China News Service, Beijing, August 15th, title:

(East-West question) Chen Yong talks about Chinese food: Why does a history professor study the evolution of food?

  China News Agency reporter Xu Wenxin

The picture shows Chen Yong.

(Photo courtesy of the interviewee)

  Over the past 100 years, the evolution of Chinese cuisine in the United States is not only a story of Chinese immigrants taking root, but also reflects the evolution and trend of American social culture, economic development, and ethnic identity.

The development of Chinese cuisine is one of the important chapters in American history, and it is also a core part of the history of the survival and development of Chinese Americans.

  Professor Chen Yong of the University of California, Irvine, recently accepted an exclusive interview with China News Agency "East and West Questions" that the United States is one of the most prosperous countries in the development of Chinese cuisine overseas, and it is also the earliest western country where Chinese cuisine emerged.

Chinese food has been evolving in the United States, and it has maintained a direct and close relationship with Chinese culture.

  Chen Yong has long studied food culture, American immigration history and laws and regulations, American race relations, American Chinese history, contemporary Chinese economic development, Sino-US economic and cultural interaction, etc. He is the author of "San Francisco, China: A Transnational Community" and "U.S. Miscellaneous: American Chinese Food "Story", often writes for "New York Times", "Los Angeles Times", etc.

The summary of the interview record is as follows:

China News Agency reporter: Understanding Sino-US cultural exchanges from food is a very novel direction. Why did you choose to study this field?

  Chen Yong: In the past, academic research on history has become more and more deeply locked in the ivory tower, and the distance between it and the public is growing.

The subject of food culture helps narrow this distance.

Chen Yong (first from left) performs Chinese cooking with colleagues of professional chefs.

(Photo courtesy of the interviewee)

  I personally love food, and I pay attention to food culture wherever I go. This is an area closely related to my life.

More importantly, food research is an important direction of historical research, and eating habits are closely related to historical changes.

  As one of the earliest mass-produced food styles in the United States, Chinese food has become a part of popular American cuisine. However, in such a large field, there is a lack of in-depth exploration, and existing studies have failed to answer why Chinese food is popular in the United States.

It relieves homesickness and is the center of social life

China News Agency reporter: Chinese cuisine has been in the United States for more than a hundred years. From the beginning as an early immigrant to relieve the emotional comfort of loneliness, to now it has gradually entered the mainstream society of the United States. What kind of development process has it gone through?

  Chen Yong: Immigration is not only an important bridge for the spread of Chinese food culture to the United States, but also a core part of the development of Sino-US relations.

Data map: Customers dine on the streets of Chinatown in San Francisco, USA.

Photo by China News Agency reporter Liu Guanguan

  In 1784, the "Queen of China" set sail from New York, full of Westerners' yearning for Eastern wealth, and arrived in Guangdong five months later, opening the cultural and economic exchanges between China and the United States.

At that time, the upper class in Guangdong began to introduce Chinese culture to American missionaries and businessmen who came to China through Chinese food.

  The Chinese arrived in the United States in the first half of the 19th century.

In 1816, in Cornwall, Connecticut, the American Board of Foreign Commissioners for Foreign Missions opened a "foreign mission school".

According to statistics, from 1817 to 1826, five of the more than 100 students enrolled by the school came from China, and one of them later became Lin Zexu's translator.

  In the first half of the 19th century, the number of Chinese arriving in the United States was limited.

It was not until the mid-19th century that gold mines were discovered in California, which ignited the wave of Chinese immigration to the United States.

Many Chinese who have gone to the United States have established their own communities in cities such as San Francisco and Sacramento. Chinese food has also settled here, and a number of Chinese restaurants have sprung up here.

Data map: Yangzhou fried rice.

Photo by Zhu An'an

  For a long time, Chinese restaurants mainly served Chinese people in Chinatown. The reason was that early Chinese people faced great racial discrimination in California.

In 1854, a white man was convicted of killing a Chinese.

But after appealing to the California Supreme Court, he was eventually acquitted.

The Supreme Judge said in the verdict that the Chinese are not white, so they cannot testify in court according to California law.

This case allows people to see the threat of violence and legal discrimination faced by the Chinese.

  Living in a society full of racial prejudice, Chinese people are lonely and miserable. The familiar meals and tastes of Chinese cuisine not only help relieve homesickness, but also provide a place to gather with relatives and friends.

