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Questions About Confucius
Food in History
Fall Volume: 2016 Issue: 23(3) page(s): 34 and 35
HIS BIRTH AND YOUTH This sage, born in 551 BCE in the State of Lu which is near Qufu, was known in China as Kong Qui, Kong Zi, and later as Master Kong. Westerners know him now by his Latinized name of Confucius. This name was given to him by the Jesuits in the late 1600s. His father's name was Kong He, and he was seventy when Confucius was born; and he died when Confucius was three. His mother was his father’s concubine then named Yan Zhengzai. She was fifteen at his birth. He had nine older sisters and a crippled brother.
As a boy, Confucius lived on rice and cabbage and followed the local custom of wearing a plain metal necklace to fool evil spirits into thinking he was a dog. He married at age nineteen, and had a son a year later whom he named Kong Li. His mother died in 527 BCE, and three years after no longer officially mourning for her, in 524 BCE he began work as a state administrator in the State of Lu.
Always pictured as an elderly man and never as a young one, he is often shown accompanied by his beloved disciple, Yan Hui. Rarely is he shown with his wife, was later known as Qi Guan, or with his son. There are also very few pictures of him with another disciple, though they are said to have numbered more than thirty thousand. Many of his descendants are buried under the mounds seen in the woods behind the Kong Mansion, and there is a statue of him nearby. Many do dispute if his actual remains are in that area.
WHY HE IS REMEMBERED SO MANY YEARS AFTER HIS DEATH: There are many reasons including that he was a great teacher who broke tradition and educated students from every walk of life. He touted and advanced important thoughts and beliefs about man and life. Confucianism became the state religion in 136 BCE; and technically it still is. Though it is not practiced as other religions were or are. What was practiced then stayed in fashion until the beginning of the 20th century. Confucianism is thought of as China’s religion today, as are Taoism and Buddhism.
Thanks to the writings of Sima Qian, The Analects attributed to him actually were compiled by his disciples and their disciples centuries after his death. Mencius (372 - 289 BCE) wrote a volume titled: Mengzi, and a narrative called Zhouzhuan was written in the 4th century CE and it was put together from earlier sources. From these, his thoughts and beliefs have remained to this day. Years ago, when Chinese students trained for the imperial examinations, they needed to learn his sayings. They no longer do, nor do they learn The Analects which were colleted in their final form after the Han Dynasty. There are two version of them, the Lu and the Qi; a third version, the Old Text was discovered hidden in his home a century after the first two. A tutor to Emperor Cheng synthesized them as seen on these pages, is what is recognized as The Analects today.
There are very few reliable sources about Confucius known today other than a fundamental theme of his importance on education and finding a balance between formal study and self-reflection. He is credited with teaching three thousand students but only some seventy are said to have mastered all that he taught.
WHERE IS HE MOST REMEMBERED: He is best known in Qufu, in all of China, and in Asia. There are special dinners at the Kong Mansion in Qufu where his direct descendants often serve elaborate meals for his and other family member's birthdays, memorial days, and other important related events.
THE KONG MANSION is spoken of as the home of Confucius. It is a museum and now as World Heritage site. This is one of the three largest ancient architectural complexes in China, and is the largest Ming Dynasty style set of buildings. It is located east of the Temple of Confucius but no longer connected to it. It has offices in the front, residential quarters in the rear, and a garden out back. First constructed with more than four hundred rooms, it is tallest place with its Dacheng Hall. This is a tower designed to be a shelter should it ever be attacked, however, it never was. In addition, it holds more than sixty thousand documents related to this sage.
First built in 1030 CE to honor him, in 1377 it was relocated to its present site and expanded in 1503 to the current three large buildings with five hundred and sixty rooms. The Temple of Confucius is nearby, and there are large spaces behind divided into nine three-by-three courtyards. The most senior descendant can reside here, but no one does at present. Its eastern part has a study and is where official guests are greeted and they can worship him. The western part is for family meals, and it has a study and where his family can have their meals and visit with guests, friends, and family.
