The British Used to Drink Hot Water
Zhang Jiawei 张佳玮
One winter, I traveled to a small town i n Switzerland with some friends. One of my friends was not used to the Swiss cheese pot, so he took out a pack of instant noodles from his suitcase and went to the hotel staff for hot water.
The Swiss looked at him puzzled, “Hot water? We don’t have that here, would you like tea or coffee instead?”
It took a long time to get some hot water from the kitchen. When he returned, my friend grumbled, “Foreigners are so odd. They only drink ice- cold water, and don’t have any hot water for the Chinese people to drink. I wonder how in the world they keep from getting sick.”
The Europeans and Americans drink cold water not for the sake of their strong body. Back in the day they also drank hot water.
In the 19th century, a bestseller named TheHandbookon HousekeepingManagement was very popular in Britain— nearly every British citizen had a copy. It says that, “The old and the infirm should avoid drinking icy water or cold drinks. People who feel hot all over or who have just exercised should not eat cold food, otherwise they may become prone to illness or even die,” indicating that the British used to drink hot water in their daily life.
Before the emergence of modern medicine, people had scant knowledge of the fact that water should be sterilized before drinking, yet common sense told them that drinking hot water would reduce the likelihood of illness. Therefore, the idea that “hot water is good for health” became popular all over the world.
Long ago, the Europeans had no concept of the existence of bacteria, but through their everyday life they made a basic discovery: though they might become inebriated by drinking alcohol, it was great for controlling diarrhea ( they didn’t know that alcohol kills germs); while on the other hand, though they would not become inebriated by drinking water, drinking it might lead to dysentery. The Chinese solved health problems inadvertently by their habit of drinking hot tea, as heating it sterilized the water. The Europeans drank alcohol on a daily basis from the middle ages to the modern era. In the 17th century, Dutch people drank a liter of beer per person per day on average.
Actually drinking hot water hasn’t become habitual for the Chinese people for a long time, not even for the high officials or noble lords. They say that Zhang Dai, a famous scholar in the Ming
Dynasty ( 1368- 1644), gave his friend Min Laozi cold water when entertaining him at his home, but the water they drank was unique: they only drank spring water from Mount Huishan, and they only fetched water in the evening when the new springs came bubbling up. Then they would carry water home in earthen jars, but only when a gentle breeze blew would they set off by boat, as they believed this was the only way to make the water clear and refreshing.
Residents in the old Shanghai lanes had trouble in boiling water, and they used to drink cold well water or go to a huge kitchen stove for hot water. Manual workers, like rickshaw pullers, hadn’t had much choice. They could go to the teahouse to drink a cup of hot tea after finishing their work. When they were thirsty on the road, however, they had to look for the street sink and even drink the water used by the cattle or horses. In the Republic of China ( 1912- 1949), the wealthy elite of Beijing residing in the siheyuan (courtyard houses) had so-called bitter water and sweet water. The former was used for washing and growing flowers and the latter for drinking. Healthy sweet water could be sold. Old Tianjin coolies would go to the South Grand Canal to carry water, and when they came back, they would peddle it along the street, and they actually did find rich people who would pay for it.
Thus, before the advent of modern drinking water purification systems, the citizens of good means in the West and the East did not like to drink cold water, while the common people had no choice. After water purification came en vogue, the Westerners began drinking cold water, while the Chinese people’s habit of cooking and sterilization has been passed down through the generations. In addition, drinking tea cannot be separated from boiling water, which is why hot water can be seen nearly everywhere in China.
( From NationalHumanity
History , April 2018. Translation: Qing Run)