Exhibition reveals development of Chinese culinary ware
Over 100 priceless Chinese culinary artefacts will go on display tomorrow (February 28) until May 26 at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum.
The items, including tableware, cooking utensils, drinking sets, scrolls and brick engravings dating from the Neolithic period (8000-2000 BC) to the Qing dynasty (AD 1644-1911), are on loan from the National Museum of China.
"Fine Dining - An Exhibition of Ancient Chinese Culinary Ware" traces the changes the Chinese food culture has undergone over the centuries.
Speaking at the opening of the exhibition, the Deputy Director (Culture) of Leisure and Cultural Services, Ms Choi Suk-kuen, noted that Chinese food culture was characterised by the great variety of cooking methods and diversified cuisine across regions.
"Food becomes so much more appertising if complemented by appropriate culinary ware," Miss Choi said.
Chinese food culture can be traced back to the late-middle Paleolithic period, which was about 600,000 to 10,000 years ago. Initially, the Chinese were hunters and gatherers and they had virtually no cooking skills. But they gradually abandoned the habit of eating raw flesh as they mastered the use of fire and cooking with water.
The Chinese had individual servings and sat on the ground for meals during the Neolithic period, which was about 10,000 to 4,000 years ago. The period also saw the birth of agriculture and animal husbandry, and subsequently the development of pottery with the increasing need for containers of various kinds. Archeological excavations have found pottery jars, cauldrons and steamers of the period, the discovery of which indicated the use of steam in cooking. The painted decorations from this period also reflect the rudimentary aesthetics of ancient societies.
The Xia, Shang and Zhou dynasties through to the Warring States Period (2100-221 BC) witnessed the establishment of the fundamental nature and pattern of Chinese eating habits - grains, the principal staple, eaten with fruit, meat and vegetables. Rituals and manners associated with meals and theories on food nutrition also emerged. Two menus, the earliest of their kind, were also found.
This period was also the peak of China's Bronze Age. Archaeological excavations have uncovered a large quantity of bronze ware, the most distinctive of which are the bronze wine implements and ritual ware like the "ding" and the "gui". Exquisite culinary implements made of lacquered wood became popular in the Warring States Period. The shapes and decorations of these implements demonstrated qualities of refinement and style.
The culinary culture of China became more complex during the Qin and the Han dynasties (221 BC-AD 220) with the unified state of the Chinese empire and flourishing agricultural development. A dramatic increase in the exchanges between China and the outside world following the opening of the Silk Road and the invention of indoor vegetation also played a pivotal role.
Iron was widely used during this period. The most common utensils were pots, steamers, bowls, cups, flasks, boxes and jars, while grills for cooking meat on skewers, steamers, teacups and saucers and exotic silver and glass utensils also emerged. Celadon of fine quality was manufactured from the Wei and Jin dynasties (AD 220-581).
The Sui to Qing dynasties (AD 581-1911) witnessed great improvements in land and sea transport as well as trade among regions. With a booming restaurant sector, many cities took on the culinary styles of other regions. These exchanges among different localities helped regional culinary traditions to emerge and mature, producing a variety of delicious culinary creations.
With the appearance and widespread adoption of furniture, the traditional manner of eating while seated on a mat on the floor gradually disappeared. The custom in which people sat apart from each other while consuming their individual meal portions was replaced by communal eating where everyone sat around the same table and ate from shared dishes.
Porcelain gradually became the most widely used tableware during this period. Not only was chinaware mass-produced and exported overseas, its quality and beauty also reached the peak of refinement. Bowls, dishes, vases and flasks were the everyday utensils that saw the most changes. Unlike in the past when utensils served multiple uses, the functions of individual types of implements became highly specific during this period.
The current exhibition, with a wealth of treasures on display, reflects the richness and diversity of Chinese food culture and will enhance visitors' understanding of ancient Chinese cookware. Highlights include a pottery cauldron and stove made in the Neolithic period, one of the earliest, complete cooking sets ever uncovered; preserved dumplings and snacks - the earliest of their kind - excavated from a Tang-dynasty (AD 618-907) tomb in Xinjiang; a boat-shaped model of a pottery stove, which is believed to have been used for funerary purposes during the Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220); a brick engraving of acrobats at a banquet in the Eastern Han dynasty; gold and silver tableware made in the Yuan dynasty (AD 1279-1368); and a hand scroll depicting the prosperity of the Southern Capital during the Ming dynasty (AD 1368-1644).
There will also be an education corner equipped with interactive games and an online exhibition at http://hk.heritage.museum
Located at 1 Man Lam Road in Sha Tin, the Heritage Museum is open from 10am to 6pm from Monday to Saturday, and from 10am to 7pm on Sundays and public holidays. It is closed on Tuesdays (except public holidays).
Admission is $10, with a half-price concession for full-time students, people with disabilities and senior citizens aged 60 or above. Admission is free on Wednesdays.
A free shuttlebus operates between the Sha Tin KCR Station and the Heritage Museum from 1pm to 6pm on Saturdays and from 1pm to 7pm on Sundays and public holidays.
For enquiries, call 2180 8188.
Ends/Friday, February 27, 2004