Central Asia in Tang Times
At this time, the Silk Road was at its peak in importance. An enormous flow of information and commodities crossed Asia at the time: foods, foodways, ideas, technologies, medicines, and much more (Laufer 1919; Schafer 1963). It would not have taken a huge amount of traffic to introduce these, but it would have taken a good deal of serious intellectual exchange, which presupposes fairly steady and intensive contact. Even Valerie Hansen has to admit that in Tang considerable amounts of material flowed along the road (Hansen 2012: 99-104). The whole trade and transport economy was highly bureaucratized. It was also militarized, and Hansen is certainly right (at least for war-torn periods) in holding that governmental and military traffic outnumbered business traffic. On the other hand, even the surviving documents demonstrate impressive trade, with goods from far away such as camphor, pepper, and musk appearing in very early Sogdian letters (Vaissiére 2005: 51). The Sogdians traded as far as India, as is shown by (among other things) their use of a word cognate with the English "pepper" for that commodity; both words come from Sanskrit (76). There also exist hundreds of Sogdian graffiti in northern Pakistan (79).
The Silk Road was a vital trade route for millennia. Classic works by Berthold Laufer (1919) and Edward Schafer (1963) document the enormous flow of plants, animals, and minerals from west to east. Major goods included, of course, silk. It was not just the staple trade item; it was usually the currency, especially in early centuries. Other fabrics and materials were not far behind, with cotton rising in importance and hemp probably falling. All manner of garments were traded. Coins were few, and silk bolts, or rolls, were the usual method of payment. Horses and sheep, medicines, incense, Buddhist texts, ammonium chloride for dyeing, and more ordinary food and clothing items were common. Precious stones, metals, hides, paper and books, art objects, and many other objects also traveled the routes (Vaissiere 2005 gives long lists on 134,138, and 294 from contemporary sources and from Schafer 1963). Many items traded were bulk utility goods, not luxuries. This was a serious trade that encompassed necessities and industrial items—not a mere luxury trade of the sort regarded as primitive or superficial by an earlier generation of historians (on such matters see Beaujard 2009, 2012).
A contemporary list of products traded along the Silk Road, by an Arab historian writing in 985, takes up a full page in David Christians classic article about that route (2000: 8; the list is also found in Vaissiere). Many kinds of cloth and foodstuffs were traded, along with furs, slaves, bows, metals, precious stones, horses, paper, leather, and all manner of luxury products (see also The Silk Road by Jonathan Tucker, 2003, 16-17). Medicines were also traded—not surprising, since, as Christian (2000: 23) points out, the Silk Road brought diseases and other undesirable items just as it brought necessities and luxuries. The bubonic plague was only the most famous of the diseases that moved west; we do not know what may have moved east. China sent ephedra, ginseng, snake bile, and seaweed westward and received the classic Mediterranean herbs, from lavender to bryony.
Inventions (Tucker 2003: 18-19) ranged from bridge types and irrigation technology to gunpowder, canal lock-gates, paper and printing. Of course, silk and all its techniques were the most obvious and one of the most enduring technologies to spread east to west by this route. The persistent story that silkworm eggs were smuggled across in hollow monks'-staff heads has not been substantiated.
Saddest was the thriving traffic in slaves of all sorts and origins. The effect of medieval slaving on world genetics has never been evaluated, but it was obviously massive.
More interesting from the viewpoint of the present book is the enormous variety of languages, religions, scripts, philosophies, technologies, and ideas in general, moving along the Silk Road and through the steppes, deserts and mountains of Central Asia. People speaking Chinese, Tocharian, Indian languages, and countless Iranian and Turkic dialects met and practiced Buddhism, Islam, Confucianism, Daoism, Manichaeanism, Church of the East (Nestorian) Christianity, Zoroastrianism, and various shamanistic religions without usually getting in each others way. Islam eventually prevailed in most of the area, spreading rapidly in the time between the Battle of Talas River in 751 and a final complete conversion by 1500 (in most places by 1000). Buddhism survived, and survives today, in the Tibetan and Mongol areas. In Islamic realms, there was much less tolerance than in the older polities, but even Islam took notably tolerant forms, far from the current extremist forms of that faith.
In Central Asia, irrigation systems came to a spectacular climax, with dams rivaling the big dams of today (D. Hill 2000). Rulers competed to build the biggest and best irrigation systems. This was not mere show, or even beneficial economics; it was a matter of security. Whoever could feed the most soldiers had the advantage in the constant warfare that marked the region then as now. The Sogdians take the credit for much of this development (Vaissiere 2005:104).
