The popularity of Chinese rice in China

If you’re addicted to rice then China is the place to go. Chinese rice is the most abundant food in the country. Rice, you’ll probably find, will be on every menu you come across.

Nevertheless, there will be a million and one other foods that will entice you. China has an immensely ancient and diverse culture. It is home to such diverse recipes and delicacies. You may find it hard as a newcomer, to imagine that starvation, ushered in many sad chapters in the country’s history. But it did and may have taken even more lives had it not been for the country’s vast stocks of rice.

Chinese rice, be it in its natural grain form or processed into flour, noodles, or porridge, continues to help stave off hunger, especially for the poor. Rice is such a big part of the country’s cuisine, avoiding it will significantly diminish your intake of carbohydrates. Maybe help you shed those pounds while in the country if that is your intention, but good luck in trying!

Chinese rice

Chinese rice is so popular, one typical greeting in China translates as “Have you had your rice today?” to which one is always expected to reply, “Yes.” In fact, The Chinese word for rice is the same word used for food. Such is the importance of rice with regards to health; young girls are often encouraged to finish all the rice on their plate. Otherwise, each grain of rice remaining will represent a mark on the face of their future husband.

To put the popularity of Chinese rice in China into context, Americans on average consume about 20 pounds of rice per person each year, while Asians eat as much as 300 pounds per person each year. Think that’s mind-boggling? China alone, amongst the Asian countries, consumes a third of the world’s total output of rice, which currently amounts to roughly 200 million tons a year. The country is a Champion Rice-Eater’s Rice Paradise! And in case you are wondering if there are such people or titles, Google Mi Zijun from Chongquing.

Six reasons why Chinese rice is symbolic

Chinese rice symbolizes good fortune, fertility, wealth, and a link between Gods and Men.
The sticky rice eaten during Chinese New Year is supposed to represent an increase in prosperity each year. Rice is also one of the twelve symbols of Sovereignty.

It represented the emperors capacity to feed his people, which ties into why the notion of prosperity and fertility is associated with the grain. A nation’s ability to feed itself is fundamental to its sovereignty.

Chinese rice production

Modern China, it seems has not forgotten the importance of food to its sovereignty. In 2004, for instance, China was forced to import rice. Even though it produced 124 million tons of the grain, it consumed 150 million tons. To put the figures into perspective, in 2014/15 the total world consumption minus China was 336 tons.

It must, however, be noted that despite that minor blip of under producing by 26 million tons of rice, China was and still is the world’s largest producer of rice. The production of the crop is key to the national economy, with it amounting to 26% of the world’s entire rice production, and just under half of the country’s total output of grain.

Such is the impact of their production on the industry worldwide, Obama’s Administration recently launched a new trade enforcement against PRC at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to tackle US’s concerns about the Chinese government’s excessive support for their rice, wheat and corn farmers to help them undercut other sellers. It is a practice, which the US decries as having an unfair adverse effect on their farmers and their ability to compete worldwide in the market.

So what exactly is rice?

Rice is a labor intensive crop. Due to its size, the condition in which it needs to grow, and how it is processed, it is one of the few crops which has been farmed for centuries that has hardly benefited from mechanization advancements in cultivation. It is the seed of a swamp grass, belonging to the genus Oryza, widely regarded as the staple food for a huge chunk of the world’s population.

Chinese rice is the mother of all cultivated rice

Chinese rice

Although there are more than 40,000 varieties of rice that grow on every continent except on Antarctica, there are three main types. The first is O. Sativa, the second, O. Glaberrima, and the third is, O. Rufipogon which is grown in China among other regions.

According to recent genetic research, all cultivated rice, as opposed to wild rice, originates from a single crop of Chinese rice. That single batch led to two batches of rice, which produced hundreds of different cultivars to date.

The history of Chinese rice

There is some research to indicate that rice may have originated as an indigenous plant from India over 4,000 years ago and later moved to Indochina. People most likely began to farm rice in southern China about 6000 BC.

During the Zhou Dynasty (11OO BCE-771 BCE) the importance of rice as a food source was recognized; evidence of which can be seen from inscriptions on ancient bronze vessels used as containers for storing the grain. Rice was central to the diet of the aristocrats of the period and henceforth became an important part of the Chinese people’s diet.

In southern China, with the development of intensive farming methods during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 AD), rice took on greater significance in the culture. Rice, it was found, was able to feed people for longer than any other type of grain.

Old Buddhist scriptures exist which indicate that rice has long been used as offerings to the gods. Archaeologists are beginning to discover that the grain was highly valued dating as far back as 2500 BCE, during the late Neolithic period around the Yangtze basin.

During the period before the Qin Dynasty (221 BCE-206 BCE), Chinese rice was used to brew wines and was delicately prepared for various dishes. It also took on great symbolic significance in Chinese festivals around the time.

The practice and method of how to cultivate the crop spread gradually south to Thailand and India. By 2500 BC, during the Bronze Age, people were already growing rice in the Ganges Valley in Northern India. The crop probably reached Western Asia and Greece at around 300 BC via the Silk Road trading route. In fact, the word rice comes from the Sanskrit word Vrihi.

By the time of the Roman Empire, rice was being cultivated near the Mediterranean Sea, Southern Europe, and North Africa. The practice later spread to East and then Southern Africa, thanks to trade with India and Indonesia. By the middle ages, rice had reached West Africa. Today rice is eaten on every continent and is recognized as the global staple food, but it’s journey as a modern day cultivated crop began in China.

If you have enjoyed this article or know someone who is obsessed with rice, share this link with them for fun!

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