“There was this one guy, a poet, named Yuan I think, who loved his country very much. Then something happened to do with national disputes between the kingdoms and since he loved his country so much, he couldn’t take it and he committed suicide by throwing himself into the river. The people loved him so much though that every year on the anniversary of his death, people throw zongzi into the river to prevent the fishes from eating his body by eating the zongzi instead. His death anniversary is like around the Dragon Boat Festival, which I think is like the 5th day of the 5th month, and it’s based on the lunar calendar so the day changes every year. Oh and zong zi is that triangular food, triangular prism, and it’s a rice ball, like steamed rice wrapped in bamboo reeds. They’re probably called rice dumplings in the western world.”
In this description, Yuan was a nationalist poet during the Warring States Period who loved his country so much. Through some act of betrayal, he killed himself out of desperation. There are differing legends to the exact cause of his death. The most popular legend is that he gave warning to the Chu emperor that the Qin would take over soon. The king did not believe it, exiled the poet and was soon overthrown by the Qin as Yuan predicted and Yuan subsequently killed himself. Through his sheer, though perilous, patriotism, Yuan became a martyr to his people. This shows how much national pride matters to the Chinese people. The informant did not have a reason as to why this specific food was thrown into the river. The informant said that the food was thrown to prevent the fishes from eating Yuan’s body, but another source I found wrote that Yuan actually became a water spirit and the food was supposed to feed him. A water dragon, however, kept intervening and taking the food, so the spirit of Yuan came back and told the people to wrap it in bamboo so the dragon would not want to eat it. This gives an explanation for the exact type of food that is used for throwing and how people now still throw that in reverence of their national hero.