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The Crack of the Fifth Day
A Celebration of Jiaozi

1 March 2007

The fifth day of the first lunar month is traditionally dubbed Crack Five (破五) for it is the day when the festival has formally passed its climax and life begins to return to what it was like before New Year’s Eve.

If we transform time into space, and think Chinese New Year festival as mountain climbing, then the Buddhist soup kitchen on lunar December 8 is certainly set by the gateway at the hill foot. From there you start your journey. After half month of slow hiking, you’ve reached the turning point of lunar December 23, from where the summit of New Year’s Eve is right in your sight. So you begin to ascend at a sharp pace and eventually put on a spurt until you gain the peak.

Once on the top, you cross the dividing line to the other side, and you find a whole new horizon opening up to you. Naturally, you would like to sit down for a while and enjoy the moment. To Chinese, nevertheless, this period is more than just being a holiday break. Much more. It is viewed, in fact, THE crucial point at which the theme and momentum of the coming year is set.

Just as what has happened in the first few days after a baby was born could have a decisive influence on its entirely life - as many people have believed - the first few days of a new year would exert a critical effect on the coming four seasons. And that is why historically many rules and customs were introduced to govern the behaviour of grown-ups and youngests, just to insure the starting motion running optimal.

The following verse by a Tianjin poet reflects wonderfully on this ancient practice:


It is said that in the first four days, which represent the coming four seasons, the housewives would avoid to cook fresh rice, but only serve what was left from New Year’s Eve, so as to lay the blueprint of a well-off year resulted from the previous bump harvest. When handling the cutlery, extra care would be taken, since the implications of having a rice bowl smashed by accident in the beginning of the year could be quite damning. The hygienic practice of sweeping the floor would also be discouraged during these days, for fear of disturbing the fresh new qi accumulating and consolidating.

But all these rules and cautions can be thrown out of the window when the dawn of the fifth day cracks. Once again we are liberated from our short-lived good manners, and we celebrate by setting off firecrackers and eating dumplings. In the midst of this jubilant moment, comes along the God of Wealth, urging everyone to return to work by offering a promising hope of a prosperous future. So in the old days, the shops all reopened on lunar January sixth. From that point on, you start to slowly descend the mountain, towards Dragon Boat show and lantern parade near the exit at the hill foot. A new circle begins.

The Crack Five in the year of the Pig is on 22 February, and jiaozi once again became the hottest commodity of the day, particularly in the northern China. A supermarket in Beijing is reported to have sold 130 kilo ready-made jiaozi in just one hour. And the restaurants in the city specialized in dumpling were all fully booked beforehand.

A waiter delivers Crack Five jiaozi to costumers at the Garden of Hundreds Jiaozi in Tianjin on the 22 February, the fifth day of the first month in the Pig year

The conventional jiaozi filling is normally made of pork mince and finely chopped vegetable, with Chinese garlic chives (韭菜) and Chinese yellow cabbage (大白菜,黄芽菜) being the most commonly used veges. Nowadays, almost everything can be stuffed into the jiaozi, from fish, mutton, tomato to chili. It is rumoured that at the Garden of Hundreds Jiaozi you can choose your favoured dumpling from up to 230 different flavours.

Here are some jiaozi in quite unusual shapes:

Cowboy’s Hat (牛仔帽饺)

Padlock Jiaozi (挂锁饺)

Fish Jiaozi (鱼形饺)

Sunflower Jiaozi (葵花朵朵)

Steamed Sixi Jiaozi
Happiness in Four Seasons (四喜蒸饺)

Tip: Shape a jiaozi skin into four bags and stuff each with four different fillings in four different colours to represent four seasons.

In the case shown in the photo, they are made of finely cut spinach, finely sliced egg paste (蛋皮), finely chopped dry mushrooms (香菇), and finely diced BBQ pork (烧肉) respectively.

* 《丙寅天津竹枝词》by 冯文洵
(Source of the photos: 梵歌, xinhuanet forum)

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