Glut­tony in Chi­nese Cul­ture

Special Focus - - Contents - Jiangx­i­ang Lao­fan

The Chi­nese char­ac­ter chán “馋 ” ex­presses the idea of glut­tony, and the food rad­i­cal (“饣 ”) on the left hand side is a com­ple­ment of the two dots on the lower right hand side, which de­pict drip­ping saliva. In the Wu di­alect, “馋 ” (glut­tony) and the char­ac­ter láo “痨 ” (ill) are of­ten put to­gether to ex­press a neg­a­tive at­ti­tude to­ward those with an ex­ces­sive ap­petite for food and drink.

Bit­terly pointed satire of glut­tons can be found in the an­cient Chi­nese jest­books. A joke “Glut­tonous Woman See­ing Snow” in Xiaoshi Daoren ( 小石道人 )’s Xi­tanlu (《嘻谈录》, A Col­lec­tion of Jokes) vividly por­trays a woman with a never- end­ing rav­en­ous hunger and her foodrelated anec­dotes. On one blus­tery, snowy day, the woman’s hus­band asks her to see how thick the snow is, she pro­ceeds to de­scribe it as us­ing var­i­ous food metaphors. (“The snow is thick as cream­ery fill­ing.” “Tis a thick grid­dle­cake.” “Round and heap­ing like a scrump­tious baked roll!”) And when her hus­band gets an­gry at her prat­tling, threat­en­ing to beat her with tongs, she cries, “Fie, I told thee of tasty treats! Thou canst beat me not about the hands and face with thy dough­nut of iron, my mouth shall be a-swollen like a lus­cious loaf of sweet­bread!”

The se­quel of this book ( Xi­tanx­ulu,《 嘻 谈 续 录》, A Col­lec­tion of Jokes: The Se­quel) tells a story of a glut­tonous drunk­ard who “is tipsy all day long” and “can­not be with­out the bot­tle for a mo­ment.” When his friends urge him to give up drink­ing, to which he replies, “For­sooth, glad would I be to quit I reckon, but I have to stay with the wine a spell. Alack, I so yearn for a re­union with my son that I could but quench my sor­rows with a good bit of the li­ba­tions. But I prom­ise ye, my good friends, upon my dear lad‘s re­turn, I shall swear off drink­ing anon.”

“Swear that thou shalt never again be a-quaffing on the sack. Give up the drink and all its sin and vice!” com­mand the oth­ers.

The drunk then gives his hon­or­able vow as fol­lows, “By my troth, I shall never drink again af­ter my son’s re­turn—lest I be crushed by a wine jar. I had as lief be choked by a wine ves­sel as im­bibe of the spir­its. My skin

had as lief be soaked in a pond of wine as I be be­guiled by the devil’s wa­ter. Let me drown in a sea of wine! May pun­ish­ments fall upon my head; may Heaven chaineth my soul and body for­ever be­neath a myr­iad of wine­springs.”

“Prithee,” his friends ask, “whither hath thy son gone?”

“To the tav­ern,” replies the drunk, “to buy wine for me.”

In one of his comic strips, Hua Junwu, one of China’s most renowned car­toon­ists, de­picts a chain smoker striv­ing to quit smok­ing. The de­ci­sive man throws his tobacco pipe out of the win­dow. How­ever, at the next mo­ment he rushes down­stairs— just in time to catch the pipe and put it back into his mouth.

While the artists mer­ci­lessly de­ride the glut­tons, another kind of 馋 may de­serve our sym­pa­thy. It’s the long­ing of the poor for the ne­ces­si­ties of life. Liang Shiqiu, a renowned Chi­nese es­say­ist, ex­plains the dif­fer­ence be­tween “馋 ” and its English coun­ter­part. In the be­gin­ning of an es­say named “馋 ” in his col­lec­tion Yashex­i­aopin (《雅舍小品》, Es­says Writ­ten in a Fine Lodge), Liang writes, “no ap­pro­pri­ate word can be found in English to trans­late ‘ 馋 .’”

