In the vast river of history, each dynasty has left its unique cultural imprint and artistic lifestyle. Among the many dynasties, the Song Dynasty, with its distinctive cultural charm and refined way of life, has become an indispensable chapter in Chinese history. Its delicacy, tolerance, and openness endowed this era with unparalleled artistic and cultural allure. Recently, Henan TV launched "Chinese Banquets." This cultural documentary takes us back to the Song Dynasty, a time filled with cultural atmosphere and artistic lifestyle, where the banquet rituals reconnect us with the ancient tranquility and elegance amidst the modern hustle and bustle.
Background of "Chinese Banquets"
From ancient times to the present, whether it is the noble emperors and nobles or the common people, on special holidays or significant occasions, banquets are hosted to entertain honored guests or close relatives and friends as a sign of respect. The Chinese banquet has become an etiquette of hospitality.
"Chinese Banquets" extends the concept of Chinese festivals and, as a member of the cultural family, it reconstructs and reenacts Chinese dining rituals, exploring the Eastern sense of ritual, Eastern aesthetics, and Eastern wisdom associated with food.
Features of "Chinese Banquets"
While recreating the scenes of banquets from ancient and modern times, "Chinese Banquets" invites host Yu Qian, cultural commentator Mei Yi, and food expert Dong Keping to discuss food culture, local customs, and traditions.
Through different themed banquet settings such as wedding banquets, birthday banquets, coming-of-age banquets, Lu Ming banquets, military banquets, and longevity banquets, the program showcases fascinating aspects of food and banquet culture, aiming to explore the cultural etiquette and sense of ritual in traditional Chinese dining, while connecting it to the inheritance and development of contemporary banquet culture.
Highlights of "Chinese Banquets"
01 Li Qingzhao's Wedding Banquet
In the first episode, the "wedding banquet" of Li Qingzhao, the unparalleled talented woman of all ages, and her beloved Zhao Mingcheng, unlocks the proper way to experience a Song Dynasty wedding banquet and portrays the Eastern sense of dining rituals. Starting with the first encounter of the talented lady and the scholar, the story of Li Qingzhao and Zhao Mingcheng is written in words, composed into music, sung as songs, and performed as a drama.
In the program, actress Xuan Lu takes on the role of "Li Qingzhao," her elegant beauty shining in a green gown, while singer Bai Chuan portrays "Zhao Mingcheng," a gentleman as precious as jade. Their every expression and smile exude admiration, tenderness, and grace, as the saying goes, "Harmonizing and enjoying music together, envying the phoenix's double flight."
During the Song Dynasty, a wedding was not only a union between two families but also a cultural showcase of society. Every aspect was filled with rustic and exquisite traditional aesthetics, where poetry, art, and cuisine converged to create a beautiful painting passed down through the ages. The authentic Song wedding in the city of Bianjing (Kaifeng) was a meticulously crafted artistic performance. Every step and gesture of the bride and groom in the ceremony carried profound meaning.
In Song Dynasty wedding customs, the bride's feet should not touch the ground after stepping out of the sedan chair. Instead, she walks on a carpet of green color into the new house, awaiting the arrival of the wedding ceremony. The groom is needed to sit on a high seat before the ceremony, and also has to straddle a special saddle and drink three glasses of wine in a row. The concept of ascending the high seat is to elevate the groom's seat, symbolizing "peace" and "promotion."
After the ceremony, the wedding bed is arranged. Sprinkling auspicious items onto the bed, known as "sa zhang," carries good wishes for the couple. Common auspicious items include dates, peanuts, longans, lychees, walnuts, chestnuts, and lotus seeds. The goal of marriage is to "last for a thousand autumns and ten thousand generations, and remain together for eternity. Good luck and prosperity, forever united in heart." After toasting with the exchanging of wine cups, it is said that the golden cup should be thrown under the bed.
What captivates us is not only the profound meaning behind these rituals but also the longing for a beautiful life they embody. The love and union of Li Qingzhao and Zhao Mingcheng, this divine couple, have influenced and defined the Chinese concept of love and romance in a timeless manner.
At the same time, the cuisine at the banquet is also an essential part not to be overlooked. In Li Qingzhao's poems that describe the consumption of edible flowers, we can perhaps glimpse a feast of blooming flowers that befits the unmatched elegance of a generation's poetic beauty. Food not only satisfies people's taste buds but also silently conveys the Song people's love and contentment with life.
