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Wine and Foods in Many Ages

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Food in History

Fall Volume: 2019 Issue: 26(3) pages: 22 to 23

Alcoholic spirits were valued in every Chinese Dynasty, most called jui translated as wine no matter its alcoholic content, nor which grape variety it was made from, or its grain source if that was the main ingredient source, the Dynasty it began in, when it was popular, or any other detail about these beverages.

During the Shang Dynasty (1600 - 1122 BCE), alcoholic beverages began to play a more important role during rituals and personal libations. They were popular during hunting and other important and needed activities, and upper class folk consumed them often and with food.

In the Zhou Dynasty (1122 - 265 BCE), alcoholic beverages were more potent, stronger than the Dynasty itself, and Confucius, in his Analects of Lun, wrote about avoiding their over consumption. In the Li Ji, translated as The Book of Rites, he and others wrote about its excessive use during ceremonial times; and some was found in tombs in three types of bronze containers with writings on them indicating their contents. Confucius, their moral leader, wrote in his Analects and in the li Ji not to consume too much at any one time.

There were many references to Jiu detailing different ones called li, le, lao, chang, jiu, or their other names. Most were made of grains called le or li, others from fruits or berries; and one source said some were made of grapes. In China’s South, many were made from rice, those in the North were made of millet. An early poem written in those times said “Jade-like wine, honey flavored, fills winged cups strained of impurities, and is refreshing”.

During the Han Dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE), when times were more stable but with military or diplomatic menaces that harassed people, many missions, including one by Zhang Qian, was when they were drinking more grape wine and more table wines than ever before. Some were thick, opaque, or still; several made overnight from wheat and a starter, and some were in thirty-three pottery jars found in the Hebei Province at a burial site known as Man Cheng. Several had liquids dated from the Western Han (1206 - 25 CE), their name written on the outside in one of three classifications. These were shang zuh which was upper grade, zhong zun or the middle grade, or xia zun as the lowest grade, all grades based upon their thickness.

During these times, guests needed to wait until every ones wine was poured before drinking theirs or eating the delicacies made to have with them. Sima Qian in the Shi Ji or Records of the Historian, wrote about political intrigue and sacrifices made to the Emperors before drinking them.

During the Six Dynasties (220 - 18 CE) and Tang Dynasty (618 - 906 CE), life was politically more stable as was the economy. Then, foreign missionaries found fertile soil planting political thoughts near the Western Market, enjoying learning about religions, the mystique of drinking, and the eating lots of oysters, Wines were carried in skin bags, often made from grapes, or syrups, some named Dragon Pearl, Mare’s Teats, or other fancy names. Domestic wines reached unprecedented levels of appreciation, were made with winter or spring flavors, flavored with fagara, chrysanthemum, pomegranate, saffron, or other items, and made green, white, yellow, or red, the colors written on the poetry of the times, as was how the main ingredients were grown, how the wines were made.

During the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279 CE) and in the Liao (907 - 1115), Jin (1127 - 1234), Northern Song (960 - 1127), and Southern Song Dynasties (1127 - 1279 CE), there was considerable borrowing from Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism. The literati closed gaps between art, food, and wine helping wine flourish at all societal levels, particularly when food was served with it.

During the Yuan Dynasty (1279 - 1368 CE), Temujin became known as Ghinggis Khan and gets credit for unifying Turko-Mongolian tribes in Inner Asia, conquering most of Northern China all the way west to the Caspian Sea, In 1266, he did start building the capital in Beijing, moved it there from Mongolia, used diverse policies and practices, added Chinese wines and foods to the eating and drinking behaviors of the Mongolians, and helped them gain a taste for tea, silk, wealth, and more wine and other alcoholic beverages, and better foods to go with them.

In the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1649 CE), the Mongol leaders were overthrown, their leader, Ma He, became a Moslem and trusted advisor to Prince Yan, and was appointed a Moslem Eunich and overseer of the Imperial Palace. Prince Zheng was appointed to command the fleet now dedicated to exploration, trade, and diplomacy. Doing so, he made many banquets featuring foreign wines and delicacies, used many grape wines, and helped that industry thrive after its Confucian leadership.

In the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911 CE), the Republic of China was formed and Manchurians took over. These horsemen continued to consume lots of mare’s milk and wines, too, and they served some to their underlings, and had everyone tap two fingers in appreciation for the foreign-made wine. His grandson, Emperor Qianlong, began ruling in 1736 and ruled for sixty years. He spread more foreign influences throughout China. These encouraged Yuan Mei and others to love millet wines from Lishu and Yangzhou, and call most others vulgar. Those that came after him did encourage family values, reverence for antiquity, household worship, foreign wine and food, use of incense, prayer to gods and ancestral spirits, illusions of loyalty, romance, freedom, and tales of drunken scholars, taste for foreign wines, more sex, brothels, and floating restaurants that served them.

Yuan Mei, a noted poet, gourmet, and wine expert, wrote about food and wine in China. He incorporated things from the west including its wine lore, love of wine, and foreign foods. He continued to emphasize the family as the basic social unit, revere household worship, love of alcoholic beverages, kumiss, honey, wine, mead, and distilled liquor; and the people followed his lead, and did so, too.

Several recipes show off some of them, and can be from Jiilin, Harbin, or elsewhere in Dongbei.

Many served with winter melon, black peppercorns, or dried scallops. We encourage readers to make and taste them, enjoy their Manchurian, Russian, Korean, or Mongolian heritage from this cold corner of China. Some were only popular then, some only popular more recently, a few when Puyi ruled. Many in its first line thanks to new industries or when served with items such as deer tails or deer antlers for decoration.

Should you plan to make them, if using deer tails, submerge them before removing their fur, and stew them for at least two hours with several Korean pastes and lots of cinnamon. A few are from earlier times and still popular today, particularly in Harbin. That city has the highest latitude of any provincial Chinese capital, is often frozen two hundred or more days each year, has a famous ice festival annually, and many Russian-built buildings on its Central Avenue.

One is built by Jewish merchants as was the famous Modern Hotel known as Madie-er Binguan and the Huamei Western Restaurant, both founded by Russian Jews and places passengers visited before or after taking the Chinese Eastern Railway system to or from Dongbei.

Harbin was known for the St. Sophia Orthodox Cathedral built there in 1907 designed by a Russian architect to be an army church for Czarist soldiers., and known for the New Synagogue at Jingwei Street in the Daoli District with a Jewish star on its dome. It is the largest Jewish Synagogue in China, was built in 1918, renovated in 2004, and now a museum of Jewish history and culture. Inside, it has more of them on its ceilings, walls, floors, even its lamps.

No Jewish resident lives in Harbin now, but many descendants return each year to pay respects to their deceased relatives buried in the Huangshan Jewish Cemetery with more than five hundred graves of those who did live here including relatives of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin, the grandfather of the former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and other less well-known buried there. Many are visited every year and this is known as a small rock is often left on the top of the tombstone showing someone came to pay their respects to the deceased buried below. What follows are some popular dishes from this region, here for you to enjoy, prepare, and taste. of them.

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