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On Differences Between Chinese and Western Dietary Cultures

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On Differences Between Chinese and Western Dietary Cultures


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Diet is absolutely necessary in the life of mankind, and even in the existence or development. Because of the differences between Chinese and western cultural traditions, the Chinese and western dietary cultures are different in concept, target, pattern, attribution and nature. We study these differences and then find out the points that can be digested, in order to facilitate the communication about cultures between China and the west. Taiwan Professor Zhang Qijun said, “The old saying, ‘Eat, drink, man, woman who wishes greatly’.

For such a standard fair, western culture (in particular, modern American culture) can be said to be male and female culture. But the Chinese culture can be said to be a dietary culture. “As the reason of the cultural traditions, the western lives tend to men and women, but because of the narrow gender relations, Chinese people are dumping guidance on life in the restaurants. Thus the diet is rich in culture.

Food culture in the west is not developed enough, but this underdevelopment itself is the result of the development of a culture, so it is still significant to study the dietary cultures of Chinese and Western diet. By the analysis of the differences between Chinese and western dietary cultures, we can comprehend the respective cultural traditions of China and the west. And we can also improve and create the culture of China.

Key Words

dietary culture; cultural tradition; differences

摘 要





Once there is a saying that “Food is eating well-deserved for human life”, so food is an indispensable condition for the survival and development of human beings. There are two desires in life: one is feasting them to survive; and another is the lust of men and women, which can help the mankind to carry on the family line. Facing the two desires, China pays more attention to the former, while the west tends to the latter. Such phenomenon affects the cultural trend. Diet is actually the contents of our daily lives, but why we call it culture? That is because the diet has special status in the Chinese culture, and it also has a great distinction between China and the west. As one of the world ancient nations, China’s diet has a history almost as long as that of Chinese civilization. But in western countries, ancient thinkers devoted less attention to the food problem than the Chinese philosophers did, and there is even not aware of it to the “heaven” degree. With the opposite, they recognized and interpreted the world in the perspective of the lust or love of men and women more. Whether the awareness of original sin of Christianity, Adam and Eve legend, or ancient Greek philosophy (such as Plato’s dialogue) who considered the personal relationships “love” as the love of ontology of beauty, and regarded it as a reality thinking of philosophy, all these ideas become the basis of western philosophers’ cultural thoughts. All these had potential effects on the development of western culture and westerners’ characters. Receiving the influence of respective cultural tradition, the Chinese and western dietary culture has had different characteristic. The differences in concepts, targets, patterns, attribution and nature had reflected the different dietary culture in the different state characteristic; such characteristic has enriched the research value of dietary culture. Studying these cultural differences, we can find out a joint enhancing the communication between China and the west through a comprehensive study of the subject. It may be a great help to the
communication of the Chinese and western cultures.

I. Differences in Concepts
First, the Chinese and western diet have the differences that cannot be ignored in concepts. Nobody will deny that the Western diet is a rational concept, regardless of the color of food, incense, flavor and shape, but nutrition must be assured. It cares about the intake of calories, vitamins, protein and so on during a day. Comparing with the Chinese diet, western diet tastes stereotyped, as simple as chewing the candle, but the sense tells them: We must eat them all because of the nutrition. And then they put it bluntly, just like refueling machine. The concept of western diet is compatible with the whole western philosophy. Metaphysics is the main feature of western philosophy. Such kind of philosophy brings vitality to western culture, so the natural sciences, psychology and methodology achieve a rapid development. In some other aspects, such philosophy proposition is a significantly obstacle, such as the dietary culture, which is the inevitable thing to drop behind, and just the metaphysics of methodology marks everywhere. In celebration, it stresses tableware, stresses the staple, stresses the servings, and stresses the color and shape mix of raw materials. But no matter how luxurious the grade is; from Los Angeles to New York, only one taste of steak, it is no art to speak of. And as dishes, the chicken is chicken; steak is steak, even in groups, which are also conducted in a shallow dish. In a dish of “French Muttonchops”, one side is potato mud, and muttonchops sits next to it, another side is allocation of cooking beans, and plus a few tablets of tomato. Color is on clear, but the tastes of the various materials are separated, not to reconcile, and the entire flavor is also simple and clear.

