Sichuan Food and Hunan Food

Ran Yunfei in his 2009 book  Wu Yu: A Life in the Republican Era 1911 – 1949  吴虞和他生活的民国时代   examined the many diaries of Prof. Wu Yu of Sichuan University (known in the May 4th era as a critic of Confucius), mining them for a thematic examination of life in Chengdu during the Republican period.
Part of the first section (pp. 20 – 30) discusses food and restaurants in Chengdu.  Ran fills in some background, saying that the original Sichuan culinary style was largely lost after much of the population was killed in the slaughters surrounding the uprising and suppression of the peasant leader Zhang Xianzhong  张献忠  of the late Ming and early Qing.  (Some argument about whether crazed peasant revolutionary or the repression by the reactionary cliques was largely responsible for the slaughter, it seems) [ Wiki ]   See the scan of pp. 20 – 21.
Large scale immigration of Hakka and other people from Guangdong and Hunan regions planted sweet potato and hot pepper etc. to Sichuan that were arriving from the New World with foreign trade. These newcomers together with competition among restaurants as outsiders came to rapidly growing cities largely produced Sichuan food.  He said that while some of the Sichuan food came from family recipes, if it were not for the competition among restaurants in the cities it could not have developed so quickly in only a 150 years or so.
It does make me wonder about the concept of history.  If the people are all killed, does history continue?  Or is it just the history of a place, and the people are secondary.  It makes me wonder about the differences that apparently grew up between Hunan and Sichuan food.  I remember learning about food origins at dinner in Kaifeng one evening having some “Peking Roast Duck”.   My host grumbled “This is really Kaifeng Roast Duck.  The Beijingers stole the dish from Kaifeng in the late 19th century and then called it Peking Roast Duck!”
I only made one weeklong trip to Changsha and then to visit Mao’s and Liu Shaoqi’s homes.  I don’t know enough to compare cuisines.  One good thing about living in China is that they have lots of good Chinese restaurants!  I miss the spicy food and friendly restaurants of Chengdu.
Some of the sources quoted in the Chinese language Wiki article on the slaughter in Chengdu and Sichuan:

计六奇明季南略》记载:“献忠遂屠重庆,砍手三十余万人,流血有声。”  “Zhang Xianzhong continued the slaughter in Chongqing, where he killed over 300,000 people. So much blood that you could hear it flowing by!”

客滇述》:“献忠既陷成都,尽伐梨树,做宫室驰道,练兵于此。贼兵之樵采者,尽入城中,拆毁房屋以为薪。又发兵四出,搜各州县山野,不论男女老幼,逢人便杀;如是半载。八月,献忠毁成都城,焚蜀王宫殿,并焚未尽之民房。凡石柱亭栏,皆毁之;大不能毁者,更聚薪烧裂之。成都有大城小城,本张仪所筑,汉昭烈帝修之。甃以大石,贯以铁絙,壮丽甲天下。宫殿之盛,亦不减京师。至是,尽为瓦砾矣。献忠又令其大家遍收川兵杀之,及其妻子男异性,惟十时以下者仅留一、二。 ”

外国传教士吉洛东圣教入川记》:“残杀之后,成都为之一空。除少数官员外,别无居民。荒凉惨象,不忍瞩目。献忠剿灭成都后,命令各乡镇村民移居成都。”  “After the slaughter, Chengdu was totally empty.  Except for a few officials, there were no residents left.  The scene was so horrible, one couldn’t bear to look at it.  After that Zhang Xiangzhong viper’s nest was cleared out, it was ordered that the various townships and villages send some people to live in Chengdu”




The food in Hunan and Sichuan didn’t get spicy though until the late Ming and early Qing dynasty (17th century) when chili peppers arrived from the New World.









About 高大伟 David Cowhig

Worked 25 years as a US State Department Foreign Service Officer including ten years at US Embassy Beijing and US Consulate General Chengdu and four years as a China Analyst in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Before State I translated Japanese and Chinese scientific and technical books and articles into English freelance for six years. Before that I taught English at Tunghai University in Taiwan for three years. And before that I worked two summers on Norwegian farms, milking cows and feeding chickens.
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