History of Chinese cuisine

History of Chinese cuisine

The History of Chinese cuisine in China can be traced back to the Chinese stone age, where the cultivation of rice and the production of noodles, both typical representations of Chinese cuisine as we know it today, are known from archeological findings.


Over the centuries, as new food sources and techniques were invented, the Chinese cuisine as we know it gradually evolved, with the use of chopsticks made from all sorts of materials as eating utensils, another one of the hallmarks of Chinese cuisine, going back at least to the Zhou Dynasty; stir-fried dishes became popular during the Tang Dynasty. The stir-fry method of cooking was invented as a necessity to conserve expensive and scarce fuel.

Chinese cuisine classifications

Not long after the expansion of the Chinese Empire during the Qin Dynasty and Han Dynasty, Chinese writers noted the great differences in culinary practices between people from different parts of the realm. These differences, following to a great extent the varying climate and availability of food sources in China, could be very local in nature but were early on systematized in lists of Chinese cuisines, they are:

North and South

The North and South cuisines, the earliest distinction, and one that is still much used today even as the food culture of North and South China of course have developed much since the distinction was first made.

Traditional Four schools classifications

Chinese cuisines belong to one of the Four Schools. The School of Lu (Shandong), is the largest due to its history, which is also the longest among all. The Four Schools, being Lu, Jiang (named after Jiangsu's major style, Huaiyang cuisine), Chuan and Yue. Often translated as the cuisines of Shandong, Sichuan, Jiangsu and Guangdong.

Eight schools classification

The Eight Schools include the four major branch of the "Four schools" and add the following to the above Hunan, Fujian, Anhui and Zhejiang.

Ten schools classification

The Ten Schools, adding to the eight above the cuisines of Beijing and Shanghai.


Early dynastic times

There has always been a major class difference between the royalties and the regular citizens living outside the imperial quarters. It should be noted that Beijing was not always the capital of China. In fact the geography of the far northeastern corner of China with its long, harsh winters with limited agricultural possibilities, has always posed serious water and food supply problems. [Haw, Stephen G. [2007] (2007). Beijing a Concise History. Routledge. ISBN 978041539906-7.]

ong dynasty

Many of the ingredients and technique that are common in modern Chinese cuisine became widely establish prior to the Song dynasty. Su Shi (蘇軾) a famous poet and statesmen at the time also wrote extensively on the food and wine of the period. The legacy of his appreciation of food and gastronomy, as well as his popularity with the people can be seen in Dongpo rou (東坡肉), a pork recipe said to be created and named after him.

An influential work which recorded the cuisine of this period is Shanjia Qinggong (山家清供) by Lin Hong (林洪). This recipe book accounts the preparation of numerous dishes of common and fine cuisines.

Qing dynasty

The records of the Imperial Banqueting Court (光祿寺, Kuang-lu ssu) published in the late Qing period showed there were 6 levels of Manchu banquets (滿席) and 5 of Chinese banquets (漢席). [Spence, Jonathan D. [1993] . Chinese Roundabout: Essays in History and Culture. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0393309940.] The royal Manchu Han Imperial Feast is one that combined both traditions.

1950s - 1980s

Since the founding of the People's Republic of China, the nation have suffered from a series of major food supply problems under the Communist Party of China. Countryside poor provinces like Henan and Gansu experienced the worst. By January 1959 the food supply for residents in Beijing was reduced to 1 cabbage per household per day. Many peasants suffered from malnutrition, and at the same time increasing the amount they handed over to the state.Jin, Qiu. Perry, Elizabeth J. The Culture of Power: The Lin Biao Incident in the Cultural Revolution. [1999] (1999). Stanford University Press. ISBN 0804735298] Beginning in 1960, the Great Chinese Famine contributed to more problems due to bad government policies. During this time there was little to no advancement in the culinary tradition. Many fled to neighbouring Hong Kong and Taiwan to avoid starvation.


Beijing in particular has tried its own Communist style cuisine titled Cultural Revolution cuisine or CR cuisine. Other designs include the Retro-Maoist cuisine, which cashed in on the 100th anniversary of Mao Zedong's birthday, whether it was officially endorsed or not. The peasant menu includes items such as cornmeal cakes and rice gruel.Tang, Xiaobing. Chinese Modern: The Heroic and the Quotidian. [2000] (2000). Duke University Press. ISBN 0822324474.] In February 1994 the Wall street journal wrote an article about Retro-Maoist cuisine being a hit in China. Owners of a CR-style restaurants said "We're not nostalgic for Mao, per se. We're nostalgic for our youth." The cuisine is denied by the Chinese government as an actual cuisine.

