There's 'nothing more important than food'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 March, 2010, 12:00am

The culinary arts flourished during the Han dynasty. Among the burial provisions for noblewoman Xin Zhui, at Mawangdui, some 30 food containers were found. The meats alone included beef, lamb, pork, venison, rabbit, crane, chicken, duck and fish.

Poultry was popular during the Han dynasty with eggs, wild fowl, bamboo partridge, turtledove, quail, crane, wild goose, swan and sparrow.

Dishes were meticulously prepared: roasted, stewed, scalded, poached, fried, steamed, stir-fried, air-dried, pickled or smoked. As The Book of Han put it: '[To] the people nothing is more important than food.'

Other staple food encompassed grain, millet, wheat, beans, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds and rice.

Keen on maintaining a healthy diet, Han gourmets consumed a wide variety of fresh vegetables and fruits, including mustard greens, onions, bamboo shoots, ginger, lotus roots, dates, pears, plums, bayberries and water chestnuts.

An autopsy performed on the well-preserved remains of Lady Dai found she had dined on melons before her death.

The Han period was also a formative period for ancient Chinese medicine, and the dynasty's physicians made great progress in developing therapeutic and surgical practices.

A silk manuscript, known as Prescriptions for 52 Diseases, was one of several medical treatises found at Mawangdui. Written on a scroll, it is the earliest and most comprehensive medical treatise ever discovered in China.

The book recommends 283 detailed treatments for a variety of ailments, listing herbal, mineral and animal curatives.

The tombs' contents also yielded China's earliest known exercise chart: a silk painting known as the Daoyin Tu (Physical Exercise for Health). A replica is on view at the exhibition.

Daoyin was a combination of breathing and physical exercises to promote good health and relieve physical pains, similar to modern day tai chi. Inspired by animal postures, it developed distinct exercise routines, such as 'tiger', 'deer', 'bear', 'monkey' and 'bird'.

The chart on display shows 44 human figures in four rows demonstrating various postures. Daoyin was practised together with such other traditional treatments as meditation, massages, hot compresses, acupuncture and surgery.