  From the end of the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century, the mainstream American society's attitude towards Chinese food changed.

However, the early Chinese dishes for non-Chinese customers were mostly classified into three or four categories, such as chop suey and hibiscus egg; the production of these dishes also tried their best to cater to the tastes of mainstream customers.

For Chinese customers, the dishes are even richer.

Some restaurants also specialize in Chinese menus with more traditional dishes, and sometimes you can even see treasures such as bird's nest.

Data map: The chef of the Chinese restaurant is cutting the siu-mei.

Photo by China News Agency reporter Yu Ruidong

  In the early 1970s, the emergence of Hunan, Sichuan and other local cuisine restaurants changed the situation in the past, allowing American diners to see the breadth and diversity of Chinese food culture.

  In recent years, China's catering industry has accelerated its pace of entering the United States, and a new trend has also begun. Chinese cuisine from across the ocean has arrived in the United States intact, no longer deliberately adapting to the tastes of mainstream Americans.

Stereotypes must be eliminated

Reporter from China News Service: For a long time, American society has more or less stereotypes about Chinese food, such as unhealthy, unhygienic, and cheap. Why do these stereotypes occur?

Do these stereotypes still exist today?

  Chen Yong: People's taste and preference for food are not a simple question of diet.

In the United States, the variety of food and beverages representing different cultures is dizzying.

The preferences expressed by mainstream society are also closely related to their attitudes towards immigration and race.

  Many people, including former US President Kennedy, described the United States as a country of immigrants and were proud of it.

The pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in New York is engraved with a sonnet written by Emma Lazarus entitled "The New Colossus." Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free".

This sentence vividly portrays the United States as a place for those who pursue freedom and opportunity.

Data map: Diners eat in a restaurant in Chinatown, San Francisco, USA.

Photo by China News Agency reporter Liu Guanguan

  But the attitude of the United States towards immigration was full of contradictions from the beginning.

On the one hand, the United States accepts as many immigrants as no other country can match.

On the other hand, discrimination against ethnic minorities in the United States has never stopped.

  In 1882, the year before Lazarus' sonnet was published, the US Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, prohibiting Chinese workers from going to the United States, and specifically forbidding Chinese immigrants and naturalization to become American citizens.

The mainstream society that rejects the Chinese believes that Chinatown is full of filth and all kinds of germs, and Chinese restaurants are full of rats.

This kind of discrimination and exclusion is an important reason for the stereotype of Chinese food.

  Later, the development of Chinese food was mainly due to the adoption of open kitchens and other strategies by practitioners to prove to the public the hygiene and safety of their food.

  But more than a hundred years later, the mainstream American society's impression of unhealthy and unhygienic Chinese food has not completely disappeared. To this day, the American media still reports from time to time that there are rats in Chinese restaurants or Chinese dishes.

Data map: A restaurant in Chinatown, San Francisco, USA is ready for indoor dining.

Photo by China News Agency reporter Liu Guanguan

  As for low prices, this is a major feature of the American Chinese food industry throughout the 20th century.

Except for a few chain stores such as Panda Fast Food, most Chinese restaurants are small businesses with family-centric operations, attracting customers at low prices and having meager profits.

Practitioners wear hard money.

China News Agency reporter: With the arrival of a new generation of immigrants, the types of Chinese food and the number of Chinese restaurants have increased significantly in the United States.

In your opinion, what is the impression of Chinese food in mainstream American society today?

  Chen Yong: As early as 1918, Mr. Sun Yat-sen, who knew the United States very well, said: "There are few American cities without Chinese restaurants. The beauty of Chinese people is crazy about the country."

  Today, in terms of the number of restaurants, American Chinese food has reached a peak.

According to estimates from the Brooklyn Restaurant in New York, there are currently 50,000 Chinese restaurants in the United States.

On the evening of August 16, local time, customers dine at an outdoor table in a hot pot restaurant in New York.

Photo by China News Agency reporter Liao Pan

  In general, the mainstream society’s experience and perception of Chinese food vary greatly from region to region.

In the metropolises on both sides of the east and west strait in the United States, a variety of Chinese food has gradually become known to people.

