The Beef Taboo and the Sacrificial Structure of Late Imperial Chinese Society

  • Vincent Goossaert


The impact of religious traditions on Chinese food culture is manifold, as is documented in the preceding essays. It ranges from the sacrificial use of food (especially meat) to communicate with the divine, to ritual commensality, to the definition of edible and nonedible foods through ethical and liturgical taboos upheld by religious institutions and specialists. In China, as elsewhere, sacrificial practices and commensality as well as religiously sanctioned food taboos have affected individuals most often through the collective practices and choices of communities of all kinds (such as kin groups, territorial communities, occupational groups, devotional associations, and the like). Throughout history, communities in China have defined themselves by what they did and did not eat, either at certain intervals or permanently. The beef taboo is but a small part of this large array of interactions between food and religion but it is a fascinating one as it touches on all major aspects of such interactions: ethics, sacrificial practices, and purity rules. This essay examines the way the beef taboo was used to delineate communities in late imperial China.1


Dual Practice Draught Animal Wild Goose Qing Period Beef Consumption 
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© Roel Sterckx 2005

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  • Vincent Goossaert

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