One of the cuisine to benefit in the 1990s was the Chinese Islamic cuisine. During the Great Leap Forward and Cultural revolution of the 70s, the government used strong-arm techniques to make non-Han races conform to Han Chinese. Groups like the Hui people would become a minority group. To help re-promote their rare cuisine, the huis began labeling their food as "Traditional Hui cuisine". Examples such as the "Yan's family eatery" earned 15,000 yuan net income per month in 1994 for their family. [Gillette, Maris Boyd. [2000] (2000). Between Mecca and Beijing: Modernization and Consumption Among Urban Chinese. Stanford University Press. ISBN 0804746850.] This is well above the national salary average at the time.

Famous quotes

Chinese cuisine quote - original version

A common saying in Chinese cuisine has been around in Chinese culture for some time. Its exact origin is unknown, though it attempts to summarize the entire cuisine in one sentence. The order of the directions can vary within local culture. For example, East may not necessarily come first.

{|class="wikitable"! width=20% | Language! width=60% | Phrase
Traditional Chinese || 東甜, 南鹹, 西酸, 北辣 [Yhnkzq.com. " [http://www.yhnkzq.com/NewsShow.jsp?msgId=944&curPage=3 Yhnkzq.com verification of phrase existence from ancient China times] ." "Yangjing." Retrieved on 2007-09-30.] [ [This phrase has been consulted with a HK culinary experts in Sept-2007. Despite the many versions floating around on the internet, this is believed to be the original since it fits the best.] ]
Simplified Chinese || 东甜, 南咸, 西酸, 北辣
English || East is sweet, South is salty, West is sour, North is spicy
Pinyin || dong1 tian2, nan2 xian2, xi1 suan1, bei3 la4
Jyutping || dung1 tim4, naam4 haam4, sai1 syun1, bak1 laat6*2

Chinese cuisine quote - popular online version

It should be noted Chinese cuisine have gone through numerous transformations through the different dynasties all the way up to modern times. Many different versions of the quote exist on the internet today. One of the most common version under google's search result suggest an overwhelmingly different version in mainland Simplified Chinese. [ [http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=%22%E5%8D%97%E7%94%9C%22+and+%22%E5%8C%97%E9%B9%B9%22+and+%22%E6%9D%B1%E8%BE%A3%22+and+%22%E8%A5%BF%E9%85%B8%22&btnG=Search Simple Google search suggests this is the most popular mainland version with an overwhelming number of hits returned in Simplified Chinese] ]

{|class="wikitable"! width=20% | Language! width=60% | Phrase
Traditional Chinese || 南甜, 北鹹, 東辣, 西酸
Simplified Chinese || 南甜, 北咸, 东辣, 西酸 [ [http://www.singtaonet.com/food/200703/t20070301_478452.html Singtaonet.com] ] [http://www.kas.ku.edu/chinese_food/regional_cuisine.html University of Kansas, East Asian studies] ]
English || South is sweet, North is salty, East is spicy, West is sour

One can compare the original and pseudo version. For example, the original phrase suggest South is salty. This fits Cantonese cuisine and Hakka cuisine since both southern styles are largely dominated by salty tastes. But the more popular internet quote suggests south is sweet instead. This may be true because sweet tong sui is the major export from the southern region as seen from the mainland perspective. Also, in modern times the western styles of Sichuan and Hunan cuisines are widely renowned for their spicy dishes, more so then that of northern China. Both quotes can be debated literally down to the individual dish. Likely neither will ever emerge as the definitive quote.

Lifestyle quote

{|class="wikitable"! width=20% | Language! width=60% | Phrase
Traditional Chinese ||
English || Eat in Guangzhou, Die in Liuzhou, Play in Suzhou, Live in Hangzhou

This popular phrase summarises Cantonese cuisine from Guangzhou as the standout in Chinese cuisine. The best wood is in Liuzhou, which is suitable for death and coffins. The most beautiful women is in Suzhou, and the most comfortable scenery for living is in Hangzhou. There are different variations of the quote available online. Cantonese cuisine is widely regarded as the one to eat within the ideal life.


External links

*History of Chinese Cuisine (its sources), in German

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