Special Feature

On The Different Cultures and
Symbols of China

Martin Yan Interview by Kate Heyhoe


Kate: Chinese culture includes many symbolic foods, especially at Chinese New Year. Gifts of pommelos, grapefruit and oranges, for instance, represent good fortune. Did you discover any new symbols while filming the TV series on Culinary Journey Through China?

Martin: Even in China, a lot of people don't realize that China is a multi-ethnic country. There are over 50 ethnic groups in China and many of them have very distinctive history, culture and food habits. Particularly someone from Tibet, and in the southwest, a lot of them are very similar to the people and food of Cambodia, Burma and Thailand. In fact, along the border of northern Thailand and southwestern China, they speak the same language, in fact, they are the same tribe. So it is very interesting. A lot of the people along the Vietnamese border are of the Vietnamese culture, similar to Chinese culture in the old days.

So you see a lot of these kind of things and because of that, when you look at Chinese foods, they are not really exactly Chinese foods. And because of different cultures you see different symbolic meanings. There are some cultures in the southwest which are a mother-dominated, female dominated society in terms of economy and the social structure, where it's the female that controls everything. It's in Yunnan province, north of Thailand. and because of that, there is some different symbology, but in general, most of the things I spoke of last year, the traditional symbols, are common for Chinese throughout the world.


Martin Yan Interview


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This page originally published as part of the electronic Gourmet Guide between 1994 and 1998.

Modified October 2007