Qi­uli­gao, Au­tumn Cure-all

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Re­becca Lou Edited by Justin Davis

Af­ter a long sum­mer, peo­ple may feel gloomy and rest­less in the fleet­ing au­tumn. Luck­ily, Bei­jingers can taste the fra­grance of the au­tumn sea­son in a cup of qi­uli­gao, or au­tumn pear syrup.

In Bei­jing, it is cold in the win­ter, windy in the spring, and hot and hu­mid in the sum­mer. The au­tumn sea­son is beau­ti­ful but fleet­ing, as if it could be over with a gust of wind. By the time the leaves turn yel­low and be­gin to fall, au­tumn may al­ready be­come only a word on pa­per or a me­mory. Af­ter a long sum­mer, peo­ple may feel gloomy and rest­less in the fleet­ing au­tumn. Luck­ily, Bei­jingers can taste the fra­grance of the au­tumn sea­son in a cup of qi­uli­gao, or ”au­tumn pear syrup.'' Qi­uli­gao is a per­fect way for Bei­jingers to keep fit in the au­tumn. As soon as this sea­son ar­rives, queues be­gin to form to buy qi­uli­gao at the time­honoured He Nian Tang and Tong Ren Tang es­tab­lish­ments. Xin Yuan Zhai is a well-known com­pany that sells plum syrup, which is a sum­mer food, and has be­gun to of­fer au­tumn pear syrup also.

Qi­uli­gao, also known as Asian pear syrup, is a tra­di­tional Chi­nese herbal rem­edy that dates back to the Tang Dy­nasty (AD 618– 907). Peo­ple knew that pears are good for the throat and lungs even back then. This nat­u­ral throat demul­cent and ex­pec­to­rant is an ideal cure for sore throats, coughs and hoarse­ness.

Pears are the main in­gre­di­ent in qi­uli­gao and are favoured by Chi­nese peo­ple in both south­ern and north­ern China. There are records of pears in an­cient books such as Liji ( Book of Rites), Zhuangzi (an an­cient Taoist text) and Shan hai­jing (Clas­sic of Moun­tains and Seas). The most fa­mous story is from Beimeng Suoyan (a col­lec­tion of short sto­ries) by Sun Guangx­ian (AD 901–968) of the Song Dy­nasty (AD 960–1279). The pro­tag­o­nist in this story was an of­fi­cial suf­fer­ing from a dis­ease sim­i­lar to di­a­betes. He of­ten felt hun­gry and thirsty and be­came in­creas­ingly thin­ner. Liang Xin, a fa­mous doc­tor, con­sid­ered his ill­ness in­cur­able and sug­gested that he went back home as soon as pos­si­ble to pre­pare for his fu­neral. Co­in­ci­den­tally, Zhao E, a doc­tor from Fu County in Shaanxi Prov­ince, was in the cap­i­tal city and claimed to be good at treat­ing dif­fi­cult dis­eases when he heard about the of­fi­cial. Zhao E's di­ag­no­sis was the same as Liang Xin, ex­cept he did not con­sider it to be in­cur­able. He stated: “When

symp­toms ap­pear, please eat some xiao pears (a type of au­tumn pear from north­ern China) or drink some pear juice.” The of­fi­cial rode home by horse and ate a lot of pears as pre­scribed. Shortly af­ter that, he felt much bet­ter and grad­u­ally re­cov­ered. He ex­pressed grat­i­tude to Zhao E and told Liang Xin about his ex­pe­ri­ences. Liang Xin then met Zhao E, gave him some gifts and spread his med­i­cal meth­ods and knowl­edge. Later, Zhao E was pro­moted, be­came a top of­fi­cial and was known across the coun­try.

Pears are a great fruit. They are grown all over China and have many va­ri­eties. Kou Zong­shi lived dur­ing the Song Dy­nasty and wrote Ben­cao yanyi (a book about Chi­nese medicine). It states that “pears shall be taken in the proper amount, be­cause an over­dose will harm the spleen, while a small quan­tity is in­suf­fi­cient for cur­ing dis­ease.” Miao Xiy­ong wrote a book called Ben­cao jing­shu (an­other book about Chi­nese medicine) dur­ing the Ming Dy­nasty (1368–1644). It states that “when there is of­ten pain or thirst, fre­quently eat­ing pears can ease the symp­toms.” Since the Song and Ming dy­nas­ties, the Chi­nese sum­marised the medic­i­nal ef­fi­cacy of pears, stat­ing that pears can nour­ish the heart and lungs and re­lieve sore throats, coughs and drunk­en­ness. Hence, pears are re­garded as “an­ces­tors of fruit.”

Hon­gloumeng (A Dream of Red Man­sions) is known as “the en­cy­clopae­dia of Chi­nese feu­dal so­ci­ety.” Cao Xue­qin, its au­thor, is an epi­cure. There are many cre­ative foods in this clas­sic, in­clud­ing pears, which are in­dis­pens­able. A shrewd woman named Xia Jin­gui is one of the char­ac­ters and is jeal­ous and un­rea­son­able. Once, on his way to Tianqi Tem­ple, a man named Jia Baoyu met a Taoist sell­ing med­i­cal plaster. Jia asked whether this Taoist had a pre­scrip­tion for cur­ing women's jeal­ousy. The Taoist said, “There is no such plaster for jeal­ousy, but there is a kind of med­i­cal soup which might take ef­fect slowly.” He re­ferred to it as “jeal­ousy-heal­ing soup.” It con­sisted of an ex­cel­lent au­tumn pear with 10 grams of crys­tal sugar, five grams of dried or­ange peel and three bowls of wa­ter. It was to be heated un­til the pear is fully cooked and con­sumed each morn­ing. Jia con­sid­ered the for­mula too com­mon to have an ef­fect. The Taoist stated: “If one dose is not ef­fec­tive, then take ten; if it does not take ef­fect to­day, then con­tinue to­mor­row; if she is not cured this year, then keep eat­ing next year. These three in­gre­di­ents are sweet and tasty and do no harm to one's health. She can take the ther­apy un­til she is even one hun­dred years old. When she is dead, she will no longer be jeal­ous and the ther­apy will take ef­fect.” Cao wrote this in a way that sounded like a joke. It also im­plied that food can change peo­ple's per­son­al­ity though. Mod­i­fy­ing one's diet in var­i­ous ways is an aspect of Chi­nese cul­ture. Pears can nour­ish the lungs while dried or­ange peels can stim­u­late the ap­petite. There­fore, if one uses this “jeal­ousy-heal­ing soup” for an ex­tended pe­riod, one may be­come more easy-go­ing.