Food in Central Asian China through the Tang Dynasty was still overwhelmingly bread, noodles, and other baked or boiled products made from wheat and barley. Bread similar to that of today seems to have dominated. Millet now constituted only about 15 percent of the grain used, and beer was its main use. It was also eaten as porridge. Both naked and hulled barley was grown, the former being classed with wheat, evidently because it was milled. Naked barley lacks tough inedible hulls. Hulled barley needs an extra step to get the hulls off the kernels. Wheat was soaked before milling, because the mills at the time were still inefficient. In Tang a vertical stone turning in the vertical plane was used to crush the grain on an anvil slab. Stone mills in the West used, and still use, two horizontal wheels, the upper one roughened with tangential grooves, to slash up the grain as well as grinding it. This process provides finer flour and better bran separation and is still the preferred way to mill wheat—far superior to the cheaper steel rollers of industrial grinding. White bread was made in large quantities for the elite and professional classes by bolting the flour (shaking it through a rather coarsely woven cloth, to separate flour from bits of bran). Hard manual workers had to depend on whole grain bread, bran and all. (This paragraph depends on the superb analysis in Trombert 2009.)
One assumes that Central Asia ate as the remote parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan did within living memory. Bread, usually much like Persian nan, was overwhelmingly the staple food, with dairy products, fruit, meat, and vegetables coming next in descending order, and the meat being often stretched by being chopped and incorporated into small boiled dumplings. Remains in cemeteries and Buddhist temples show a varied, cosmopolitan, high-quality diet for the well-to-do, and bran bread with some dairy and fruit for the rest. The basic diet had not changed since the days of the Beauty of Xiaohe, but the elite had a far greater range. Rice, now a staple of the region, seems to have still been lacking. It is commonly mentioned in the Mongol Empire, but the relevant sources come from Beijing, not the old Central Asian core. It had certainly reached Iran and the Near East by this time and must have been known in Central Asia, but mentions are few in the published and archaeological records.
From Central Asia and India, Buddhist missionaries and influences poured into China during this period, and some Chinese went to India to seek out more Buddhist knowledge. With this came vegetarianism, avoidance of alcohol and onions and garlic, and other Buddhist food rules (Sterckx 2005).
The Sogdian community continued to bring in Central Asian food. The tomb of the Sabao (caravan or community leader) Wirkak, near Chang'an, contained food sculptures apparently showing nan and dumplings similar to mantou (Dien 2008; cf. Dien 2007). After the Tang fell, Turkic peoples from the north and Persians from the west moved more actively into Central Asia. Sogdian and other East Iranic languages began to disappear, replaced by Turkic languages and later also by West Iranic ones such as Dari and Tadzhik. Today, a daughter language of Sogdian survives in one isolated valley in Tadjikistan. In his book The One Hundred Thousand Fools of God (1996), the ethnomusicologist Theodore Levin gives a wonderful and moving account of the Yagnab (or Yaghnob) Valley and its people and music, with songs transcribed and translated. Readers drawn irresistibly to the romance of Sogdia can find excellent poetry here. Levin notes that butter, mutton, black tea, boiled sugar, pepper, garlic, egg yolk, palav (pilau, pulao) and vinegar were "hot," while sour milk, veal, green tea, granular sugar, egg white, bread, noodles and greens in general were "cold" (213); this bit of Hippocratic-Galenic medicine surely goes back to early days, probably at least to the Tang Dynasty, as is shown by the similar codings at both ends of the Silk Road in that period (see below).
Tang was a period of learning and culture in Central Asia (Mirbabayev et al. 2000). Islam brought high levels of literacy and civilization. Learning in early Muslim Central Asia climaxed in the work of Avicenna and other medical and philosophical writers.
The Silk Road integrated the Western and Eastern spheres, or world-systems, but did not make them one. The Western world-system was dominated by Iranian and Semitic peoples. It was quickly conquered by Islam and by Tang were already almost 100% Muslim (though substantial Christian, Jewish, and Zoroastrian communities survived). The Eastern world-system was dominated by the Chinese, but Tibetans, Koreans, and farther afield the Japanese, Thai, and others had major roles. Islam never made headway there except in western Xinjiang, although in recent centuries more and more "Hui" (Chinese Muslims) have emerged in northwest China. The Hui had, and still have, their own distinctive cultural worlds.