DESCRIBING THESE BUILDINGS FURTHER includes advising that they had a fire in 1886 which totally destroyed the women’s quarters. It is interesting to note that no men were allowed to fight that fire. When he lived here, the premises were used for the sage to preach and teach in the Apricot Hall. That was before that event and mostly in the Kui Wen Pavilion, in the library of the temple, and in other places on the property.
Those coming here note that the property now has a gate for ceremonial purposes at the main entry with a plaque saying: Shengfu or 'Holy Mansion.' There is another, the Chongguang Men or 'Gate of Double Glory' for other needs. The first one was erected in 1503 as was the Great Hall intended for all official business and the reading of all edicts. The third largest hall, The Hall of Withdrawal is where people are greeted before they leave the grounds. There are many other small and large rooms for various purposes.
MEALS SERVED HERE are only for family and formally invited guests. One typical meal made for a few such guests, this author included, does resemble the table set for same. We did not take that picture as we arrived late due to an accident on the highway. Therefore, we did miss the first few courses. In addition, we lost our notes in the confusion of the incident, but do recall enjoying it, but do not recall what was served.
Eating here is having a ‘special meal for special people' as it is called. The most important dishes, we are told, include having a Bird’s Nest or a Gaobai Feast. The most recent time this one was actually served was to Emperor Qianlong. This feast had and always has one hundred thirty courses, all served on special silver-surfaced porcelain plates and platters. Four of them were made with bird’s nests and at that time the event was to celebrate and appreciate his long life and service to the country.
The next level of important meals here is called a Four Sharkfin Dinner. it has four dishes made with these sea creatures, and many others. How many, we know not. The next level is the Three Sea Cucumber Dinner. We have never seen a list of any of the dishes served but are willing to say there is a record somewhere, also a record of where the food came from and who prepared each dish. The Chinese have always kept these types of records for every occasion hen feeding their honored guests or serving royalty.
WHAT CONFUCIUS ATE AND TAUGHT was not at this level. He did not believe in elaborate meals but did believe in animal sacrifices done to appropriate standards. He followed rules for diet, integrity, food hygiene, its preparation, etc. and he taught these things to his students. He practiced eating a moderate diet, consumed ginger before each meal, and said everyone should eat some ginger to remove excess wind and dampness in the stomach and aid their digestion.
SOME CONFUCIAN FOOD THOUGHTS include what he practiced and taught. Some of these are: 1) Rice should be cleaned well, and not injured by heat or dampness, nor eaten if sour; 2) Meat needs to be minced well, not discolored nor ill-cooked or with bad flavor; 3) Foods should be eaten only in season; 4) Foods should not be overindulged in, even during festive seasons; 5) Meat should be cut properly, eaten with a proper sauce, and in smaller quantities than rice; 6) Meat is hard on the digestive system, so only eat it in reasonable amounts; 7) Too much drink (and he meant wine) can confuse the mind; 8) Dried meat from the marketplace needs to be clean; 9) No foods should not be overcooked; 10) A balanced diet should include rice, meat, and vegetables; 11) Rice should be the largest portion at every meal, meat should never exceed it; 12) Diet should be balanced at all meals; 13) Never talk at meals as it is unsafe to do so; 14) Do not eat too much as it puts a burden on the spleen, the stomach, and the heart.
He followed these and other rules and taught others to do likewise. He also taught them the art of cooking which he believed was in its taste. He said foods need color, aroma, flavor, and texture; and that one should eat a moderate diet after eating raw ginger, which h deemed a good practice as the ginger would remove excess wind and dampness in the stomach and aid the digestion of all foods. He had no objection to his rice being of the finest quality. He was a staunch supporter of ritual and was instrumental in shaping Chinese social relationships and moral thought. He taught his students much of that which was in The Analects. We know of only one food created in his memory, probably not anything he actually ate, but do share that recipe with you.
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