The Bri­tish Used to Drink Hot Wa­ter


Special Focus - - Contents - By Zhang Ji­awei

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)

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