02 The Banquet of Huang Tingjian's First Birthday
The second episode revolves around the celebration of the first birthday of Huang Tingjian, a renowned calligrapher from the Song Dynasty. It vividly depicts how Huang Tingjian's father, Huang Shu, meticulously prepared and conducted the ritual of the ceremony to celebrate his son's first birthday. This leads to an introduction and interpretation of the traditional Chinese culture surrounding the first birthday feast. Due to the primitive medical conditions in ancient times, childbirth was accompanied by numerous risks. The different celebration methods after a child's birth represent the parents' wishes for the child's healthy growth.
03 The Coming-of-Age Banquet of Su Shi
The third episode centers around Su Shi's friends inviting him to officiate the coming-of-age ceremony for their own son. This leads to a series of introductions and performances related to the ancient rite of passage known as the "Guan ceremony."
In the Song Dynasty, the guan ceremony held high social status, signifying a young man's formal entry into adulthood and his assumption of family and societal responsibilities. The ceremony typically includes the crowning, the selection of a personal name, and the apprenticeship ceremony, among other rituals. The crowning process marks a transition in a young man's identity within the family and society, signifying his departure from childhood and the beginning of life as an adult.
04 The Lu Ming Banquet of Zeng Gong (A Successful Candidate in the Imperial Examination)
The fourth episode focuses on Zeng Gong, one of the Eight Great Masters of Tang and Song Dynasties, and his entire family's success in passing the imperial examination. It is considered a miraculous achievement. Subsequently, Zeng Gong invites his teacher, Ouyang Xiu, and fellow candidates who also passed the examination to a gathering, leading to an introduction and performance of the post-examination banquet customs and traditions of ancient China.
The Lu Ming Banquet is a banquet specified in the imperial examination system, originating in the Tang Dynasty and continuing until the Qing Dynasty. It was a banquet held by local officials to honor the successful candidates in the provincial-level examinations. Many literati, either inspired by or attending the Lu Ming banquet, created numerous outstanding poems and essays, expressing their joy, emotions, aspirations, and ideals.
05 The Military Banquet of Han Shizhong (Building Achievements)
The fifth episode presents the perspective of General Han Shizhong, detailing how he cleverly used banquets and speeches to mobilize his soldiers and boost their morale during the defense against foreign invasions. Han Shizhong, a renowned general from the Southern Song Dynasty, personally organized a grand feast to inspire his troops. In fact, military banquets did not require extravagant food. A barrel of wine and a plate of meat were considered the most delicious treats for soldiers on the battlefield.
06 The Birthday Banquet of Lu You (Late Years of Life)
The sixth episode revolves around the birthday celebration of Lu You, a famous poet, and his gathering of family and friends to celebrate his eightieth birthday. Lu You's family gathers together, and his children personally take charge of the cooking, preparing delicious dishes such as plum blossom pancakes, crispy abalone and snail, and fish soup. These dishes not only represent gourmet food but also symbolize family values, conveying the strength and warmth of the family and inspiring people's longing and pursuit of family virtues. The touching segment of reciting poems by eminent scholars around the table also showcases the excellent patriotic and cultural traditions of the Chinese nation, conveying positive values of unity and solidarity.
Evaluation of the program "Chinese Banquets"
The program "Chinese Banquets" artfully narrates through its storyline, cultural interviews, and beautiful visuals, allowing the audience to easily feel and understand. It actively explores and innovatively showcases the traditional etiquette of Chinese civilization, serving as a continuation and promotion of the spirit of Chinese culture. Simultaneously, it promotes the harmonious development of interpersonal relationships. Through the form of a "banquet," the program helps young people find a sense of home and experience the Chinese rituals and order behind family banquets.
"Chinese Banquets" captures authentic moments of heartwarming family banquets throughout history, filled with the aroma of delicious food and deep bonds of friendship. It portrays beautiful encounters of first love, unconditional love expressed through the wish "May the child be simple and rude, free from disasters and difficulties, and rise to the ranks of officials," blessings for adult children through the gentle touch of spring breeze, the joy of family reunions, and the unforgettable memories shared at the dining table throughout history. Through this program, people gain new insights into the concept of "family banquet" and allow the thousand-year-old Oriental dining culture to flow through their veins.
As the river of time crosses through different eras, the cultural ambiance of the Song Dynasty continues to shine brightly. Its refinement, tolerance, and elegance have become important components of Chinese traditional culture. "Chinese Banquets" not only opens a window for us to explore ancient culture but also provides a bridge for dialogue with traditional culture in the fast-paced modern society. It reminds us that regardless of the changes in times, we should always cherish and inherit these profound and extensive traditions. Let us continue to explore and inherit the millennia-old cultural essence, allowing the wisdom of history to illuminate our path and create a brilliant future.