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Food and Beverage

Mooncake and China’s ascending culture


The mooncake in Chaozhou (潮州) is still cooked with lard

Like turkey for Thanksgiving Day, mooncake for the full-moon Mid-Autumn Festival in China is a must. It is dated on the 15th day of August in Lunar Calendar (Sep 13 Friday, this year 2019). Its meaning is more than family gathering since its history includes politics, literature, music , and of course myths.

The mooncake from my hometown, Chaozhou ( 潮州 in the northeast of Guangdong Province), retains its century-old style. Its surrounding crust is uniquely a layered flaky texture which is similar to a puff pastry or croissant.

What is inside in my favourite is simply mashed red bean mixed with peanut. Some other kinds of filling include pure red bean, green bean and Chinese olive.

What makes it extraordinarily delicious is that nowadays it is still cooked with lard, not vegetable or grain oils.

From daily dishes, if you are able to differentiate butter or lard or chicken oil, from other non-animal cooking oils ranging from corn oil, peanut oil, or olive oil, then you know what I mean.

Some recent studies on genetics argued that human evolution went through one million years during which humans ate (fruits and) animals, including their meat, fat and oil, so human body’s DNA functions harmoniously with animal oil as well as saturated fats. Mankind began agriculture just 0.01 million years ago and our genetics are still learning to adapt to corn oil, olive oil, etc.

They believe that what make human sick and old are too much sugar, lack of physical exercise and short of sunshine. Therefore, according to their studies, lard and butter are much better than olive oil, especially for human brain’s health. Does it sound unbelievable to you?

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) believes that an ascending culture is what makes mankind great. All living things are born with a Will to Power, and this Will drives a Life to overcome difficulties and ultimately achieve excellence. This Will, if strong, also differentiates this Life from the mediocre. An ascending culture created, cultivated and led by these strong-minded men further generates creativity and sovereign individuals.

To excel, Nietzsche suggests that we need to re-evaluate all values whenever necessary. For this purpose, we need an ascending culture to inspire people to do so persistently.

China, which once was a great nation, was living in a descending era during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), closing doors, discouraging scientific exploration, imposing dogmatic and rigid education …

Over the past 70 years, the Chinese culture has gone through earthquake -like changes. Mooncake has also gone through various and generational transformations. While it has many new styles, including new forms and new substances, the best elements of its own tradition remain, namely, inspiring people to go to the moon, to dream, and to treasure family values.

Men had already landed on the moon, but…

Nietzsche during his time pointed out that the modern people (those in Europe, he meant) would suffer from nihilism since, like it or not, God is dead. Nietzsche echoed Plato’s view that a whole-scale democracy would only bring forth a descending culture and foster political nihilism despite technological advance.

The atheist Chinese culture, after the Qing Dynasty, is now rebounding. The Chinese elites have chosen the illiberal non-democratic approach of governance. While it retains lots of Chinese characteristics, this system can be understood by making reference to Plato’s and Nietzsche’s thoughts (in English).

In early Oct 2019, I will start a series of articles explaining the nature of the present regime in China, so as to let readers realize why it may be able to survive, and maintain a balance against the liberal West.

The opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of China Daily Mail.

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About keith K C Hui

Keith K C Hui is a Chinese University of Hong Kong graduate major in Government and Public Administration and the author of "Helmsman Ruler: China's Pragmatic Version of Plato's Ideal Political Succession System In The Republic" (2013).

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