The Role of Food in Understanding Chinese Culture
China is on everyone’s lips now. This country is spoken and argued, criticized and accused, admired and imitated. Some people are literally scared of its rapid economic growth; others monthly forecast its collapse. However, this country does not leave anyone indifferent because it was found that the behavior of China’s development influences whole areas of the economy of many countries.
The proof of the growing popularity of China is a huge number of publications about the country, university courses devoted to its culture, mass enthusiasm for fang shui, the traditional Chinese medicine and Chinese tea. However, as often happens in real life, we are faced with a completely different China – promising, but very tough negotiator and partner. Anyone, who in any way, for the first time in practice comes into contact with China, has to re-learn the “Chinese wisdom” – a particular style of doing business in China. This style is logical due to the whole course of the historical development of China and its national psycho. They may seem very rational, extremely clever and even too tricky, but in any case, if one want to deal with China in all areas, such as politics, economics, education, culture, tourism – he/she has to reckon with this style, and it is necessary get used to it. Thus, the main thing is to understand the logic of the typical Chinese.
Recently, a variety of publications on such popular topics like Asian business etiquette, good old Chinese management, and the like, appeared which cannot but rejoice. However, the most striking is that they only confuse things. Will the arguments about “a dualistic – holistic” in Chinese character “asymmetric dichotomy”, “inhuman West” and “Chinese humane” approach business help greatly at the conclusion of the transaction or negotiating the opening of a representative office in China? China is highly specific and tightly pragmatic country (Slingerland, 2013). One cannot accept the fact that the Chinese tradition and the Confucian approach to life really play a big role in business relations with the modern inhabitants of the Middle Kingdom.
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Once getting to China a very complex, ideal exhaust for century’s communication mechanism automatically starts thus allows gaining confidence, making one not just a friend, but a supporter and even lobbyist. One comes to China with his goals and his understanding of the situation, and leave, taking the Chinese point of view. The visit to China is associated with many details and rituals, which one may not know or ignore them. Therefore, it has created a special kind of business etiquette, which is best read before getting off the plane to land China.
Western culture, which was spread to the entire planet at one time, goes to the second plan, such as oriental tradition is more interesting for people, who are attracted by its history, mystery and novelty. Chinese culture is one of the oldest and probably the most interesting. Features of Chinese food culture rooted in the very history of China in the millennial culture of the Chinese people, in the specifics of its psychology and development. Chinese cooking has developed at least 3,000 years ago, and since then has actually changed very little (Jinhui, 2002). It is extremely ancient, archaic and largely alien to a modern man. However, the Chinese culinary arts with a long historical experience, ancient roots, are a kind of culinary law, axiomatic. Nearly 90% of Chinese culinary exotica are not in products and in particular the preparation of conventional products. A characteristic feature of Chinese food is that it is one of the key places not only in the material culture of the Chinese people, but also in general in the cultural history of the Chinese people. In Chinese, whoever he was, the issues of culinary culture cannot be reduced simply to a meal, and a dominant position in all life experiences as one of the cornerstones of material culture. Despite the existence of a set of Chinese cooking styles and schools, all of the general rule, the more complex the dish, the more useful and picturesque. Even in ancient times, the Chinese philosopher Confucius taught some techniques of cooking. He believed that the proportion of meat in the dish should be about one-third of the total number of all vegetables (Lo, n.d.). The products should be cut into strips or small pieces, and pieces of meat, poultry and fish should be the same size and shape as vegetables.
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These rules operate in the Chinese cuisine now as well. The combination of different dishes, popular in Europe today, was first proposed by Confucius. “Bad food does not exist and must be applied to any dish to the table, at its best because it nourishes the spirit and the body,” say the people of the East. Chinese cooks believe that the proportion and the ways of cooking are the two basic processes in cooking technology, which is closely related to each other. Fast and strong fire is the first and necessary condition for the manufacture of Chinese dishes. Chinese restaurants recently enjoyed incredible popularity since many Europeans are very eager to join the tall, learn the secrets of one of the most ancient nations. Eastern food culture and especially the food culture in China are very different from American or European ones. Therefore, many people in Western countries specially go to China. Cult of food distinguishes China among other countries. In the days of the great Chinese emperors among a number of court ceremonies occupied a significant part of the rituals, one way or another connected with food and eating. Dishes, their order flow, table, clothes servants, and music all these played a huge role.
In today China, the cult of the food is preserved, but the ceremonial excessive left. One should not be afraid to visit Chinese business partners; furthermore, no one will require the special clothes and performance of certain ceremonies. Modern China is rather democratic as the whole world: laughter, loud talking is heard at lunch and dinner in public places, they smoke cigarettes. However, before visiting this amazing country, one should know something about its culture, in particular about the food culture. Food for the Chinese is not simply a process of satisfying hunger, it is a ritual. This is evidenced by at least that ubiquitous greeting phrase “how are you?” Chinese literally translates as “what do you eat? Chinese are very sociable people, who love to share the latest news. Therefore, the process of eating is an additional reason for the communication. How is constructed, for example, a dinner in a restaurant? Friends and colleagues are already at a restaurant or cafe. Chinese have no rule to agree to date on the street. They exchange the traditional greeting – handshakes, and then the expected question “How are you?”, which one must respond with the most radiant smile. Communication is a mandatory component of any trip to the restaurant. The Chinese share the latest world news, avoiding talk about the personal life. After receiving the order the waiter put a plate in front of each guest with the rice, which is known around the head. Order is not for every guest individually, it is served in a common dish; this is an interesting feature of the national Chinese restaurants. This allows a neighbor to express the respect for excessive: choose the best, in his opinion, piece, and put it on a plate of guest. One can extremely offence the colleague or friend with refusal. Next, one can choose from a common dish all he wants to try.
