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TOPICS INCLUDE: Persimmon, Death, Songs, Spring Festival, Jewish Population

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Letters to the Editor

Fall Volume: 2018 Issue: 25(3) pages: 5 to 7

The article about unusual fruits was great! We need help with one of them, the persimmon. Neighbors made great persimmon noodles and other items, but they moved and left no forwarding address. Can you find such recipes?
Louisa: Here is the requested recipe and another that we love.

Persimmon Noodles

1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 persimmons, shredded
2 carrots, shredded
½ pound fresh shrimp. Shells and veins discarded, cut in half the long way, then each in four
½ cup snow peas, strings and ends discarded, each cut in six pieces
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
½ cup fried shallots, sliced
½ pound wheat noodles, cooked and drained
3 sprigs fresh coriander coarsely chopped


1. Heat a wok or fry pan, add the oil, then stir-fry the persimmons and carrots for one minute.
2. Add the shrimp and snow peas, and stir-fry one minute more, then add lemon juice and stir well.
3. Next add the shallots and the cooked drained noodles and stir, then half the coriander pieces.
4. Put into a pre-heated bowl, add the rest of coriander on top, and serve.

Persimmon Packets

3 persimmons, coarsely chopped
1 Tablespoon honey
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 small chili pepper, seeds discarded, then minced
3 slices fresh ginger, minced
1 Tablespoon almond slices
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
20 spring roll wrappers
1 cup vegetable oil


1. Put persimmon pieces in a medium-size pot, add the honey, lemon juice, chili pepper pieces, and the ginger and stir well.
2. Mix in cornstarch with one tablespoon cold water, heat and stir this until it thickens, about one minute, then remove to an empty bowl and allow to cool.
3. Put three tablespoons of the cooled mixture on one wrapper, fold in the edges, then roll and seal with a few drops of water. Place the wrapped item seam side down on a clean plate.
4. In a clean wok or fry pan, add the oil and deep fry these packets until they are golden on all sides, then drain on paper towels, cut them in half on an angle, and stand them on the folded end, and serve.

Editor Newman:
Lu Ying’s article in Volume 23(3) was a good introduction for me about the Book of Songs. Can you add more about that important volume?
Nelson: Our knowledge is not a good as hers, nor do we read Chinese. Suffice it to say that this is a collection of three hundred five ancient items, songs or what some say are poems or lyrics from the early Zhou Dynasty times (1100 - 771 BCE) to those in the middle of the Spring and Autumn Period (770 - 476 BCE).To our knowledge and hers, it it is the world’s earliest anthology. They are in three sets of metaphors and similes, fu or tales, and xing which she translates as feng, ya, and song. They are associations with images of different social classes, as can be gleaned from her translation in that issue. We once read elsewhere they were to give voice to or about ordinary folk. Also read that Confucius (551 - 49 BCE) perhaps with a group of court musicians and/or other court folk did compile them probably over many years to inspire, reflect, communicate, even to admonish people to do good and their rulers do no harm. The first or feng means elegance; it includes one hundred and five items.

The second or ya, has forty of them; all are sacrificial odes. The third or song has one hundred sixty more, all are folk odes from different states along the Yellow River.

From Ming in Chicago:
What do the Chinese know and practice about death?
Ming: Never did read much about that topic other than someone did check the character or word count for the word death in the Confucius’ Analects; it is thirty-eight. For the Chinese, life after death is similar to life on earth so they give the deceased things they liked in life, many of them paper and they do burn these, the smoke going upwards to their souls. At funerals, family and some close relatives wear white, never red clothing. They do like elaborate funerals, if affordable, and they do use wooden coffins preferring wood from Luzhou. Once a year, during the Qing Ming Festival, they go to family grave sites, sweep and clean-up around them, and there do like to feast with the deceased. They bring cold foods the deceased did love, and share it with them; or they leave it there for their souls. They believe the dead rule the living in thought. Many, elders particularly, fear calamity should they not honor the deceased appropriately. They used to wail and march through the streets following their coffin to their burial place.

Many elders do continue to mourn for three years. Before burial, considering feng shui, some coffins remain in their homes until an appropriately selected day and time for burial. This can be up to three years.

Most burial places are under earth mounds, tombstones or markers. The very rich might have stone guards nearby to watch over the deceased, as are the Terra Cotta warriors for Emperor Qin. Many actual burial places are often unmarked. In their homes after many are cremated or left outdoors for vultures, their souls go, they say, to live in another world. When visiting their grave site, they bring paper money called ‘Notes of Hell’ to burn and other paper replicas to burn for their souls believing these are things they want or need in their after life. At their burial place, most chant prayers, kow tow to the souls, and later in their homes, will have a ‘spirit tablet’ made of wood or have one in their ancestral hall engraved with their name, date of birth and death. Feasting at their grave site is the happiest part of ancestor worship, the cold foods they bring often include a roast pig, chickens, and ducks eaten by the worshipers after their ‘spiritual content’ was recognized. This respect is not just at the Qing Ming Festival in early April, but for the very religious, can be at Ghost Festival on the 15th day of the 7th Lunar Month, and Sending Winter Clothes Day which is the first day of the tenth Lunar Month.

Several Asked:
What special foods are eaten at Spring Festival and what do they represent? To All Who Asked: Fish represent fortune or surplus. Having a whole fish means no one is cutting into your luck. This surplus means they will get more money, of course. To the Chinese, good luck almost always means money while long noodles means long life. Sweet rice balls represent family and harmony; and sweet rice cakes are hopes for promotion. There are regional and minority differences; but these foods are most popular among most Chinese for this and for all occasions.

From Lee in Hong Kong:
Liked your article about things Jewish.
Lee: According to the Cambridge Encyclopedia of China, the earliest evidence of Judaism in China is during the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 CE). In 878 CE, in Canton, Jews were slaughtered. They and Muslims were forbidden to circumcise, slaughter ritually, or marry a paternal cousin. Marco Polo and others mention Jews in Hangzhou, Beijing, and Guangzhou. In Kaifeng, they/ left records of their presence including a synagogue thought built in 1163 CE by immigrants from Iran. That community flourished until the 18th century. Some did survive until the 20th century but most already moved to Hong Kong. These earlier Jews became officials, doctors, and army officers. That synagogue was destroyed by a flood in 1642, as was another in the early 1800s.

The Chinese then and since did call the Jews tiaojinjiao; which translates to: ‘the religion that extracts the sinew.’ In 1850, the second synagogue was still standing but dilapidated. By 1866, it no longer existed. There are rubbings of Jews in China located in the Vatican, and in the Bibliotheque Nationale; and they are mentioned in Jesuit letters by Ricci. These do attest to their presence in China, as does a Chinese-Hebrew Memorial Book of the Dead obtained by Protestant missionaries in 1850. Then later, they gave it to Cincinnati’s Hebrew Union College. From the 1840s onward there are records of Jews from Baghdad and elsewhere, most settled in Shanghai, some in Hong Kong. They were probably traders as were a few in Harbin and Tianjin.

In the 1930s, the Japanese had a Fugu Plan to encourage German Jews to develop Manchuria. Most did not want to go there. By 1959, some few hundred Jews had already settled in Hong Kong, a few others elsewhere in China. Recently, we met a female Cantor who said there were several hundred Jews in Hong Kong now. She did show pictures officiating at the first Bar Mitzvah there; the son of a friend of hers. She gave an exceptionally well-attended talk about that and other things Jewish in China and in Russia. It was at the Jewish Y’s Community Center in Commack NY.

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