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Pieces of Food and Culture: Yuan Mei and His Recipe Book Suiyuan Shidan


Modern Languages & Literatures


College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Date Range



Chinese cuisine claims an important position in Chinese cultural tradition, and the everyday cuisine and dining became a frequent topic in literati prose in late imperial China. This paper is a study of the miscellaneous writings on cooking and dining by the eighteenth-century poet, poetry critic, essayist, and gourmet Yuan Mei (1716-1798), with an emphasis on his recipe book Suiyuan shidan and the biography he wrote for his personal chef Wang Xiaoyu. Suiyuan shidan is a systematic presentation of Yuan's personal collection of recipes, culinary knowledge and dining experiences. Instead of foregrounding the cultural significations of food as other literati authors of his time tend to do, Yuan Mei treats food, cooking and gourmet pleasures as a worthy topic in itself that does not need apology or moral justification. By setting YuanMei's miscellaneous writings on food in the context of the mid-Qing intellectual thoughts and the controversies around Yuan in the literati community of the time, this paper helps to reveal the changing values and the expanding definition of culture in eighteenth-century China and the resulting identity anxiety among the cultural elites of the time.

Conference Name

Annual Conference of the Association for Asian Studies

Conference Location

Toronto, Canada

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