the rank.

Tuanzi is a common snack in Jiangnan and customly consumed on the reunion occasions, such as serving as New Year's Day breakfast and the entree of or the snack after a Lantern Festival dinner (on the first full moon night of the year). It looks like bun but is made of sticky rice flour instead of wheat, and cooked in boiling water instead of by steaming. Tuanzi can come in two forms: those in a round snow ball shape are stuffed with sesame paste, while those having a sharp top are in salty taste, either stuffed with pork mince or a mixture of white radish shred and deep-fried lard.

The core members in the tuanzi clubs were usually made by mature women who had years of working experiences in tuanzi production behind, with unseasoned young girls as their disciples and assistants. In some close-knit communities, like small villages, during the week leading up to the New Year, the clubs would hold daily tuanzi workshops from one household to another, making this complicated annual household chore one of the most enjoyable and memorable affairs in the whole festival.

The collective endeavour within Chinese families and Chinese communities as such has, for thousands of years, helped strengthening family relationship and community bond. Hopefully such spirit will recover soon and continue to flourish for thousands of years to come.

The peasant artist who created this painting is Zhang Fengying, from Jiangsu Province.

[1] [2] [3] [4]

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