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Why is Rice So Important to Chinese Civilization?

Why is Rice So Important to Chinese Civilization?

Why is rice so important to the Chinese Civilization? Chinese culture is based on numerous subcultures and its agriculture is way of life is centered on rice. The culture of rice has led them into doing many things and in some cases is the way of life. Products of the rice plant are used for a number of different purposes, such as fuel, thatching, industrial starch, and artwork.

Growing, selling and eating rice is integral to the culture of many countries. In China, it has been suggested that rice has been cultivated for 3000-4000 years, where it gradually rose to become an important part of life. China’s rural culture has developed around the growing of rice, and foods made from rice are the basis of festivals such as the Land Opening Festival, which marks the start of the rice cultivation season, and the Spring Festival. [i]

The Chinese uses rice for food security, it’s important to the culture, and it’s also an economic importance. Rice is a healthy food source that falls in the vegetable category and in China it sometimes can be eaten alone or with fish.

   The Chinese uses rice for food security, it’s important to the culture, and it’s also an economic importance. Rice is a healthy food source that falls in the vegetable category and in China it sometimes can be eaten alone or with fish.

   The northern region of China has a very mild climate and therefore, does not grow rice. In contrast, the southern region of China is abundant with rice plantations, which are flooded to help product this crop. The water level must be maintained at a certain level and remain consistent in subtropical weather for rice to grow (Huke).

Chinese myth, by contrast, tells of rice being a gift of animals rather than of gods. China had been visited by an especially serve period of floods. When the land had finally drained, people came down from the hills where they had been taken refuge, only to discover that all the plants had been destroyed and there was little to eat. They survived through hunting, but it was very difficult, because animals were scarce. One day the people saw a dog coming across a field, and hanging on the dog’s tail were bunches of long, yellow seeds. The people planted these seeds, rice grew, and hunger disappeared.[ii]

By the time western Zhou Dynasty (11OO BCE-771 BCE) was in power rice had become well accepted and extremely important, as can be seen from inscription on bronze vessels used as containers for storing rice. At this time, rice was a central part of aristocratic banquets.

During the spring and Autumn Period (770 BCE-476 BCE), rice became an important part of the diets for Chinese people. Later, in southern China, especially with the development of meticulously intensive farming techniques during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 AD), rice rose to occupy an important position in Chinese culture (Jinhui).

The grain fed thousands of people for longer periods than any other grain did. When it comes to cultivated rice, three primary species are grown. The first is O. Sativa, the seconds, O. Glaberrima, and the third is, O. Rufipogon which is grown in China among other regions. There is documentation showing that the Buddhist scriptures referred to rice quite often and again, used it as an offering to the gods. Initial evidence from archeologist showed that rice was a valued dating back as 2500 BCE during late Neolithic period in the Yangtze basin (Huke).

During the period before the Qin Dynasty (221 BCE-206 BCE), rice had become a specially prepared food. It was also used to brew wines and offered as a sacrifice to the Gods. What’s more, rice was delicately made into different kinds of food, which played an important role in a number of traditional Chinese festivities (Jinhui).

First, rice is a central part of the Spring Festival (or lunar New Year) Eve dinner. On this occasion, Chinese families make New Year’s cake and steamed sponge cake from flour turned from glutinous rice. The cake is called “gao” in Chinese, a homophony to another “gao,” meaning high. People eat these cakes in the hope of a better harvest and higher status in the New Year. The cakes and the New Year’s dinner symbolize people’s wishes for a better future.

Second, rice dumplings are made on the 15th night of the 1st lunar month. This is the first day the full moon can be seen each New Year. People eat rice dumplings, known as Yuanxiao in the north and Tangyuan in the south (“yuan” means of satisfaction in Chinese), hoping everything will turn out as they wish.

Third, zongzi, eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month, is also made of glutinous rice. It is said that people eat zongzi on this day to remember Qu Yuan, an official of the Chu State (about 340 BC – 278 BC), who committed suicide by jumping into the Miluo River. People throw zongi into the river to prevent fish eating Qu Yuan’s body.

Fourth, rice is made into “Double Nine” festival cakes on the 9th day of the 9th lunar month each year. As people have just harvested their crops during autumn they can make these cakes with fresh new rice. Many people also follow the tradition of climbing a mountain on this day.

Finally, people eat porridge on the 8th day of the 12th lunar month. The porridge is made with rice, cereals, beans, nuts and dried fruit. It is said that Sakyamuni attained Buddhahood on this day, drinking chyle presented to him by a shepherdess, which he believes led him to enlightenment. As a result people bathe Buddha statues and eat porridge on this day.[iii]

The Chinese people eventually developed a process of growing rice on farms using puddling soils and then transplanting the seedlings. Today, this system is still widely used in China. The puddling works to break down the internal structure of the soil it does not lose much water during the percolation process. The seedlings are then transported once they reach one to six weeks. The transplanting of the rice seedling helps the farmer work the rice field better, thus producing a higher yield. This very process helped domesticate rice in China (Huke).

So many people over look the importance that rice has on China and all of the things it has helped the world with. Rice is a good food source for everyone not only for people that are in China but for people all over the world. It’s a big deal to the Chinese culture because of the fact that it was the only food source when they had nothing else, meaning that hunting was at its limit. From what I have learned I believe that rice is such a big deal in China because it saved a lot of people lives when they thought they would never see a source of food again.


[i]  To determine the importance of rice and other things that it’s used for

[ii]  China’s rice history

[iii]  China’s history and how it uses rice to celebrate

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