Chinese diet is a sense of beauty diet. When people sample dishes, they often say this dish is “delicious”, and that dish is “not delicious”. But if you ask what is meant by “delicious”, why “tasty” and what are the aspects of “delicious”, I am afraid that it will be difficult to answer. This shows that which Chinese people hanker on a diet is just the “mood” that is difficult for one to say anything. Even using the “color, flavor, shape and implement “which people often said to make the” realm “reification, I am
afraid it is still difficult to crown all. The beauty pursuit of Chinese cuisine is clearly overriding the rational pursuit. This concept of diet is also coinciding with the traditional Chinese philosophy. Chinese philosophy as a representative of oriental philosophy, its distinguishing features is the macro, visual, vague and evasive. Chinese cooking method is to reconcile, and the ultimate goal is to reconcile out of a beautiful taste. The main stress is measure and the overall co-ordination. It contains a wealth of dialectics of Chinese philosophy, and all these depend on the degree of the wonderful flavor and harmony of dish. The ever-changing within degrees decides the changeable of Chinese food, and it also decides the characteristics of Chinese food as well as the characteristics on each of the chefs.

II. Differences in targets

All diet cannot be done without vegetables. The word “dish” is for the sound in China, and it always has something to do with the plants. According to a survey of western plants scholar, there are 600 varieties of vegetables, six times more than in the west. In fact, the Chinese dishes, vegetable dish is usual food. Meat dish entered the normal diet only on holidays or higher living standards, so since ancient times, and there was a saying of “fresh vegetables”. Chu ? Mandarin language: “Common people eat fresh vegetables, fish only offered in the worship.” It is said that fresh vegetables are mainly to the civilian in general, only being able to eat meat only in worship. Vegetarian diet takes the dominant position in the normal structure. Chinese people consider the vegetables as the main dish; it has inextricably linked with the advocacy of Buddhists. They deem animals as “people” and plants have “no soul.” So, they advocate vegetarianism. Westerners do not seem to have such a good habit. They uphold a cultural origin of nomadic, seafaring nation. Living mainly by fishing and hunting, collection and planting are just the complement. There are more meat dishes in their lives. Feeding, clothing, and using are taken from the animals, and even Western medicine is derived from animals. When the westerners introduce the diet characteristics of their countries, they always feel that their diet is more reasonable on the mix of nutrition than China. The food
industry is more developed, such as cans, fast food, although the taste is monotonous, but it saves time, and it also has good nutrition. Therefore, in their countries: people are generally healthier and taller than Chinese, and the people have strong shoulders and developed muscles; but Chinese people look short, their shoulders narrow and legs thin, their skin yellow and their body weak. The differences between Chinese and western food for Westerners to judge the merits of the two diet is not justified. Mr. Sun Yat-sen had profound study of the culture of food and incisive exposition. In his composing The Scheme for National Reconstruction, detailing the differences between Chinese and Western diet phenomenon, he concludes: “Chinese ordinary people drink green tea, and eat simple food such as vegetables and tofu for meal. Such kinds of food are the most healthy and beneficial according to the research of hygienist. Therefore, the remote people in china, whose diet are far from meat and wine, always live a long life. Also China has a big population, and Chinese people have enormous power to resist disease, but they never try the non-diet. “He added:” The Chinese vegetarians all eat tofu. Tofu is expected as the real meat in plants, as it has the nutrition that meat has. It is the meat without toxic materials. So the Chinese are vegetarian used to be a custom without the promotion of scholars. It is also a custom that the European and American drink thick Wine, eat meat and fish. So there was science promotion before and a severe law later, such as the United States Prohibition. And the transfer will not carry out in a short time. “Mr. Sun’s words tell out the scientific benefits of Chinese diet and disadvantages of Western diet. According to the characteristics of the significant differences between Chinese and Western diet targets, the Chinese character is called the plant character, while the Westerners’ is animal character. In response to the cultural behaviors, Westerners love adventure, exploration, conflict; but the Chinese people only like to live banally. According to American expert on folklore Ruth’s opinions on the “cultural pattern” theory, Chinese culture is quite similar to the classical world Apollo-type character and Westerners’ is similar to the modern world Faust-type. Indeed, the Westerners such as Americans in the development of the west, they put the whole family on the truck, and go out of the city in amid rumbling with the supplies. The Chinese people are always thinking about “home” and “roots”,
despite the promotion that young people should take the world as home. But after a few decades, the overseas Chinese will come back to the mainland with crutch to seek their roots. This concept of return and such human spirit that can only be said to cooperate with the accumulation in the diet. Then it brings cohesiveness to the Chinese nation and then makes the human folk full of energy.