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Anyway, the foreigner will see the unimaginable variety of food, sometimes amazing, sometimes very strange, such as “century-old eggs” or meat of a donkey prepared on a couple (Whale, n.d.). In order to fully experience the fun of Chinese food, choosing something familiar, like sweet and sour pork, in the hope that the dish will look like a concoction of Chinese restaurant at home is not enough. It is not excluded, but it is possible to miss the essence of Chinese meal, which is to balance the yin and yang between smells, textures and ingredients.
There are a lot of features in China, which allow the Chinese to immediately distinguish a person familiar with Chinese culture, from the beginner. The most important feature of understanding of Chinese culture is the way people eat, what books, what kind of talk is at the table. Often in China, a joint campaign with the Chinese in the restaurant is a good test of how a foreigner understands “Chinese stealth” as malleable to the Chinese tricks and guesses whether the “codes” of Chinese culture.
The Chinese are very tolerant to errors made by a foreigner while eating, including the fact that the guests do not always know exactly what the rules of seating, cannot use chopsticks, do not know in what order to eat. Moreover, the owners are happy to recommend some of the tricks of eating ritual. In any case, the guest should ensure that, as do the owners themselves. A foreigner should not criticize the food and say something bad about the food, it would be tantamount to insulting the entire Chinese culture.
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Ritual of taking Chinese food is not so simple, even if there is a very simple restaurant, although this wisdom can quickly master. It is better to learn how to eat with chopsticks before arriving in China as they can be used freely and naturally. If one does not know how to hold the sticks, the Chinese are happy to try to teach, this will allow the owners to feel themselves as friendly teachers. In a pinch, one can always bring a fork if needed. Chopsticks for China are more than a tool for eating, it is a sign of belonging to the Chinese culture. In ancient times, they separated cultural Chinese people who ate with chopsticks, from the barbarians who tray food to the mouth with hands. Many stories and legends go about chopsticks, such as the fact that they massage dozens of active points on the hand, enhance health and improve memory that in the ancient calligraphers mashed hands, shifting rods, gripped in both hands, dry rice from one dish to different, and much more. Silver chopsticks, which are usually used by prominent dignitaries, ostensibly could disinfect food or even detect poison in it by changing the color. The sticks can be made of bamboo wood, plastic bones, gold and silver. Today, the most common in use are plastic sticks, due to their cheapness and the desire to preserve the trees. Reusable plastic sticks, and the quality of disinfection questionable, so it immediately ask the wooden disposable chopsticks. Wooden sticks are usually fastened at the bottom, they should break, spreading gently to the side, and then rubbed together to clean off any burrs, not to get a splinter in the lip.
Usually in good restaurants sticks lie on special porcelain or metal supports. One can eat soup with a spoon, layer rice, sometimes with fish sauce, soft pieces of “Peking Duck”, wrapped in a rice pancake with soybean paste and spices, eaten with the fingers, but keep this “package” sticks. The Chinese occasionally eat some vegetables with hands and desserts, all the rest – only with sticks. It is convenient to hold the sticks by the upper third, as do the Chinese themselves but do not take them at the top. One should not stick the sticks to the food vertically, for example rice since it may be associated with disease or death. The Chinese think that the guest finished eating if the guest put the chopsticks horizontally on the plate or a table surface; however, they continue to eat since it may seem impolite to leave the table before all the people sitting finish their food consumption (Cooper, 2007).
In China, there are a lot of rules and guidelines on how to behave during a meal. To begin the meal can be at a time when the organizer of the meal picks up a stick and aims them at any meal. Thus, the owner can demonstrate that the guest appreciated the dish and is respectful to the organizer of the feast, cooked or ordered it. Using a knife to cut food piece directly on the plate is indecent in China. Cooker cuts small pieces to make it convenient to take the food immediately into the mouth using sticks. If the owners underestimate the quality of the cooked food is considered normal. However, in this case, one cannot agree with the hosts, on the contrary, it is considered polite in every possible way to praise the quality and taste of the food served. Chinese tea is served throughout the meal. Polite host during the entire meal will fill guests’ bowls or cups as soon as they are empty, but drink tea immediately after that is optional. According to Chinese custom tableware the guest should not be empty, and for this reason this ritual is performed. It emphasizes not only the respect of the host to the guest, but also his generosity. Thanks to the Chinese for care can be given with tapping two fingers on the right hand side of the table.
In no other country, people do not apply to food so tenderly as in China, where the culinary tradition is the object of worship and reverence, and the art of cooking is created to perfection. At first glance, it may seem paradoxical. The nation, the centuries-old history of which is bound up with the struggle for existence (in the number of natural disasters China was one of the first places in the world), people who are undernourished centuries, created the sophistication of the cuisine in the world. However, there is no contradiction. Perhaps, it is for a reason that China has always treated to food, as the greatest gift, able to appreciate each cup of rice, cooking has become truly an art. From generation to generation, the secret of cooking unusual dishes passed further on.
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