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Scribes of Gastronomy

Representations of Food and Drink in Imperial Chinese Literature

edited by Isaac Yue and Siufu Tang

Publication Year: 2013

The culture of food and drink occupies a central role in the development of Chinese civilization, and the language of gastronomy has been a vital theme in a range of literary productions. From stanzas on food and wine in the Book of Odes to the articulation of refined dining in The Dream of the Red Chamber and Su Shi’s literary recipe for attaining culinary perfection, lavish textual representations help explain the unique appeal of food and its overwhelming cultural significance within Chinese society. These eight essays offer a colorful tour of Chinese gourmands whose work exemplifies the interrelationships of social and literary history surrounding food, with careful explication of such topics as the importance of tea in poetry, “the morality of drunkenness,” and food’s role in objectifying women.

Published by: Hong Kong University Press, HKU


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. iii-iv


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p. v-v


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pp. vii-viii

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1. Food and the Literati

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pp. 1-13

It has been observed that while all other life feeds, the human species eats.1 The act of ‘eating’, which distinguishes humans from other forms of life, has brought about the phenomenon of different cultures pursuing dissimilar diets and having distinctive ways of preparing food. Since for each culture, food is symbolic in a unique way, the study of one’s cultural gastronomical practices ...

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2. From Conservatism to Romanticism

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pp. 15-25

Wine has emerged as a recurring theme in classical Chinese prose in its three thousand years of historical development. At least three points of general significance may be kept in mind in studying early prose writings related to wine. First, wine was a luxury in ancient China; making wine required a lot of labour and grain. Second, the consumption of wine can produce diametrically opposite ...

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3: The Morality of Drunkenness in Chinese Literature of the Third Century CE

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pp. 27-43

The symbolic significance of alcohol and drunkenness is ambivalent, encompassing both its intense pleasures and unruly consequences.2 We find this ambivalence stated neatly in the definition of ‘alcohol’ given by Xu Shen (c. 58–147 CE): ‘Alcohol’ (jiu) means ‘to achieve’ (jiu). It is what is used to achieve the good and evil in human nature. It is composed of ...

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4. Making Poetry with Alcohol

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pp. 45-67

Wine has been a motif in Chinese poetry since the Classic of Poetry (Shi jing, eleventh–sixth century BCE).1 In its early days, wine was mostly associated with the aristocracy’s sacrificial rituals and social feasts, for it was a luxury product predicated on the surrender of precious grains. In due course it took on various functions and meanings in literati culture: as social catalyst and moral corruptor ...

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5. The Interplay of Social and Literary History

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pp. 69-85

This chapter examines the treatment of tea in Tang and Song dynasty poetry. We fi nd a very clear shift in the way poets write about the drink. This shift is more subtle, complicated, and nuanced than the dynastic change from Tang to Song, but it does roughly correspond with that change. The shift is most obvious when comparing poems of the mid-and late Tang periods (roughly 780–900) with those ...

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6. The Obsessive Gourmet

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pp. 87-96

Of the various books that the late Ming dynasty historian and essayist Zhang Dai (1597–1684?)5 either wrote or compiled over the course of the long and prolific second half of his life, many did not safely negotiate that passage from manuscript to imprint that so often spelled the difference between survival and loss of text in China.6 Although, somewhat unusually in this respect, the late ...

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7. Tasting the Lotus

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pp. 97-111

Food and sex are commonly perceived as two of the most dominant neurotic compulsions in any living creature—a phenomenon that is substantiated by different disciplinary investigations. The anthropologist Richard Leakey, for example, acknowledges the importance of such compulsions and comments that ‘[i]f our ancestors had not invented the food-sharing economy of gathering and hunting ...

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8. Eating and Drinking in a Red Chambered Dream

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pp. 113-131

Cao Xueqin’s mid-Qing masterpiece, The Story of the Stone or The Red Chamber Dream (Honglou meng), is frequently referred to as a treasure of China’s ‘food and drink culture’ .1 Celebrated as the great classic Chinese novel of manners, Honglou meng provides readers a rich scope in which to appreciate the culinary luxuries of mid-Qing aristocratic life. Throughout the ...


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pp. 133-157


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pp. 159-163

E-ISBN-13: 9789888180967
Print-ISBN-13: 9789888139972

Page Count: 176
Publication Year: 2013