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TOPICS INCLUDE: Corban Holiday, Hu Ssu-hui, Earliest Soy History, Deguines, Bai People

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Letters to the Editor

Winter Volume: 2017 Issue: 24(4) pages: 5 to 6

Can you share something about the Corban holiday in China including how long it has been celebrated there, who celebrates it, etc?
To Whomever: With no name, we are unsure who sent this, and recently did receive a question close to yours about this Muslim holiday introduced to China in about the 7th century CE. Now celebrated by about one quarter of China’s minority populations on the tenth day of the tenth month of their Lunar calendar, eighteen or more million Chinese minority folk may be doing so in various ways including, in alphabetic order, the Baoan, Dongxiang, Hui, Kazak, Sala, Tajik, Uzbek, and Uygur people. That is, if they want to. They might slaughter a sheep, a cow, or a camel, and roast it for their family and any guests. Young folk might come and eat with their family and then go to dance into the night. Elders might eat then go to a Mosque to exchange holiday greetings and/or worship.

What can you tell us about the Yuan Court person who wrote a cookbook in the early 1330’s?
To Whomever: We think you mean Hu Ssu-hui (spelled several ways). He was a ‘nutritionist’ so-called, though that word did not exist then. He did write about foods that are good for the body and the mind. This Turkic fellow wrote in Chinese, and his book was translated by Drs. Paul Buell and E.N. Anderson into English. They titled it Necessary Knowledge of Drinking and Feasting. About the Mongol elite, it includes Turkic, Chinese, Kashmiri, Persian, Mongolian, Sinkiang, people’s recipes and thoughts popular in Northwest China at the time of its original publication which you dated correctly. These culinary worlds did meet at the court and thanks to that, we learn that few vegetables were used, there is a fondness for meat and lots of onions and cabbage, also other Brassica vegetables, melons and fruits. In an article, Dr. Anderson once gave a talk at the 6th Symposium in 1999 in Fuzhou on Chinese Dietary Culture where I first learned about this translation. He detailed a lot about their bi-lingual Chinese/English volume. We suggest you consult it as we have on many occasions. It is a valuable way to learn many details about foods of those times. Speaking of this book, Anderson did say it shows considerable “cultural complexity from these many years ago” and that “meat was obviously important on the menu.” He mentions wheat, barley, sheep, goats, lentils, and chickpeas as early domesticates....pigs and cattle, too, and that rice was widely and intensively cultivated before 6,000 BCE. This translation is the best and most detailed look at food in Northwest China when it was written.

Gloria of New York asks:
What was the earliest use of the soy bean, soy sauce, and/or soy paste?
Gloria: The earliest archeological evidence we found was of soybeans in the Han Tomb at Mawangdui near Changsha in the Hunan Province. This is in southcentral China and in a tomb sealed in 165 BCE, opened in 1972 CE. We once did see a comment that soy beans did exist in 200 BCE as fermented black soybeans that looked shriveled and soft and had some small salt crystals on them. They may have been made in a multi-step process cooked then inoculated with Aspergillus oryzare mold and put in salt water for about half a year before being used. They were first written about by Sima Qian who said they did ferment in one thousand earthenware vessels circa 90 BCE; are mentioned earlier in 173 BCE as one of the necessities of life along with firewood, rice, salt, fermented black beans, and cooking utensils. He says they are included in the 40 BCE volume titled The Handy Dictionary for Urgent Use which was written by Shi You. In 1596 CE, these and soy sauce are detailed in Li Shizen’s Bencao Gangmu, Great Pharmacopoeia. The Washington Post newspaper, in 1884 CE, did write about “salted black beans”, and a chronology from the SoyInfo Center advises from an article by Wong Ching Too in the: Brooklyn Eagle, a newspaper, that in 1960 the term ‘fermented black soybeans’ was first used by Mimie Ouie in her cookbook: The Art of Chinese Cooking. Perhaps the best early history of these beans is in Joseph Needham’s Science and Civilization in China, Volume 6, Biology and Biological Technology. Part V: Fermentations and Food Science. That volume is by H.T. Huang and he says they are botanically known as Glycine max. That book is available in many libraries that have good computer access.

