Breakfast in Liaoning Province, China

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. The enormous changes in people's lives that accompany economic development may be expected to lead to changes in diet and other culture traits. In China, beginning in the late 1970s, economic development has been rapid, especially in the eastern coastal regions, and has led to growth of urban functions (industrial and service activities) in the countryside. Economically, Liaoning Province of China's Northeast displays a continuum between large cities and sparsely populated rural regions. However, the characteristics of breakfast menus continue to exhibit a strong urban--rural dichotomy rather than a continuum.

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The diet, or assortment of foods that people eat, is a central part of culture. Each cultural group, over the course of time, selects from an almost infinite variety those substances it regards as appropriate for eating. It may further determine that certain foods are appropriate to eat at particular times of day. Consequently, diet and the specific foods deemed appropriate for particular meals vary with other aspects of culture from place to place.

Among the most common regional divisions is that between the city and countryside. Differences in urban and rural cultures will include differences in diet, as well as menus for specific meals. This paper examines the question of urban-rural variations in breakfast menus in the northeastern Chinese province of Liaoning. The first section reviews important aspects of urban-rural contrasts since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, and the second section of the paper reviews models of urban-rural contrasts in economy, social organization, and culture. A description of the data and methodology of this study is followed by a presentation of the results of the research. The final section offers discussion and conclusions.

FOOD IN MAOIST AND DENGIST CHINA

Mao Zedong's major support came from the peasantry, but after 1949, leadership was urban-based. Support of the urban population, which would comprise the workers in the country's program of industrialization, was vital to the People's Republic. One way of assuring that support was the provision of subsidized food and other necessities. Despite the rhetoric about equality of city and countryside, the terms of trade were distinctly in the city's favor. Beginning in 1958 farmers were collected into huge communes, which were responsible for provision of the rural people's food and other needs after the state had taken its share of production.

The Great Leap Forward, which began in 1958, sought to industrialize China virtually overnight--the stated aim was to make China equivalent to Britain in 10 years. Instead it plunged the country into the worst famine the world has ever known (Becker 1996). Rural areas were particularly hard hit.

Beginning in 1961, cooler heads prevailed, and a period of recovery lasted until the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution in 1966. In this fury of leftist fervor, all parts of the country were to become self-sufficient in grain, and comparative advantage, specialization, and trade were specifically scorned as "capitalism." A few pigs were permitted, however, because pigs provide fertilizer for grain fields. While acute starvation was rare, urban people still ate better and enjoyed food subsidies. Even so, diets were bland, monotonous, and unbalanced. Policies under Mao Zedong had increased the dietary divide between city and countryside (Lardy 1983; see also Becker 1996).

After the death of Mao Zedong and the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976, reforms that had been spreading in the countryside received official affirmation. Peasants had begun contracting with their communes to produce a specific quantity of grain (or other cash crop) and beyond that, could produce whatever they wanted and eat it or sell it as they wished. This so-called Household Responsibility System evolved into contracts between the peasants and the state directly, and the communes disbanded (Oi 1989; Zhou 1996). …