On the one hand, thanks to the overseas Chinese food and beverage brands, more and more Americans taste the authentic Chinese taste; on the other hand, some young people in the Chinese food industry actively promote authentic Chinese food to the American society, so that more Americans can enjoy authentic Chinese food. People taste the taste of China and understand Chinese culture.

  However, in some small and medium-sized cities, traditional American Chinese food such as fried rice and chopsticks still occupy a dominant position.

What the diners tasted is only part of the Americanized Chinese food at the bottom of the society, and their impression of Chinese food is still relatively stereotyped.

American Jews often eat Chinese food

China News Agency reporter: Chinese food has taken root in the United States, and American society has gradually accepted and recognized Chinese food.

What is the significance of this process for Sino-US cultural exchanges?

  Chen Yong: Chinese food is an important intersection between Chinese and American cultures.

The longer you stay in the United States and the more places you travel, the better you can understand how deep Chinese food has taken root in all parts of the United States and in all aspects of life.

American Jews eat Chinese food every day, eat Chinese food on weekends, and eat Chinese food on Christmas. In their eyes, eating Chinese food has become a part of American culture.

  African Americans are also frequent customers of Chinese restaurants.

At the beginning of the 21st century, there were 40 to 50 traditional Chinese restaurants in the African-American community of St. Louis.

Today, the Chinese restaurants in these African-American communities still sell the "choppies" that once swept the United States, and stubbornly bear witness to a gradually forgotten history.

Data map: Customers dine on the streets of Chinatown in San Francisco, USA.

Photo by China News Agency reporter Liu Guanguan

  For overseas Chinese, Chinese food has become a common language and social life center for overseas Chinese with different backgrounds.

Unlike ethnic groups such as Jews, overseas Chinese and Chinese do not have a common religion as a cultural bond. It is Chinese food that connects them and brings together the messengers who spread Chinese culture overseas.

  In the hearts of Americans, choosing to eat Chinese food is already a convenient and comfortable way of life.

Chinese food is an important cultural window. Although its popularity in the United States has not become the most powerful carrier for the promotion of Chinese culture, it has exerted a certain influence on American society.

Especially in recent years, some new-style Chinese food no longer deliberately adapts to mainstream American tastes, making Chinese food play a greater role in Sino-US cultural exchanges.

China wants to learn from Thailand and Italy

China News Agency reporter: Food culture is an intuitive and interesting culture. Through eating behaviors, one can understand the spiritual temperament of a nation.

How to better spread Chinese culture through the taste of China?

  Chen Yong: Many countries have long realized the importance of catering culture on the international stage.

Thailand is a good example.

The Thai government has long used Thai food to attract foreign tourists and then vigorously promoted it overseas.

At the beginning of the 21st century, Thailand launched the "World Kitchen" movement to train Thai chefs and send them abroad, launching "Culinary Diplomacy, Gastrodiplomacy" (Culinary Diplomacy, Gastrodiplomacy).

Thai cuisine has thus become a civil "ambassador" representing the country.

  Italy's efforts in this regard have also been fruitful.

In the process of promoting Italian catering, in addition to the government, non-governmental organizations have also participated vigorously and established Italian catering standards through certification and other mechanisms to promote catering.

Data map: Thai food.

Li Zhongbo/IC photo

  The internationalization of Chinese food is much earlier than Thailand and Italy.

The driving force for the promotion of Chinese food does not come from the government or large private enterprises, but from overseas Chinese immigrants.

In the early days, the Chinese in the United States did not have strong capital, did not know the catering industry, and some did not even have cooking experience.

Their total population has been declining since the Chinese Exclusion Act was promulgated. In 1890, there were only 107,488 people, and 10 years later, it continued to drop to 89,863 people. In 1920, there were only about 60,000 people.

  But it is such a disadvantaged group that has allowed nearly a thousand years of culinary tradition to take root and flourish in the new world.

The development of Chinese food in the United States is a shocking epic.

  At the same time, we must also see that Thailand, Italy and other countries' efforts to promote the catering culture to the world stage have a lot to learn from, especially the formulation of local specialty catering standards and the creation of star-rated chefs.

These are all questions worthy of consideration by the Chinese restaurant industry.

  The ancients said that food and sex are also sexual.

Diet is the foundation of personal survival and social development.

The promotion of Chinese food will not only help people understand Chinese culture more deeply, but also enable Chinese food to absorb the essence of other cultures as always, and to a higher level.

(Finish)

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