AAS Annual Meeting

Interarea/Border-Crossing Session 262

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Session 262: Food for Thought

The Raising of Pigs and the Practice of Eating Pork in Early Modern China
Chunghao Pio Kuo, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA

In early modern China (roughly from 15th century to 18th century, or a period extending through the Ming dynasty and the Qing dynasty), the emergence of agricultural treatises coincided with particular agricultural policies promoted by the Ming state and the Qing state. This coincidence revealed a large number of food-related technologies based on the cultivation both of grains (rice, wheat, barley, and millet) and of edible animals (pigs, chickens, ducks and fish), and the two types of cultivation signaled an improvement in Chinese people’s dietary life. In this paper, I will comparatively examine agricultural treatises on pig farming to identify how Chinese changed their feeding of pigs from a semi-nomadic style in medieval time to a domestic style in early modern times. The pig-feeding approaches that I will examine include the categorization of pigs, the selection of pigs, the feeding of pigs, and the castration of baby pigs in pursue of better-tasting pork, all of which reveal that the practice of raising pigs was evolving toward both domestication and professionalism. Because the business of raising pigs in early modern China became popular, I will examine how Chinese made a delicious ham from pork in a series of specific steps, resulting in a nationally famous ham product. And because pork was a mainstream meat for human consumption in early modern China, I examine recipes to discuss how Chinese dealt with combinations of pork and other ingredients to form specific characteristics of Chinese cuisine. In short, this paper shall combine an examination of food-related technology with an examination of culinary practice to identify how Chinese cuisine formed in terms of early modern China’s consumption of pork.

Food and Virtues: Conflict and Harmony of Body and Mind
Siu Fu Tang, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

There can hardly be a denial of Chinese people’s fondness for food. Yet traditionally China had also prided herself as the “land of of propriety and righteousness.” Is it true that “rituals kill humanity,” that Confucian rituals suppress and stifle human desires? Or that rituals and righteousness actually complement and enhance our desires? Drawing on early Confucian texts like the Analects, the Mengzi and the Xunzi, this paper explores the Confucian understanding of the delicate relationship between food and virtues. Confucianism has long recognized the need to fill one’s belly before cultivating virtues. Yet Confucian texts also suggest that corporeal desires lead us astray easily and must be guided and sometimes subdued by rituals and virtues. Moreover it is pointed out that there is continuity between gastronomic taste and moral sensitivity, that the ability to distinguish fine food is akin to the perception of vices and virtues. Similarly the texts allude to the possibility that bodily appetites can grow into and constitute ethical motivation. With further probe, the Confucian borders between food and virtues, body and mind, nature and nurture become ever more intricate. This paper aims to come up with a coherent theory to accommodate these various Confucian viewpoints.

Fare for All: Prasada as Universal Hindu Food
Andrea M. Pinkney, National University of Singapore, Singapore

In contemporary South Asia, “prasada”, or “grace”, is a foundational category of Hindu practice and belief that expresses the gratitude of a recipient to a benefactor. But in its most everyday iteration, prasada is a catch-all category of transvalued food blessed by and identified with a deity, such as Lakshmi, Krishna, Hanuman, and so on. As such, prasada as foodstuff is a ubiquitous feature of Hindu religious practice and is the sustaining staple of Hindu domestic life. Reflecting the vast diversity of Hindu South Asian practices, prasada’s forms range from strictly vegetarian, such as milk-sweets blessed by Ganesha—to robustly carnivorous, as in the ritually butchered black billygoats sanctified by the goddess Kali. Food exchange among Hindus of different caste backgrounds is typically governed by elaborate commensality restrictions; yet prasada is unique in Hindu South Asia as certain Hindu communities view it as an immanent and inviolable form of divinity that transcends caste-based hierarchical norms. According to this view, prasada can act as a “universal” food. What are the implications of prasada’s potential for universal commensality in a Hindu socio-religious context that assigns enormous value to matters of food preparation, consumption and exchange? In this paper presentation, I argue that analysis of prasada offers a critical lens through which to question many assumptions about the supposed rigidity of Hindu society. Departing from the axiom that “food is life” in Indian civilisation (Shatapatha Brahmana), I interrogate what kind of socio-religious “life” is engendered by this empirically ubiquitous and potentially universal foodstuff in the context of Hindu South Asia.

Discourse on Foods and Drinks during the Jian'an Era and about the Jian'an Era
Qiaomei Tang, Colgate University, USA

This paper examines the aesthetic elevation of drinking from the third to the fifth century and the impact of such elevation on later generations’ imagining of the Jian’an (196-220) period. The Jian’an era is remembered as closely associated with banquets, for a large number of public banquet poetry was produced by Jian’an poets. A study of the Jian’an public banquet poetry and poetry from following centuries imitating the Jian’an masters reveals a discrepancy on the description of foods and drinks by Jian’an poets and later writers. In the public banquet poetry, Jian’an poets described foods and drinks within a nicely wrought couplet. Foods and drinks were equally celebrated. The line on foods, however, was removed in the later imitation poems. It is especially true in Xie Lingyun’s (385-433) imitation poems on the Jian’an masters. This change in the poetic discourse on foods and drinks is best understood as a result of the aesthetic elevation of drinking from the third to the fifth century. Anecdotes romanticizing drinking in literary sources such as the New Account of Tales of the World account for the omission of foods in later imitation poems. Drinking came to be understood as the only social activity that best captured the spirits of the Jian’an era which, in the eyes of the Jian’an poets, was not the case. This paper thus demonstrates how one’s understanding of an earlier period is mediated and sometimes skewed by the asetheticization of certain social behavior.

Gastronomy and the Objectification of the Female Body in Jingpingmei cihua
Isaac Yue, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Scholars of diverse disciplines agree that food and sex are two of the most dominant neurotic compulsions in any living creature. In China, the intricate relationship between these two subjects was recognized at an early historical stage and carries with it distinctive imprints of a patriarchal cultural that reflects the development of the Chinese civilization. This paper examines the legacy of this literary "tradition" in late Ming society and considers its implementation, and thereby implications, in one of the most representative literary texts of the era – Jinpingmei chihua. By arguing for the importance of reading the sexual theme alongside the gastronomic one, this study sheds lights on our understanding of the overall sexual discourse of the novel in general and the subjugation of women in specific and how such patriarchal ways of thinking are sustained in the novel through the exploration of the similarities between sex and food.