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Feeding China's Little Emperors

by: Jun Jing, Editor

Stanford CA: Stanford University Press 2000, $49.50, Hardbound
ISBN: 0-8047-3134-9

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Spring Volume: 2002 Issue: 9(1) page(s): 24 and 26

Until recently, Chinese children ate what their parents fed them. These days, some have money in their pockets which they use when heading off to McDonalds or Kentucky Fried Chicken or other Western-style places. There they snack, snack, and snack and enjoy fast foods and soft drinks. These actions and their parents taking them to these places makes food, children, and social change on a very fast track. Some parents are scratching their heads while watching and contributing to staples, snacks, and restaurants as they undergo major reformation.

This book, edited by a social anthropologist, has chapters exploring social change in contemporary China. The first chapter is written by Georgia Gulden who lives and teaches in Hong Kong. She looks at China's infant- and child-feeding transitions and reports on the beginnings of the newest of little emperors or xiao huangdi developing as a result of the one-child policy in China. Gulden sees them drowning in love. She reports that the youngest have diets that have undergone dramatic changes. In another chapter, B.W.L. Chee looks at snacks and only children in Beijing. In still another, M.B. Gillette looks at those with Islamic dietary restrictions in Xian. There are many others including one where Y.H. Guo explores the generation gap at the family table.

These chapters are eye-openers, as is one section in the Appendix, a one-week food diary of an eleven-year-old boy. Actually, when thinking about these chapters and what China was, that mind blower showing off how fast this change is actually occurring, eyes truly are opened. Note some pages after the above that tell about the Chinese government's schools for parents offering courses on the proper way to bring up healthy children, it shows leadership concerns.

Though written by a group of academics, this book is anything but stuffy. Chapter notes are together at the end, and the extensive bibliography shows their material from a wide set of sources. The works cited read like a list of newspaper and book sources anyone might happen upon.

This book discusses the creation of baby-friendly hospitals, the significance of religion and healing, medicine in children's food production, even the business of having fun as an aspect of eating well. Prosperous villages and major cities are the hope of China's future. Determined children may be creating more change than their politically correct elders ever dreamed of. This must read volume is the result of a large research project that began in 1993, thanks to the Henry Luce Foundation. It opens eyes to the open mouths fueling a side of China's economy most do not think about.

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