Re­fer­ring in par­tic­u­lar to the crav­ing for food or drink, 馋 can also mean a greed ed in the gen­eral sense. “Per­haps we Chi­nese peo­ple just st love eat­ing more.” .”

Liang writes, “Thehe tra­di­tional form of f 馋 is ‘ 饞, ’ which con­sists of the he left part of ‘food’ ( 食 ) and the rightt part of ‘a cun­ning rab­bit’ ( 毚 ). Rab­bits­b­bits run to their food; so do peo­ple. e. It’s like the folk say­ing, ‘run­ning till ill two legs break, just for one mouth’s th’s sake.’ A true gour­mand would never be lazy in the search for gourmet del­i­ca­cies.”

The char­ac­ter of 馋 is widely used in brands and names in the Chi­nese food in­dus­try. In Guangzhou there is “Chanx­i­angsi (馋香思) Bar­be­cue.” In Chongqing there is a brand of spiced duck named “Chan­weiya ( 馋味鸭 )” as well as “Chanzuiya (馋嘴鸭 ).” (They are two dif­fer­ent monikers for the same brand, as they rel­a­tively cor­re­spond to the lo­cal ac­cents in the dif­fer­ent ar­eas.) Like­wise, the Tu­jia peo­ple who live in Hu­nan prov­ince are proud of their spe­cial snack called “馋嘴饼(Chanzuib­ing)” which is praised as a “Chi­nese-style pizza.”

Some­times, as the proverb goes, “Your eyes are al­ways big­ger than your stom­ach.” An anony­mous poet penned the fol­low­ing a dog­gerel:

Spring has sprung, and from the pot the slip­pery shrimps spring

Toast­ing and tast­ing the tasty tripe’s tex­ture, we be­gin our new spring’s fling.

Sim­mer­ing a steam­ing pot, a ver­i­ta­ble vat of de­lec­ta­ble del­i­ca­cies: Stew­ing prawns, beef, spinach, bean curd, tripe, and mush­room,

a beau­ti­ful feast for our bel­lies.

De­li­cious dip­ping sauces the pot is a diner’s de­light, thus I wash it down with a sip.

At night­fall the restau­rants put out the last call, yet happy hour we do not skip,

The time has come to re­tire for the evening’s dream,

But first a mid­night snack of some pas­tries and cream.

Chi­nese peo­ple of­ten re­gard a ro­bust ap­petite as a sign of good health; and glut­tony may even ac­com­pany an artis­tic life-style. The no­table late writer Wang Zengqi once com­piled a col­lec­tion en­ti­tled Zhi­weiji (《知味集》, A Col­lec­tion of Fla­vors). The es­says in the col­lec­tion were all writ­ten by renowned writ­ers, and all about de­li­cious foods. Ac­cord­ing to Wang, both the es­say­ist Zhang Dai ( 1597- 1679) and the lit­er­ary critic Yuan Mei (1716-1797) are “top glut­tons.”

A ne­ti­zen ar­gues, “The love of eat­ing brings knowl­edge as well as an artis­tic spir­i­tual realm in which we pur­sue the best things of life. So stop call­ing me a ‘glut­ton.’ Call me ‘the mas­ter foodie.’” I sup­pose he does make sense. And as I re­call, Shen Hongfei, the gen­eral coun­sel of A Bite of China, a very pop­u­lar doc­u­men­tary of Chi­nese cui­sine, also calls him­self “the Grand Mas­ter of the 馋 School.” Af­ter all, glut­tony 馋 , or the rav­en­ous love of food, is no longer re­garded as a sin in the mod­ern world.

(From Com­edy World, Jan­uary 2017. Trans­la­tion: Wang Xiaoke)

● Suger­cane

● Tobacco pipe

● Fried dough twists

● Beef tripes

● Tofu

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