From Henlee of Butte Montana:
Just read about Deguines who discovered America. Do you know about him/her, and can you advise?
Henlee: Deguines was a French scholar who did spark a controversy in about 1761. So did Professor Neumann (no relative) in 1841. Both said a Chinese Buddhist monk named Hoei-Shin, also spelled Hu-Shen, journeyed some seven thousand miles to the coast of America in 499 CE with other monks. Deguines said the same. They said he made his way to a huge canyon that had bands of color along its sides (maybe the Grand Canyon) and crossed rivers (some speculate they could reach Mexico and Mayan civilization). We once read that since some stones with holes had been from this trip, they could have been Chinese man-made ship anchors. There are Mayan artifacts that do look similar to Chinese ones. Other researchers did say America was peopled with folks from Asia getting there using a Bering Straits land-bridge. One chap, named Faber, in 1992 did write that America was peopled from North to South migrations from Asia; and that this Buddhist monk sailed to Fusang in 499 CE. That name is of a succulent plant found there which could be agave. He also writes about threads made from bark that are made into cloth and lots of copper, gold, and silver jewelry, perhaps Mayan. A 1997 article in the November Scientific America discusses an archaeological site in Zimbabwe abandoned in the 1400s that had Ming Dynasty celedon dishes (which could be related to China). Another researcher notes that long distance ship travel did reach both US coasts as prevailing winds helped them do so. Yet another says Columbus was not the first to discover the New World. His proof that Chinese and Japanese artifacts mixed with Native American ones on the way to Peru, and that Russian scientists claim Asian geographers did have knowledge of the Americas in 1500 BCE. A Dr. McKensie also writes that early explorers did say that Japanese survivors married Indian women, and they tell legends about immigrants from Asia in The China Syndrome. There is information in Archeology showing Chinese steel blades in Alaska; pottery from China in Ecuador; and Charles Boland writes in They all Discovered America, saying voyagers to the New World came in four categories: 1) Those who came and then settled in America, 2) Those who visited and left, 3) Those who arrived accidentally, and 4) Those who are missionaries. Jackson, another writer, points out that China and Mexico both use sky-dragons, have complex and somewhat similar rain-making ceremonies, and both use jade in their grave markers. Diodorus of Sicily in the 1st century BCE writes that Phoenicians sail along the west cast of Africa and could be blown off course arriving at an island finding more than a thousand stones with markings. These stones are now in Harrisburg PA in the State Museum. They do have Chinese-type markings. This is only some of the evidence of these Chinese connections. Many can be checked the Pine Street Foundation’s web site titled; Did the Chinese Discover America?

Elvyne in Shanghai asks:
Any knowledge about the Bai ethnic minority including how many and where most of them live?
Elvyne: Most of this ethnic minority live in the Dali Bai Autonomous County in the Yunnan Province. Their minority language is part of the Sino-Tibetan language family, and they do very artistic painting, do laquer work, and making gifts we might call ‘crafts.’ Many are very creative as can be seen in their homes, their communities with gate towers and screens fronting their courts with gables colorful with beautiful wood carvings under them, flowers blooming year-round in front of them. As to your other query, according to the 2010 Chinese census, more than two million Bai live in that province’s Dali Bai Autonomous County, others near Erhai Lake at the foot of Cangshan Mountain in Xizhou. We read this is the capital of Yi Mou Xin; but never located it on a map; can you? One other thing, Bai people love spicy foods and cured cold ones; they eat lots of fish, and those at higher elevations prefer corn as their main staple while those closer to sea level enjoy rice as theirs; and all of them like fish with their rice. Do you know their name means ‘white’ and Bai women often wear something white.

The Soy Info Center Advises:
I admire you for continuing your periodical—being productive and useful each day. Thank you for writing such a terrific review of our book History of Soybeans and Soyfoods in China. H.T. Huang would have been pleased as well. You are welcome to publish it in Flavor and Fortune. Do you realize that China now imports more soybeans than all other countries combined, a dramatic shift from before World War II when China and Manchuria were the word’s leading exporters? This new policy is designed to conserve water, and enable Chinese to eat more pork, fish, and poultry. We think China can import soybeans at lower cost than it can grow them domestically.

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