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The Invention of "Chinese Food" Within and Outside China

Pomona College hosts a discussion of the creation of "Chinese Food"

March 6, 2014 4:15pm to 5:30pm

Do people in China eat “Chinese food”? Chinese would mostly say they simply ate “food” or “Beijing” or “Sichuan” or “hometown” food, not “Chinese.” After 1949 the government regularized a Chinese cuisine to represent the Chinese nation, but there was an earlier invention of “Chinese cooking” outside China, especially in North America. Before World War II, Chinese American restaurants invented a “Chinese food.” They selected, reworked, and rebranded a set of dishes, many of which could not be found as such in their ancestral homeland. “Chop Suey” became the food craze of the early 20th century. Then during and after WWII, new Chinese immigrants, mostly educated women, wrote cookbooks and opened restaurants that invented another “Chinese food” which was branded as “authentic,” and the cooking of earlier Chinese immigrants and restaurants was now labeled “Cantonese.” Finally, after Richard Nixon went to Beijing in 1972, a still another “authentic” set of dishes was invented: Mandarin cuisine, a concept also not found in China. In each of these cases, “Chinese” and “Chinese food” meant something different.

Charles Hayford will explore the development of Chinese cuisine.

Sponsored by the Pacific Basin Institute, the Department of History, and the Asian Studies Program at Pomona College.

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