III. Differences in Dietary Patterns
The Chinese and Western dietary patterns can be very different, and these differences affect the national character. In China, a celebration, no matter what, there will be only one form, as sitting together, sharing one feast. Banquet uses round table, which has created a unity of form, which is courtesy, comity atmosphere. Cate are in the center of the table. It is the objects for people to appreciate and taste, and it is also an intermediate of communication. People toast each other and share the vegetables, which reflect the mutual respect between people in the face of the good things, also show the virtues of comity. Although from the health point of view, this approach has obvious deficiencies, but it is in our national “happy” mentality, it reflects the classical Chinese philosophy area of “and” impact for future generations. It is helpful to facilitate the collective emotional exchanges and consequently difficult to reform. The western-style banquets, although the food and wine are very important, but in fact they are just foil. The core of Banquet is friendship, by the conversation with the guests who sitting next to achieve the purpose of recreation. If making an analogous compare between the recreation of the banquets and dancing, it may be said that the Chinese banquet is like group dance, and the western banquet is like men and women dancing. This shows that communication purpose of Chinese banquet and western banquet are very obvious. Only the Chinese banquet is more popular in the communion, but western banquet shows guests reflected in the friendship between neighbors. The more obvious differences between Chinese and western dietary patterns is buffet dinner which is popular in the West. This method is to display all food, and everybody is picking not fixed in his or her places to eat. They walk freely. This approach would provide the emotional interaction between individuals; they never need to put every word on the table. This also shows a western
personality and self-respect. However, all the eating without jamming lacks the real affective tone like the Chinese people. Some people want to put the buffet in the Chinese food, but I think it is not feasible. Zhang Qijun in the Principles of Cooking tells us the main reason: “First, buffet is not like drinking tea. Drinking tea is just the thing to you before you choose, and displayed in the cafeteria there is a large number of food to eat, so when you want to have it, it is cold yet. Chinese cuisine will serve hot, if cold, nothing to eat. Secondly, buffet dishes only can do hard dishes and beneficial dishes. Then you can access for large plots. And those most representative of the Chinese culinary arts, such as the tender and lighter dishes, are not in this show. Third, the buffet can do stewing pot; it means a big pot in terms of food. Any sophisticated cooking of a dish can only be cooked in a pot at two most, and it is not able to cook the dish for dozens of people. So it will not be delicious, never talking of the taste. Under such circumstances, it is clear that the use of buffet dinner will deny Chinese culinary arts. “The Chinese people are drinking around the table to show harmony and unity, but the buffet has broken such pattern. It raises the personal independence and self-mentioned at the first place. This is the opposite of the scale of the great unity of all Chinese traditional culture.

