Confucianism originated with ancient necromancers and alchemists, who
were similar to the witches in later generations that made sacrifices
to gods and ancestors. The most important part of the sacrifices was
food and wine; therefore, those in charge of sacrificial rites knew
protocol and understood cookery.
Confucius (551-479 B.C.) was a philosopher, teacher, and the founder of
the Confucian school. He attached great importance to food and
described it as one of the three basic conditions, along with an army
and trust, for founding a state. He advocated that rulers “practice
thrift and love the people."
Confucius spoke highly of Yu the Great (2276 –2177 B.C., the founder of
the Xia Dynasty). Yu paid little attention to food, but believed few
people could abstain from good food and good housing because most
people desire delicious food. Yu dedicated himself to the public good.
On the relationship between food and sacrifice, Confucius said animals
offered in sacrificial rites should be chosen and cut according to
fixed standards or they could not be eaten. He said meats given in
sacrificial rites for the head of the state should be eaten the same
day and not be kept until the next day. Meat offered in sacrifice at
home should not be eaten if it were kept longer than three days.
Confucius advanced many principles of dietetic hygiene and criteria for
testing the hygiene of foods. He said foods should not be eaten if they
had rotted, if they were not well cooked, if their color had changed,
or if the wine and dried meats bought from the market were not clean.
He believed foods should only be eaten at mealtime, and if there were
many meat courses, people should not overeat. This belief is reflected
in the dietetic culture of the Chinese nation; it also conforms to
dietetic hygiene because meats are not easily digested.
Confucius said, "Only wine drinking is not limited, but not so much as
to make you confused." He meant you could drink as much as you wanted,
but should not become drunk. This was because the wine at that time
contained little alcohol.
His advice, "Do not eat too much" and “Do not talk at meals," conforms
to the principle of building health through diet, as does “Do not take
away the ginger." Ginger is pungent, removes dampness, and reduces
internal heat and fever, so eating a bit of it before meals aids health
Confucius also said: “I do not eat if I do not get the proper soy
sauce." In his time meat dishes were unsalted, so they were dipped in
soy sauce before they were eaten and different soy sauces were used for
different meats. Confucius stressed that the dishes in his meals must
be compatible, and did not resign himself to circumstances. “Although
they use simple food, vegetables and melons, the three sacrifices must
all be offered at the rite." This shows Confucius was serious about
meals. Even if simple food were involved, the attitude had to be
In his writings, Mencius said that peoples’ demand for delicious food
was reasonable: “Fish is what I like as well as bear’s paw." But, he
opposed rulers disregarding the desire of common people for good food
in order to satisfy their own desires. He exposed the dark reality that
“They do not criticize themselves about dogs and swine eating human
food, and they ignore the starved people lying on the roads." He
believed the emperor should share the joy of life with the people, and
his “benevolent government" was the way to achieve this.
With regard to colonies, Mencius believed that only if people were
clothed and fed would it be possible to establish harmonious relations
and help the common people become cultured. He further believed that
people should be vigorous and overcome their natural demands (overcome
hunger) in order to shoulder the mission of humankind.
If we judge the history of China’s dietetic culture since these times,
the Confucianists positively influenced the development of a dietetic
culture. As Taoism and Confucianism have since blended spiritually, the
two schools have complemented each other in the theory and practice of
health building through diet.
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