In January, when traces of horsemeat were found in beef products sold in British supermarkets, many in the country were appalled. Considered a delicacy in many parts of the world, horsemeat is a taboo food in Britain and other Anglophone countries.

I tried horsemeat sashimi (known as basashi) once in Japan, but it had been in deep freeze for too long and was tasteless. I've never been to Guilin, in the Guangxi autonomous region, but if I do go, I will try its famous horsemeat rice noodles. And why not? If beef can be enjoyed with impunity despite a billion Hindus in the world venerating the cow as sacred, I can consume horse flesh.

In pre-modern China, the horse was used mostly for transport and in war. In ancient China, horse-drawn armoured chariots were the main means of assault on the battlefield. Around the third century BC, the Chinese began to fight on horseback and adopted the cavalry charge from nomadic "barbarians" to the north. There have been legendary steeds of war in Chinese military history.

Legend has it that as the heroic warlord Xiang Yu (232-202BC) lay fallen in his final battle, his faithful equine companion, Wuzhui, refused to get back on its master's boat without him. It finally jumped into the river and drowned. The flaming red horse Chitu had changed hands several times before it met its true master, the red-faced Guan Yu (AD160-220), later venerated as the god of war and valour. When Guan was captured and executed, Chitu is said to have refused to feed and starved to death.