IV. Differences in Diet Attribution

There are differences between Chinese and western diet attribution. Western diet tends to be scientific and rational, but the Chinese diet tends to be art and sentimental. During the underdevelopment era of diet, these two trends have only one aim – to live and never be hungry. And when the dietary culture is full developed, the tendency is shown in this different purpose: the former is in the development of nutrition, the latter is expressed as the stress on the flavor. Cooking is from diet; the origin of food is a life-sustaining nutrition. Therefore, the focus of western diet is only the extension of the original diet practicality. The emphasis on the flavor of Chinese cuisine caters the diet to the arts field. Mencius said: “Flavor in the mouth has the same interests”. “Interests” points out the key from nutrition to arts. Such interests are from the meaning of flavor. In China, eating is not meant to have enough. It is about nutrition. Sometimes we eat
though we are full. We are overloaded with food. Why? Saying bluntly, it is to appreciate the art of cooking; and not saying it nicely, it is the temptation of “delicious” for the enjoyment of taste. Watching the rational diet in the west, it is not only waste, but also harmful to the men body. In fact, the herbalist doctors are also opposed to overeat, claiming “dietary restraint”. But the dialectics tell us Chinese people, occasionally the “overload” and once we are comfortable, we can absorb and store. Qigong masters at the situation of non-eat and non-drink at home is still in good spirits, although their weight loses, but it is intact on the human body; and it is the consumption of such storage. Herbalist doctor also advocates winter nutrition. It is also in order to store for keeping energy in the coming year. Chinese people’s views are more dialectical than the western diet propositions opposing overloaded stubbornly. It is closer to the science truth, and has been checked up for thousands of Chinese medicine practice. Psychologists Spinoza said: “The desire is human nature than other.” The human desire for delicious is the nature of human beings which is fully reflected. In process of the taste enjoyment, it is imbued with the shares of élan vital. Life should not be a yoke, but also not be a repressed desire. We can not use the absolute reason to regulate the behavior of all people. On the diet, it is not the purpose of “science” and “nutrition” and some delicious are excluded from the table outside. Only delicious things can satisfy people’s appetite and then give the arrival of physical and mental pleasure. Chinese diet shows the transformation about sentimental form to rational form from the old days till now, and cause the Chinese dietary culture brimming with imagination and creativity. The sensibility of Chinese culinary culture is a sublime sensibility, infiltrating rational sense, also the realization of the nature of life. In addition, gustatory enjoyment is one of the main objectives pursued of the human struggle. The art of Chinese cuisine is compatible with the development of human history in the process, more scientific than the progress of the western diet. As Zhang Qijun in his work Cooking Principles said: “The United States is unprecedented least affluent society, but till today, in essence it is still ‘food to eat’ stage. There are still some distances from entering the realm of art.” In China, The role of diet goes beyond the subsistence of existence, which is designed not only to have the physical presence, but
also to meet people’s spiritual needs for pleasure. It is positive to enrich people’s life performance, and fine arts, music, literature, etc. which have the same level of significance to the improvement of life. Chinese diet tends to artistry, the so-called art realm, in fact, that is a complete leap from the necessity to freedom. It is characterized by randomness. For example, similar dishes, because of the differences in area, season, target, function and grade, it has different treatments on operation. Set braised fish for example, in winter deep colors are advised and tastes are advised strongly, but in summer it should be light color and flavor. And for the people in Zhejiang province, their dishes can be put up more sugar in the braised fish, and if facing Chuanxiang customers it should allocate spicy. It easy to see that if out of the arbitrary, there would be no cooking variety; we will lose the unique charm of Chinese cuisine. Whereas in the west, dishes in different areas and different seasons and facing different customers, is the same flavor, no changes. Although it is the most valuable banquet, which is just tableware known, conducted layout, and the vegetables remain the same as before. Moreover, as for materials, westerners think the food is to eat, eating special “hard vegetables” such as large piece of meat, chicken block. China’s cuisine is “taste”. The Chinese cooking in materials has shown tremendous arbitrariness: The things which many, many westerners consider as disposable things in China are excellent raw materials. Foreign cooks are not able to deal with things, but in the hands of a Chinese chef, it can get a magic result. Chinese cuisine is evident in the wide use of materials. Besides skills, an excellent cook, of course, can do more complicated dishes. But facing the real simple materials and condiments, the cooks are often able to produce delicious flavors. It is the arbitrariness of skills. In the surface, the menu seems to be scientific. Westerners always use menu to buy ingredients to produce dishes, but in comparison, it is the machinery, and often powerless facing the complex specific situation. Of course, this mechanical science is still can be said as science, but it is primitive science, and it is not the complete science. Chinese cooking talks about artistry, but it still fit the requirements among the ever-changing, it can be said such science is a real science. The characters of western food which lacks nutrition and artistic atmosphere have great distinction from the artistic realm of Chinese cuisine.