The battle of Talas River, when the rapidly expanding Arab (or Arab-Iranian) armies clashed with Tang forces in 751; the rise of the Mongol hordes; and the slow decline of the Silk Road after 1400 failed to incorporate China into the expanding Western world-system. China remained its own core until the late 19th century, when it was incorporated into the newly emergent global system we know today. It has now reemerged as a core, but as one of several disparate ones in this modern system.
The Turkic groups and, ultimately and briefly, the Mongols bridged the gap, moving easily between world-systems. (The Mongols had previously been firmly incorporated in the Eastern system.) The Turkic peoples were classic borderland peoples, often spawning the semiperipheral marcher states that Peter Turchin (2003, 2006) found to be frequent sources of conquests in pre-modern state systems. In later centuries, they were identified as the Turan of the classic contrasts between Iran and Turan, roughly Persia and Central Asia respectively; however, in earlier centuries, both Iranians and Turanians spoke Iranic languages. The Turkic groups tended to move west, and now, of course, the vast majority of Turkic speakers are in the Western system; millions still inhabit China, however.
Shortly after the fall of Tang, the Sogdian world crumbled in the face of the rapid consolidation of the Arab and Persian conquests from the southwest and the Turkic ones from the north. Their languages, especially Turkic, replaced Sogdian. Trade began to be impacted by expanding sea trade and by the production of silk in the West. Trade would continue, but differently structured and under new masters. The "last contacts [of Sogdians] with China are attested around 930" (Vaissiere 2005: 334).
Definitive Shaping of the Food System: Song Its Neighbors
Throwing on my raincoat, my rainhat askew, beyond a thousand peaks, I draw water and sprinkle vegetables in front of the Five Stars."
(The nun Miaodao, eleventh century; Idema and Grant 2004: 325)
The importance of the Song Dynasty, founded by General Zhao Guangyin, and its agricultural progress has been continually reemphasized by historians. (For Song history, see D. Kuhn 2009; Mote 1999.)
The general took power in a coup, the latest in a long series of coups that had led to revolving-door changes of dynasty in the many small, dismal, nonviable states that filled the political void between the fall of Tang in 907 and the final triumph of Song in 960. We have a fascinating near-contemporary view of that bloody and anarchic period from Ouyang Xius great Historical Records of the Five Dynasties, now translated (Ouyang 2004). Ouyangs meticulous history is complemented by his condign judgments of the morality of the warlords of the time.
Above all else, Zhao Guangyin wished to stop the cycle of revolving-door coups, and thus he definitively weakened the power of the military, putting it under civilian control. He also began a tradition of greater respect for men of peace, especially scholar-bureaucrats, and less respect for men of war. As Song progressively lost to more martial peoples from the frontiers, the dynasty vacillated between defensive and compromising poses. Even individual emperors changed their minds repeatedly, alternately facing the reality of savage enemies and the dream of a pacifist empire (Twitchett and Smith 2009). Lack of military power is often blamed for the progressive loss of Song territory to northern steppe and forest peoples, leading to a massively reduced empire— Southern Song—by 1127. (The previous period of union is referred to as Northern Song.)
Iron production skyrocketed as coal came into use as a major industrial fuel; unfortunately, deforestation for charcoal continued (Hartwell 1962,1982; Wagner 2008). Deforestation was rampant by this time, because of the rise of industry, notably iron but also printing, which caused a demand for wood for blocks and pine to burn for ink. (Ink later came to be made by burning oil, saving the pine forests.) Romantics have even suggested that the popularity of poetry in old China led to deforestation and to paper shortages. This is exaggerated, but printing was a significant factor.
Rice yields doubled or tripled—ultimately, at least, but the process was only beginning in Song or Yuan. Such yields were due not only to more intensive effort but also to the introduction of the Champa fast-ripening varieties and other agricultural novelties. The Champa rice reached the lower Yangzi from Fujian in the early eleventh century (the classic date is 1012). It had come at some uncertain (but probably not much earlier) point from Champa, now in southern Vietnam. It was rather poor quality and cooked up dry, thus hurting its appeal; its only advantages were quick ripening and some resistance to drought. It very quickly came to dominate the Yangzi delta (see, e.g., D. Kuhn 2009: 217) but did not take over all south China. It was slow to make its way, coming into its own in later dynasties when cooler and drier interior uplands were settled.
