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Report from Xunwu

by: Mao Zedong

Stanford CA: Stanford University Press 1990, Paperback
ISBN: 0-8047-2182-3

Reviewed by: Jacqueline M. Newman
Summer Volume: 2009 Issue: 16(2) page(s): 22 and 30

Translated, and with an introduction and notes by Roger R. Thompson, this book is an example of where and how one learns about foods sold or eaten at a particular time and in a particular place. It is where we learned about a tofu-type food made from taro. The book was located thanks to a librarian friend who put us on to it. She knew we needed an answer to when and where was the first tofu made from taro?

Actually it was not the first, as making it from soaked soy beans came earlier. But knowing what was important in Mao's training that relates to food is a fascination. This item we browsed through to learn that, and it is the type of historical volume we often read. The volume is an actual account about commerce, foods included, circa the 1930's. It was written by Mao Zedong long before he was to become the leader of China. It investigates people, the economy, society in general, businesses, and even foods in an obscure rural county, that of Xinwu in South China.

The book was scheduled for publication in 1937 but that never happened. It was reported lost, and finally was found and published for the very first time, in Chinese and in 1982. Mao wrote about Chinese society during the transition from late Imperial times to the 1930's, long before he was at the helm. It follows his Report on the Peasant Movement in Hunan, which actually was published in 1927; never did find an English translation of that volume,

This book has amounts of many foods, tofu made with taro, included. It discussed other food items, too. As the first place found where bean curd was not made with soybeans, it details this and others edibles, all tidbits worth verbally devouring.

What are some of the foods mentioned? Mao speaks of butchers, wine, marine products, and household items, among other things. He details who sells these goods, for how much, and much more. The marine products sold in one such store included salted fish, seaweed, squid, jellyfish, even dried starfish. Also sold were several kinds iof sugar, bean flour, Fujianese bamboo shoots, a special flour called mianhui, noodles made from sweet potato flour called yu fen or xi fen, preserved vegetable, dried Chinese olives, soy sauce, fried and dried Chinese mushrooms, shredded preserved cabbage, day lilies, bean curd mold, pepper, persimmons, longans and lychees, and dried melon seeds. Seven herb stores are also detailed. Most sold common herbs, three of them sold special herbs. What they are is not known.

What is known is that the butchers sold pork and piglets, and that thirty farmers sold soybean curd from their homes. The types sold are regular-soft bean curd, fried bean curd, dried bean curd, and on festive occasions, stuffed bean curd. Also learned is that ten meals in this city are served with bean curd and that this food is part of peasant diets. These owner-farmers make profits from selling the residue from making bean curd and those that purchase it use this soy bean residue to feed piglets.

Other foods the farmers and others sell include rice, salt, textiles, soy beans, and firewood. Also pork and the piglets, chickens and ducks, bamboo and wooden goods, vegetables, fish, candy, and fruit. Not all of these things are sold, some are bartered for goods rather than cash.

For those wondering about which vegetables were popular at that time, Mao Zedong refers to leaf mustard, celery, amaranth, Chinese onions, leaves of pulses, Chinese kale, garlic shoots, bitter melon, winter melon, other seasonal sweet melons, pumpkins, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, eggplant, water convolus, turnips, leeks, scallions, garland chrsyanthemum leaves, cabbage, mustard leaf stems, chili peppers, snow peas, hyacinth beans, kidney beans, mung beans, and of coarse taro.

Fish was sold in those marine stores and elsewhere. Included was grass carp, silver carp, variegated carp, and other kinds of carp, shrimp, yellow eel, loach, frogs, prawns, soft-shelled turtles, and many types of fresh water fish.

Fruits sold by the farmers and in stores included plums, water chestnuts, loquats, pomelos, red bayberries, persimmons, peaches, oranges, and tangerines. Another sweet food besides fruits were the candies available. Mentioned are powders and pastes made from glutinous rice, and from flowers. These were baked into soft cakes, sugar cakes, fish cakes, ramira-leaf cakes, sweet potato cakes, and many other bakery-type items., and other goodies.

Overall, I recommend this book and others like it. Though not newly published, a good number of readers would like to know it exists, even read it for greater detail than we have provided.

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