V. Differences in the Nature

Differences in the nature of the Chinese and western diet are inosculated with the respective lifestyle and the pace of life. In the west, people do the duplication of pipeline operations, and implement piece-wage system, so the paces of their lives are so fast. People fall under the mechanical method either intentionally or unintentionally, and believe that “Work is work, and game is game.” Mechanical lives led to oneness of diet or a single blind about diet, and eat beefsteak and potatoes every day. Monotonous diet is the same as work, for which the purposes is to fulfill the “incident”, naturally with no interests, and all these have no word in terms of taste. But China is not, “The game is work, and the work is of a game”. Such life manner is also emerged in diet. A baker sells bread in the street, he likes using the rolling pole to beat the chopping board rhythmically when they knead flour. When the cooks fry a dish, even beating scoop, they also care the sense of rhythm during cooking. These would not work for any conveniences, but it increases the interests of workers. Only in such an atmosphere work will be meaningful, and it will have more creativity and artistry of Chinese cuisine.

There still exist various differences between Chinese and western dietary cultures. But with the development of cultural communication between China and the west, along with the strengthening of communication between China and the west, China has imported various kinds of western food, known as the “KFC” “DICOS”, “McDonald”. This marks a new western dietary culture exchanges and infiltration. We believe that with the development of society, the cultural differences between Chinese and western dietary will no longer be the difference.

By the text from this thesis, we can easily find that there still exist various differences between Chinese and western dietary cultures. But with the development of cultural communication between China and the west, along with the strengthening of communication between China and the west, China
has imported various kinds of western food, known as the “KFC” “DICOS”, “McDonald”. These mark a new western food culture exchanges and infiltration. The impact brought about by economic globalization is stronger and deeper than the internationalization. Economic globalization is a double-edged sword, on one hand, it brings the vitality of economic growth, and on the other hand, the dominant culture is put into other countries through strong economic and infiltrated every corner of the globe. Therefore, the cultural communication focus on how to assimilate advantages of the other countries’ culture, abandon its shortcoming, and learn how to transform and make it localized, all countries need to study the issue. So in the face of the dietary cultural exchange problems between China and the West, we should find each other’s advantages and draw the mutual advantages, as China can learn from the point that western diet stresses nutrition match, and make the Chinese cuisine more outstanding. China is the country of a long history with an ancient culture, and enriching in cultural traditions. She feeds the 1.3 billion Chinese people, and Chinese culture is very inclusive; in the course of development it absorbs a lot of different cultures. Moreover, now China does more efforts to draw all the outstanding achievements in the World. China’s reform and opening up policy create the conditions on international relations and cultural exchanges. We need to use such an opportunity to absorb the excellent cultures from other countries, to develop and create China’s new culture. This work can make the world to know China better and let China go to the world.


I am deeply grateful to assistant professor, Guo Jun, my tutor, to whom I owe a great deal of gratitude and appreciation. Mr. Guo gave me many invaluable instructions and helped me much in every stage of my thesis writing. And I also greatly appreciate the help coming from my respectable teachers, Professor Deng Xingyi, assistant professor, Liao Hong, Zhang Chun and Sun Peng. Moreover, my numerous thanks go to my dear friends and my lovely roommates, Wu chengying, Zou Yan and Hu Ping, who spend much time with me on my thesis. And I also want to thank my dear parents; they give me the best love and supporting for my study. Finally, I would like to offer my
sincere gratitude to those who spend their precious time in reading this thesis.


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