Hong Shanhui, Adjunct Assistant Professor, Center for General Education, National Central University
“Congee” is taken from Liang Shiqiu’s collection Liang Shiqiu on Eating. In a preface the author mentions that when someone once asked him why he studied food and drink, the question startled him. After reflecting for a few moments, Liang answered: “Because I’ve been eating for over eighty years,” the clever reply displaying the writer’s archly humorous nature.
Liang Shiqiu’s famous “Birds” opens with the sentence “I love birds,” indicating the essay’s subject matter. But “Congee” starts with the line “I don’t like congee,” because, as a boy, Liang was forced to eat congee (rice porridge) whenever he fell ill; nevertheless, if it was his mother’s homemade congee he gladly endured the hardship. Liang’s mother prepared her congee with uncooked rice rather than leftover rice, bringing the grain to a slow boil in a small clay pot. Water was the crucial factor – a sufficient quantity was added at the outset, as opposed to increasing the volume little by little as the porridge cooked. Thus, the congee required a longer cooking time, but the results were worth it: the aromatic porridge was soft and glutinous, each rice kernel intact, the taste superb.
The essay introduces different varieties of congee, such as northern Chinese “vegetable congee,” cooked with cabbage hearts and garnished with sesame oil. To make “lotus-leaf congee” the hot porridge is topped with tender, verdant lotus leaves, which turn the porridge a pale green and exude a fragrant aroma. In the old days, Beijing breakfasts featured “sweet congee” and “barley congee,” working-class favorites now no longer available. In Taiwan congee is often mixed with shredded sweet potato, the legacy of an earlier, impoverished era when yam was added as a substitute for rice. Nowadays, however, sweet potatoes are lauded for their nutritional value, and “sweet potato congee” is regarded as a healthy eating choice.
What Liang calls “laba congee” is the “variety show” of porridges. The twelfth lunar month is commonly known as la yue (la month); according to tradition, the eighth of the month is said to be the Buddha’s birthday. Buddhist temples hold festivals on that day to celebrate Sakyamuni’s enlightenment, providing free congee to hungry worshippers. Laba congee ingredients include red beans, mung beans, glutinous rice, foxnuts, Job’s tears (coix), and a variety of whole grains, as well as gingko, chestnuts, walnuts, red dates, longan fruit (dragon’s eyes), peanuts, and almonds. The cooked congee is served with an assortment of nuts and preserved fruits.
Liang Shiqiu once said: “Sometimes when I’m homesick for Peking, I like to talk about the delicious foods I used to eat there, and that makes me so happy it’s almost if I’m eating them again.” In “Congee,” food reminds Liang of his mother’s cooking and his former life in Beijing, the flavors passing from taste buds to heart, revealing a nostalgic longing for times past.
Chai Ao, MA student, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
Liang Shiqiu (1903-1987), born Liang Zhihua, was a native of Qiantang in China’s Zhejiang province. After graduating from Beijing’s Qing Hua University he studied English at the University of Colorado, where he was a student of humanist critic Irving Babbit. Liang continued his academic work at Harvard University and Columbia University. He returned to China in 1926, opening the Crescent Moon Bookstore in Shanghai, acting as editor-in-chief. He later founded Crescent Moon Monthly and Liberal Weekly Review, and served as chief editor for the Current News Daily literary supplement. During that time he taught at a number of universities. After coming to Taiwan in 1949, he worked at the National Institute for Compilation and Translation, served as professor of English, department head, and dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Taiwan Province Normal College (today’s National Taiwan Normal University). In later years he resided in the United States.
Liang Shiqiu’s literary output includes scholarly works, essays, translations, fiction, and poetry, but he is best known for his essays and translations. Stylistically, Liang advocated elegance, restraint and simplicity, principles that were embodied in his From a Cottager’s Sketchbook series. The series’ preliminary chapters were written between 1940 and 1947, when war engulfed China. Nevertheless, Liang found interest and charm in daily life and all that was happening around him, highlighting his own distinctive aesthetic tastes. These literary tastes were based on Liang’s resilient spirit, elevating personal experience to the aesthetic level – life situations cannot necessarily be transcended, but at least one can find interest and enjoyment in them. Liang Shiqiu’s later essays carried on this “cottager’s” spirit. Liang Shiqiu on Eating is a blend of delicious foods and homesickness – in Liang’s view culinary refinement and cultural continuity were inseparable. Liang published over forty works in his lifetime, among them The Fine Art of Reveling (1927), The Romantic and the Classical (1928), Literary Discipline (1934), Collection of Prejudice (1937), From a Cottager’s Sketchbook (1934), and Reflections of a Gourmet (1985).
Liang Shiqiu translated the complete works of Shakespeare, his most important literary translation. In addition, he also compiled A History of English Literature and Selected Readings in English Literature, as well as a variety of English dictionaries, invaluable contributions to the study of English language and literature in Taiwan.
|Anthology：||Liang Shiqiu on Eating|
|Author：||Liang Shiqiu (Liang Shih-chiu)|
|Publisher：||Taipei: Chiu Ko Publishing Co. Ltd.|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.books.com.tw/products/0010438686|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|The “book.com.tw” Internet Bookstore|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||No English Translation|