In Chinese culture, rice is more than just food. It is an important part of festivities and is held in high regard. The Chinese have been cultivating rice for thousands of years, with some archaeologists claiming that rice cultivation started around 4000 B.C. in China. Today, China contributes 30 percent of global rice production.
The importance of rice in Chinese civilization can be ascertained by the fact that its traditions have always held that “the precious things are not pearls and jade, but the five grains,” of which rice sits firmly in the number one spot.
Myths surrounding introduction of rice
The Chinese hold several beliefs on how rice cultivation was introduced into their civilization, starting with one that says it was a gift from the Gods.
A popular myth of rice cultivation is linked to the goddess Guanyin. According to it, rice has always existed. However, there was a time when the ears of rice plants were not filled. This led humanity to the brink of starvation. Taking pity on humans, the goddess Guanyin decided to help them. She visited the rice fields and squeezed her breasts so that milk filled the ears of the rice plants. On pressing harder, a few drops of blood also got mixed in with the milk. This is believed to have resulted in white and red rice.
A miracle dog
In ancient times, the lands were flooded so much that all plants got destroyed. Animals became scarce and humans were unable to feed themselves. One day, a dog came along with yellow seeds in its fur. Though the Chinese did not know what the seeds were, they planted them and the seeds became rice.
Rice during festivities
Rice plays an important part during the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) dinner. Families prepare sponge cakes from rice flour. The cakes are eaten in expectation of higher status and a better harvest next year. During the 15th night of the 1st lunar month, the Chinese prepare rice dumplings, hoping that their wishes will come true.
On the Double Nine Festival held on the 9th day of the 9th lunar month, people make cakes with rice to mark their recent autumn harvest. On the 8th day of the 12th lunar month, porridge made from rice, beans, dried fruit, cereal, and nuts is prepared in honor of the Buddha attaining Buddhahood.
During the Dragon Boat Festival observed on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month, people prepare a dish known as ‘zongzi’ from rice. The dish is eaten in memory of Qu Yuan, an official of Chu state who lived around 340 B.C.-278 B.C.
Rice and its psychological effect
The cultivation of rice has also had a deep impact on the psychology of Chinese people. This was identified in a recent study by a group of psychologists who compared people from northern China who eat noodles with the Chinese from southern regions who eat rice.
“China’s noodle-slurping northerners are more individualistic, show more ‘analytic thought’ and divorce more frequently. By contrast, the authors write, rice-eating southerners show more hallmarks traditionally associated with East Asian culture, including more ‘holistic thought’ and lower divorce rates,” according to The Wall Street Journal.
Traditionally, northern Chinese people are seen as hearty and strong while those from the south have been observed to be highly intelligent and cultured traders.