Saturday, March 23, 2013

Broken Fact: Fu Ping's Dinner Table and Rationing in Shanghai

The Original Story:
In Bend, Not Break, Fu Ping describes this family scene when she spent her lovely childhood in Shanghai on Page 12:
While my older siblings were off at school, I would spend afternoons with Shanghai Mama in the kitchen. She said that food must appeal to all five senses: aroma, color, texture, taste, and love. I'd hang on to her legs amid the sizzle and steam and chopping sounds as she prepared the traditional dinners we enjoyed each night: four appetizers, one soup, and eight main courses. My favorite dish was crabmeat with ginkgo nuts in a mint mango sauce.
Then, on Page 188:
Mao's Red Guard had shut down the farmers' markets and taken control of the city's food supply. Each family was given limited rations of rice, cooking oil, sugar, vegetables, and meat. Sometimes it wasn't enough to feed everyone in my household. A few farmers were selling produce on the black market because they didn't have enough money to support their families. As a merchant-class family, we had always had enough money to eat. But in those days food was increasingly hard to come by. My grandfather knew that if he wasn't willing to part with his precious heirlooms, his family might go hungry.
The Debunking:
Traditionally, Chinese cooking is judged by three senses: color, aroma, and taste (色香味). But that is just nitpicking.

Fu Ping seems to think that food rationing only started in 1966 with the Red Guard. That was plainly not true. From 1958 to 1961, China as a nation experienced the disastrous Great Chinese Famine, when tens of millions of people died of starvation or malnutrition. Rationing began during that period, when Fu Ping was still a toddler.

As the biggest metropolitan, Shanghai's food supply was relatively better than the rest of the nation. But rationing was also in place in the late 1950s and early 1960s, with some food items going off and on rations at times.

Fu Ping's Shanghai family was pretty large, having one grandfather, two parents, and five siblings. Fu Ping herself would not be receiving any ration if she indeed were not registered as resident in Shanghai. Their combined rations were probably enough to supply a meal as she described above once a month. But every night? That's more likely a fantasy.

The story of her grandfather selling treasured collection for money is also confusing as she clearly stated that they were not short of money. Yet after the paragraph above, she went on to describe her grandfather selling a gold nugget to a pawnshop for a pittance. As far as we know, pawnshops don't deal rationing tickets, if that's what they were supposed to be after.

Oh, by the way, it seems that no Chinese reader had ever recognized her favorite dish. It's not a typical Chinese dish so it must be a special invention of her Shanghai Mama. Then again, hers seems to be a special family anyway.

1 comment:

  1. What kind of treasured collection could be sold at that time?
    Those things were considered as "Four-Olds (Old Customs, Old Culture, Old Habits, and Old Ideas)"!
    Who dare to buy them?
    No one wanted to be known of even associating with Four Olds!