Li Bozhong (2003) argues that the full benefits of the Song introductions were not felt until Ming and that the new rices did not have as revolutionary an effect even then, as Elvin and others had argued. However, he has to admit that the Song crops and cropping systems had a powerful effect in the Yangzi Delta area, the economic powerhouse of the country—and one which, as he points out, did not suffer as much as other regions from the violence of the subsequent conquests. Thus, the issue is really one of what constitutes a "revolution"—the beginning and locking in of a basic change, or its final fruition. The latter was not completed, even in the Yangzi Delta, until Qing. In fact, the marginal parts of the south did not get their full "revolution" until the twentieth century. It seems possible to see Song as revolutionary, then, only if one remembers that the full benefits were not reaped (literally!) until later.
Sugar production soared in Song, because the government set a number of policies that favored it. Sucheta Mazumdars study (1998) of sugar in Song found, among many other things, that the Chinese preserved smallholder dominance in sugar production with such ideas as mounting mills on barges and towing them among the sugar fields of the Canton Delta. (The delta of the Pearl River and several minor streams is referred to as the Canton Delta, from an old name for the city of Guangzhou, situated near the head of the delta.) Elsewhere, sugar is notorious for causing the worst excesses of plantation farming, because it takes tremendous capital to run a sugar estate (land, plants, and machinery to process the sugar are all expensive), yet the crop returns very little per unit weight. Thus the gap between extremely rich landlords and extremely poor plantation workers—typically slaves in the old days—is horrific, and slaves had a life expectancy of only a very few years on early sugar plantations; even today, sugar is notorious for causing rural inequality and poverty. (This fact has attracted notable scholars, producing three of the greatest classics in agrarian studies: George Beckfords Persistent Poverty, 1972; Gilberto Freyres The Masters and the Slaves, 1964; and Sidney Mintzs Sweetness and Power, 1985.) China, throughout history, avoided the sugar plantation trap—an amazing achievement that deserves more recognition.
Certainly, the delta was doing well. Richard von Glahn (2003) translates one Fang Hui (1227-1307) as noting that families there had about 30 mu (a bit under 5 acres) of land. For a family of five, this meant a bit under an acre per person. The yields per mu were up to two shi, or dan, of rice. (The shi is a measure of weight, now 133 lb., but then a bit more, around 145 lb.; see Li Bozhong 2003:170. Shi of rice are counted in dan, the way grain yields in the United States used to be counted in "bushels." Thus an amount of rice that weighs 100 shi is counted as 100 dan rice. In older European literature the shi was referred to by its Malay name, pikul.) Tenants sharecropped on a 50-50 basis, leaving them 30 dan. Fang Hui calculated a family of five would need 18 dan per year, leaving 12 for sale. Recall that this was often superior rice that would command a premium price. Assuming the family of five was two parents and three children, 18 dan would give about 4.5 dan per adult and 3 per child, or better than 600 lb. of rice per adult, certainly a liberal ration. Of course many a farm returned only half that yield per acre (Li Bozhong 2003, esp. 170), and outside the delta, the norm was probably lower still.
Official figures show yields from 20 to over 200 kg of rice per mu (D. Kuhn 2009: 214-15). The figure gives us about 2,800 kg/ha, an extremely high figure. European agriculture was getting 300-500 kg/ha maximum at the time, and United States maize farming in Iowa was getting only about 2,500 kg/ha in the early twentieth century. Yet Fang Huis top figure is much higher, working out to a spectacular 4,000 kg/ha! This must represent double-cropping, which means Li Bozhong is being too conservative in doubting widespread high yields and double-cropping in Song.
The poor had trouble sharing in this bounty, as is true in most of human history. A good wage bought 200 liters of rice (D. Kuhn 2009: 242), enough to feed a family of five but not much more than that. Many people made half that much, so that a family of five would need two wage earners. Landowning households ranged from 3 mu—a mere fifth of a hectare—to an incredible 10,000 mu (214-15). The latter figure—around seven square km—shows that Song had its large estates. It is, however, extremely unusual. It may be compared to the feudal holdings in Europe at the time, which ran to many square miles, or even more in duchies and lordships. Soybeans were already important, as well as other pulses and a range of vegetables.
Northern Song coincided with strong monsoons, reliable rainfall, and good growing conditions all over China (R Zhang et al. 2008). The dry north got wetter; the over-rainy south got drier (at least locally). By the end of Song, in 1279, the Medieval Warm Period was in full swing, causing better growing conditions in many areas but chronic drought in parts of the deep interior. It also caused more extreme climate events, since warming produces more evaporation, more wind, and more violent weather. Extreme rain events are much commoner when overall rainfall increases, for example. Thus at the height of the Medieval Warm Period, in the 1200s, Song was afflicted with major droughts in 1239, 1240, 1241, 1245, 1246, 1247, and 1252, and major floods in 1229,1236,1242,1251,1252,1255, and 1259 (Davis 2009: 906).