The ge­o­graph­i­cal and cli­matic dif­fer­ences in China make it im­pos­si­ble to en­joy fresh pears at all times in all lo­ca­tions. Pre­serv­ing pears be­came a chal­lenge for gourmet food spe­cial­ists. They had some cre­ative so­lu­tions. This is how the prac­tice of mak­ing pear syrup be­gan to ap­pear dur­ing the Tang Dy­nasty.

Cook­ing pears was pop­u­lar dur­ing the Tang Dy­nasty. How­ever, due to sea­sonal changes, pear dishes could only be made dur­ing har­vest sea­son. The Tang peo­ple in­vented qi­uli­gao, which al­lowed peo­ple to get around sea­sonal lim­i­ta­tions and en­joy the fruit all year round. Leg­end has it that Em­peror Li Yan, who lived in the Tang Dy­nasty pe­riod, fell sick one day. He had dry mouth and heart­burn. Li tried a va­ri­ety of herbs, but noth­ing worked. The royal doc­tor and the courtiers were ea­ger to find a cure for his dis­ease. A Taoist who de­scended from Qingcheng Moun­tain claimed he had the right cure. He con­cluded that the em­peror had an au­tumn dry­ness dis­ease. He made a syrup us­ing pears, honey and a few tra­di­tional Chi­nese herbs. The em­peror drank the con­coc­tion and was cured of his dis­com­fort. This story is recorded in Ben­cao qi­uyuan, ( The Ori­gins of Herbs), com­piled by Zhao Qiguang dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty. This is the ear­li­est record of qi­uli­gao.

In Ben­cao gangmu (Com­pendium of Ma­te­ria Med­ica) writ­ten by Li Shizhen of the Ming Dy­nasty, the au­tumn pear syrup is more de­tailed. Li Shizhen be­lieved that it could al­le­vi­ate heat, nour­ish the lungs, cool one's cir­cu­la­tion, re­duce phlegm and detox­ify. Thus, it was con­sid­ered the right cure for au­tumn dry­ness. This syrup is po­tent, re­li­able and de­li­cious. Li also men­tioned that pears can be eaten raw or cooked. "Eaten raw, pears can drive away ex­ces­sive heat in the body, and taken as a dish, pears can pro­vide el­e­ments that are lack­ing in the or­gans. Tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine spe­cial­ists agree that pears have a cool­ing ef­fect, and cooked pears can nour­ish the body.

Qi­uli­gao is a healthy au­tumn dish which used to be kept as a se­cret recipe in palaces. For more than a thou­sand years, from the Tang Dy­nasty to the Qing Dy­nasty, it re­mained a clas­sic dish. As the royal jelly, it was widely used in palaces and royal courts over dif­fer­ent dy­nas­ties. It was only dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty that palace doc­tors fi­nally re­vealed the recipe to the pub­lic. It is said that Liu Enji, a mas­ter of tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine and head of the royal doc­tors' team dur­ing the reign of Em­peror Kangxi (reign: 1661–1722), founded En Ji Tang, which was mainly en­gaged in the pro­duc­tion and sale of au­tumn pear syrup. It in­stantly be­came pop­u­lar across the coun­try. Ma­jor phar­ma­cies in the cap­i­tal be­gan to al­ter the orig­i­nal recipe and pro­duced ex­pen­sive au­tumn pear syrup. Hav­ing qi­uli­gao in the au­tumn be­came pop­u­lar in Bei­jing. When peo­ple fell ill and had a cold or cough, they would usu­ally not go to doc­tors but in­stead have a di­luted cup of qi­uli­gao with warm wa­ter.

Peo­ple in Bei­jing still have firm be­liefs re­gard­ing the use of var­i­ous foods to ben­e­fit one's health. They hate to wait for the sea­sonal of­fer­ings of En Ji Tang and other phar­ma­cies. Pears are cheap and com­mon. It is en­tirely fea­si­ble to make one's own au­tumn pear syrup. House­wives be­gin to make their own home-made qi­uli­gao by stew­ing au­tumn pears, rock sugar, shred­ded gin­ger and dried tan­ger­ine peals. The stew is slowly sim­mered un­til it gets sticky, honey is added and a pe­riod is waited un­til the mix­ture is jelly-like. Chil­dren en­joy it when they come home from play­ing out­side. A spoon­ful of au­tumn pear syrup can be put in warm wa­ter and con­sumed. It is good for their health and they de­velop fond mem­o­ries of the sweet pear fra­grance. Qi­uli­gao is a favourite home­made drink of many.

In the af­ter­noon on an au­tumn day, qi­uli­gao may sim­mer on the stove, and its scent per­me­ates the air. It is tempt­ing, warm and com­fort­ing.

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