Big Pot Meals





What stood out for me in China was the way in which we ate our meals.  We sat around a round table with a large lazy susan in the middle.  The servers brought out many dishes of food and placed them on the lazy susan, and we would all share from the center of the table.  Even though we were a group of colleagues, we ate as a family.

71926_10151352440987358_1815795853_nThis way of eating is representative of the sense of community that is so strong in China.  People live together in high-rise apartments with multiple generations of family, girls hold hands with their friends as they walk together, and people crowd into buses and trains to reach their destinations.  They are accustomed to proximity and not offended by sharing with their friends and loved ones.

“…in China, ‘sharing the meal‘ is very important. When a host serves out the dishes from a large plate, the guests thank him for it. In this way, they confirm their close relationship. The food and taste varies from Kwangton, to Shenzhen, and to other districts, but this ceremony is common in all areas.”

549328_10151352434197358_1559167903_nThe family-style meal suggests that people are equal, as they all share the food that is placed in the center of the table.  Everyone receives an equal portion, and nobody is served more than anyone else.  This also makes an interesting metaphor for the communist society of China.  The bounty produced by the nation’s agriculture is shared by all… in theory.  Yet as Professor Ogawa points out, if everyone shares the same meal, it is impossible to give the exact same share to every person.

The socialist system is commonly referred to as “Big Pot Meal,” a system in which everyone is theoretically the same but realistically unequal.  The family-style meal is a means for ensuring that everyone at the table is treated equally and nobody is left hungry while others prosper, as was the case in the socialist history of the nation.

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Photo courtesy of Beverly Wang, Chinese student at W&M

Making connections to teaching and learning, the equality expressed in the family-style meals is also reflected in the education system.  School-age students cut their hair short, wear uniforms, and are discouraged from expressions of individuality.  They are all the same in the eyes of educational preparation, with the same goal of passing the college entrance exam.