In early Song, taxes were light. Paper money, called flying money, developed from merchants' bills of credit, and the government quickly adopted and adapted it, printing it by 1024. Soon there was more paper money than coin (D. Kuhn 2009; Morris 2010: 378). The Mongols continued to use it, to the amazement of Marco Polo. Trade also flourished; Kaifeng, the Northern Song capital, was full of all kinds of fish, although it is in a dry area and had to bring most of them from afar (S. West 1987). The flourishing state of printing (Chia 1996) allowed cookbooks, tea books, and very modern-seeming restaurant, food, and wine guidebooks to multiply inordinately. Of course it also allowed the government to print more paper money, and thus inflation occurred when the government was short on discipline.
Personal freedoms were strikingly evident. Song ran a nonmilitarist, open society. Criticism of government was incredibly free. The fiery interchanges between Wang Anshi and his critics in the late eleventh century rival those in the U.S. Congress today. Women reached what was apparently the highest status they held in imperial China's history. Trade flourished, and huge ships filled with the finest ceramics and other goods plied the oceans, some of them having been discovered where they sank along the sea lanes to Korea and Southeast Asia.
However, the "barbarian" invasions led to more and more taxes for paying "tribute" (in fact, protection money) to these increasingly powerful enemies. As Southern Song faced harder and harder times, a rather sour and reactionary ideology set in, as it generally does in worsening times. Personal freedoms, including women's status, declined. As in today's America, difficult economic times were followed by the rise of conservative theories about the family. The neo-Confucian Zhu Xi, dominant philosopher of the time, taught a doctrine that had some liberating and open-minded aspects, but his ideas on the family were sternly patriarchal. He has for centuries been blamed or credited for the long downward slide in women's rights and conditions since his time. Certainly he was no feminist. Even today, discriminatory and reactionary attitudes toward women and gays in places like Singapore are justified by appeal to Zhu Xi.
Song foodways were greatly elaborated, as we have long known (Freeman 1977). Dieter Kuhn (2009: 270) gives some detail, including a note that there were 54 kinds of "wine" brewed around Hangzhou. By this time, jiu, here translated as "wine," had expanded beyond its original meaning (basically, ale), to include distilled liquors, medicinal tinctures, and even actual wine. Tea had become a staple by late Song. Paul Smith (1991: 51-62) has more recently detailed the taxation of tea in Sichuan in the Song. A recent and very good popular summary of Chinese food history (Waley-Cohen, 2007) focuses overwhelmingly on the Song, Ming, and Qing Dynasties and specifically on the type of food and gastronomy that evolved in the Song Dynasty.
It is also thought that Yangzhou at this time invented Yangzhou fried rice, now perhaps the most common Chinese dish in the world. In the time of Emperor Huizong, people got tired of just making gruel out of leftover rice and started frying it with egg and other bits and pieces of leftovers; at least so thinks Antonia Finnane (2004: 290), with evidence from texts but no proof in the form of a Song recipe. (There are rumors that Yangzhou fried rice was invented in Hong Kong, or even in the United States, but these are dubious. The dish certainly existed before American Chinese food evolved.)
Central Asian foodways were still well enough established that Lu You, the famous patriot poet who had little use for Central Asian ways, could praise yogurt and mutton and refer to noodles with mutton (the criterial Central Asian dish) in his poems (see Cheng Wing fun and Collet 1998: 46, 48, 53).
An insight into the cuisine of Song is the cookbook by the great Yuan Dynasty artist Ni Zan (E. Anderson et al. 2005; So 1992: 29-34). Ni probably reflects Song tastes and provides highly refined recipes for a delicate, artfully simple cuisine. He also provides brewing directions (alas, garbled in transmission) that indicate that complex and highly flavored drinks were home-brewed at the time. A contemporary book, Zhu Gongs work on brewing, Beishan Jiu-jing, has more accurate recipes. Flour was stirred with water and a starter to cause lactic acid fermentation. Then glutinous rice was cooked and added. This mixture was fermented and strained (see H. Huang 2000; Sinoda 1977: 491).
