Food and Philosophy in Early China

  • Roel Sterckx


Discussions of food, the exchange of food, commensality, and food sacrifice pervade the dialogues and treatises of philosophers, persuaders, and ritualists in late Zhou and early imperial China. Meticulous care was invested in the preparation and serving of food in sacrificial rituals and banquets. Ritual codes suggest that the presentation of food reflected a host’s integrity toward the human or otherworldly guests that were to be feasted. Ritual itself, according to the Liji (Book of Rites), originated with eating and drinking (Liji, 21.586). Philosophers and moralists on their part adopted attitudes toward food as a yardstick to measure a person’s character or moral aptitude. In early China, as in most past and present societies, culinary culture transcended the necessities of nourishing the body or pleasing the palate. Debates on fasting or feasting, on eating or feeding others—in this world or the hereafter—reveal a gamut of social, moral, and religious codes that made up the fiber of early Chinese society.


Moral Judgment Sika Deer Ritual Propriety Warring States Period Feudal Lord 
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© Roel Sterckx 2005

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  • Roel Sterckx

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