London: According to a book written by Cambridge academic Professor Roll Sterckx, Chinese food contains a hidden recipe for living.
He argues that the culinary arts supplied some of the key concepts and metaphors in Chinese philosophy and political thought over 2,000 years ago.
Drawing on virtually the entire corpus of texts that were produced in China for 800 years after the 6th century BCE, Sterckx explores how a vibrant culinary culture was important in how the early Chinese explained the workings of the human senses.
"Cooking, eating, feeding, dining and banqueting were a much used craft analogy for good and moral government in traditional China," explained Sterckx, who is the Joseph Needham Professor of Chinese History, Science and Civilisation.
"Cooks, butchers and stewards exemplified some of the worldly skills upon which the art of rulership was modelled."
The ability to combine ingredients in equal proportion to ensure that no individual flavor dominates the other, symbolized the idea of harmony.
China's most famous thinker Confucius (551-479 BCE) claimed that a person of good morals should not crave a full stomach.
Chinese also believed that nutrition influenced the moral character of human beings, including an unborn person's moral development.
Rulers and emperors were admonished to modify their intake of food depending on the circumstances of the day.
"In political terms, the banquet in China was a coded environment, at times reminiscent of high table at Cambridge colleges," said Sterckx.
"Banquets affirmed respective hierarchies among participants that were expressed in the seating arrangements, in the number of allocated dishes, in the sequence in which guests toasted their host or vice versa, and in the utensils, food vessels and cups used during a meal."
"Chinese culture is remarkably continuous," Sterckx said, adding, "and it is fascinating to observe how many of the ideas and practices I discovered in ancient texts while researching this book survive in Chinese society today: the presentation of food offerings is still at the heart of Chinese religious practice, a lively religious economy centred on hosting and the exchange of gifts is resurfacing in China, and the Chinese language remains peppered with vocabulary and images that draw on dietary culture."