Food and Environment in Early and Medieval China

Food and Environment in Early and Medieval China

Food and Environment in Early and Medieval China

Food and Environment in Early and Medieval China

Synopsis

Chinese food is one of the most recognizable and widely consumed cuisines in the world. Almost no town on earth is without a Chinese restaurant of some kind, and Chinese canned, frozen, and preserved foods are available in shops from Nairobi to Quito. But the particulars of Chinese cuisine vary widely from place to place as its major ingredients and techniques have been adapted to local agriculture and taste profiles. To trace the roots of Chinese foodways, one must look back to traditional food systems before the early days of globalization.

Food and Environment in Early and Medieval China traces the development of the food systems that coincided with China's emergence as an empire. Before extensive trade and cultural exchange with Europe was established, Chinese farmers and agriculturalists developed systems that used resources in sustainable and efficient ways, permitting intensive and productive techniques to survive over millennia. Fields, gardens, semiwild lands, managed forests, and specialized agricultural landscapes all became part of an integrated network that produced maximum nutrients with minimal input--though not without some environmental cost. E. N. Anderson examines premodern China's vast, active network of trade and contact, such as the routes from Central Asia to Eurasia and the slow introduction of Western foods and medicines under the Mongol Empire. Bringing together a number of new findings from archaeology, history, and field studies of environmental management, Food and Environment in Early and Medieval China provides an updated picture of language relationships, cultural innovations, and intercultural exchanges.

Excerpt

This book covers the development of the Chinese food system from earliest times into the Ming Dynasty. Most attention is devoted to recent work on predynastic China and on the Yuan Dynasty, since these are both key to the system and the subjects of recent major research. Considerations of space have made me leave most of Ming and all of Qing and postimperial China for other venues, but I provide conclusions about China’s food system at the end of imperial times in the early twentieth century, as well as a few comparisons with recent times. For notes on later times, see my website postings “Ming and Qing: Population and Agriculture” on late imperial food and science, “China’s Environmental Ruin” on contemporary mainland China, and “Chinese Food Updates” on contemporary food ethnography (www.krazykioti.com). These are works in progress, are not to be taken as final, and not to be cited without my permission.

This book owes everything to Victor Mair, who expressed interest in my work and helped and encouraged at every stage. I also owe an enormous debt to my lifelong coworker Paul Buell, and to many friends and helpers in the world of Asian food, especially those who kept contact and remained encouraging during my long years away from China studies—including Jacqueline Newman, Charles Perry, Françoise Sabban, and others. Many more recent friends and fellow scholars have also helped with the enterprise, including Sidney Cheung, David Knechtges, Zelda Liang, Nick Menzies, Tan CheeBeng, Jianhua “Ayoe” Wang, and Sumei Yi. Peter Agree has served ably as editor, and I am deeply grateful to Alison Anderson and Gail Schmitt for extremely detailed and careful copy- editing. Thanks also for incredible experiences in a lost world, to Choi Kwok-tai and Cecilia Choi, and to Chow Hung-fai; and to Purevsuren Tsolmonjav for an intense and inspiring introduction to Mongolian life and environment. Finally, I am deeply grateful, as always, to my wife Barbara and our children, children-in-law, and grandchildren; they give me life itself.

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