Earlier was Zhonggui Lu (Records of home cooking) by one "Mrs. Wu, who may be called the first Chinese woman cookery writer" we know (So 1992: 26). She has, among other things, a recipe for a zong (glutinous rice dumpling wrapped in leaves) similar to modern ones.
Another scholars cookbook was that of Lin Hong (thirteenth century), who developed a highly refined cuisine (Sabban 1997; So 1992: 27-28)). Based on vegetables, this cuisine could accommodate delicate meats and fish, but— except for an odd stew of wildcat—few more robust meats, though mutton and venison did make it in. Delicacy can go no further than infusions, congee, and stuffing flavored with flowering-apricot blossoms; these have a marvelous but volatile and evanescent carnation or clove scent. (They were used to flavor tea in the Qing Dynasty.) Recipes included dishes of lotus, orange, wild mushrooms, hare, and various light-flavored greens. Like other scholars then and since, he warned against eating certain foods at the same meal, including crab and persimmon. This combination is still avoided, although no one has ever come up with a valid reason for it. Lin speaks of a "wind worm" (Sabban 1997: 42), a medical concept; the wind worm could be avoided by proper diet and regimen. Many, perhaps most, of Lin's recipes contain literary allusions. Although influenced by Daoism, he still could not give up grains or meats, but he minimized them and included various vegetarian "meat" recipes such as vegetarian duck. The book contains an early use of huntun—"wonton"—to mean a broth; it is, here, a medicinal one, using cedrela root (Cedrela sinensis = Toona sinensis) to treat diarrhea. Many of the recipes are medicinal, and probably all were considered to have medicinal value. He was devising a cuisine for scholars who had retired to the mountains—a cuisine simple and natural but still refined and tasteful (not to say expensive).
In Song, most Buddhist sects and regimens were strictly vegetarian, some sects of Daoism encouraged vegetarianism, and some Chinese scholars were simply too merciful to take animal lives—or so they claimed. Vegetarianism probably came with Buddhism before Tang. By Song it was more widespread and remains a part of the Chinese scene today. (On meat and the rise of substitutes for it, see H. Huang 2000; Sabban 1993.)
By contrast, many loved pork. The great poet Su Shi, known as Su Dongpo from his studio on the eastern slope (dongpo) of a hill, was a famous gourmet and cook. He wrote poetry in praise of pork and so may have contributed significantly to its popularity (So 1992: 4; see his poem quoted there). To this day, in his homeland in the lower Yangzi valley, a deservedly popular dish is Dongpo pork, supposedly prepared according to his recipe. Just what that recipe was we do not know, for Dongpo pork is now made in so many forms that it defies reduction to one recipe.
Conversely, raw foods were still popular, as they had been in Tang. Not only fish, but pork, mutton, duck, goose, sparrows, and other foods were eaten raw (Sinoda 1977: 490). This habit declined steadily from Song onward, virtually disappearing in the twentieth century as the health hazards became widely known.
Many other cookbooks and food books are known from this period (Huang 2000: 126-28). There are also other observations on food, including many disparaging comments by exiles on the foods of remote regions. The south was infamous for its yams and taro, rats and bats, raw fish, and so on (Schafer 1967). Su Dongpo complained of these foods, strange to him;. His wife died after eating snake without knowing what it was; he attributed her death to the shock of finding out (Sabban 1999: 5).
An insight into the Chinese experimental approach to eating is provided by a Yuan Dynasty story about the Song Dynasty: "[In 1120 CE] ... a creature somewhat like a dragon appeared in front of a teashop in Kaifeng County. It was about six or seven feet long [around four feet in modern measure] with blue black scales. It had a head like a donkey, but with fish-cheeks and a horn on top of its skull. It bellowed like an ox. As it happened, the shopkeeper was making up the beds that morning when he noticed something the size of a large dog beside him. When he looked closely, it was this dragon. He was so surprised he keeled over in fright. The teashop was situated very close to an arms manufactory, and when the workers in the mill found out about the dragon they killed and ate it" (Hennessey 1981: 41). Westerners would have fled in terror or collapsed praying. Nobody but the Chinese would have begun their acquaintance with such a creature by eating it.
Closely related to food was medicine. Considerable evolution in medical practice took place in Song, with food and nutrition taking an even more important place in medical practice than had been the case earlier. As we know from Paul Unschulds work (1985,1986, 2009), the Song Dynasty was a period of major medical transitions. We have little idea how this affected the courts of Liao, Jin, and Yuan. Did their medical personnel partake enthusiastically of the Song revolution, or did they hold off, avoiding contact with the enemy?