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How Soy Sauce Shapes Modern China: The Power of an Everyday Food – 2023 Fairbank Center Reischauer Lecture Series featuring Angela KC Leung, Night Three, “Soy Sauce in Crisis: China’s First Engagement with Technoscience”

March 30, 2023 @ 4:30 pm 6:00 pm

Read our blog post on this series of lectures: What Soy Sauce Can Tell Us About History, Politics—and Chinese Identity

The lecture series examines the cultural and political meaning of soy sauce by tracing its long trajectory from an obscure elite condiment to a mundane, everyday food in the modern period. The condiment acquired in the process the unique power of forging shared identities – familial, communitarian, regional and national, becoming more recently a heritage food in different Chinese societies today. Its status as a popular, necessary daily food endowed it with social and economic values that have made its production an integral part of state building for successive regimes – Qing, Republican, Socialist, post-Socialist. Since the early 20th century, soy sauce has been crafted with changing knowledge and techniques, by experts in evolving institutions and enterprises, and marketed to satisfy consumers’ shifting imaginations of their time, community, and environment.  

Tuesday, March 28, 2023, 4:30pm 
Lecture 1: Becoming an Everyday Food: Soy Sauce in the High Qing Period

The explosion of soy sauce’s popularity as an everyday food in China is explained in the context of the mid-eighteenth-century integration of Manchuria, which would become the world’s biggest soybean producer, into the Qing Empire at the zenith of its political power. The development changed urban landscapes, shaped everyday life and forged new urban identities. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2023, 4:30pm
Lecture 2: The Power of a Malleable Everyday Food: Soy Sauce in Modern China 

Soy sauce as a super connector gained enormous power in the 19th and early 20th centuries:  It was made and offered to tighten bonds within lineages, strengthen native place relationships, and diplomatic ties. It symbolized communitarian and national solidarity, hospitality and pride. Such immense power imbued the condiment with significant economic value. 

Thursday, March 30, 2023, 4:30pm
Lecture 3: Soy Sauce in Crisis: China’s First Engagement with Technoscience 
Under deteriorating governance and facing the influx of industrial Japanese products, Chinese soy sauce production was to be transformed as part of the state program of industrial modernization. The process produced a first generation of food scientists and technocrats navigating between codified scientific knowledge and traditional practices based on embodied skills, an approach still valid in the 21st century when heritage sauces are being constructed.

Angela Ki Che Leung is Chair Professor of History, Joseph Needham-Philip Mao Professor in Chinese History, Science and Civilization at the Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Hong Kong since 2011. After obtaining her doctoral degree at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris, she became a researcher at the Academia Sinica, Taiwan, in 1982, and taught history at UCLA, National Taiwan University and the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and was elected Academician of the Academia Sinica in 2010. She has published in Chinese, English and French on the history of Chinese philanthropy and history of medicine and health. Her books in English include Leprosy in China: A History (2009), Health and Hygiene in Chinese East Asia (2010, co-edited with Charlotte Furth); Gender, Health and History in East Asia (2017, co-edited with Izumi Nakayama); Moral Foods: The Construction of Health Regimes in Modern Asia (2019, co-edited with Melissa Caldwell). She led a Hong Kong government funded collaborative project on everyday technologies in modern East Asia from 2017-2022, and is preparing an edited volume on Food Technoscience in East Asia and a monograph on the history of Chinese soy sauce.

Also available via Zoom. Register at: https://harvard.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_nIxWlsf8TlakxRYAt9OOgA

YouTube recording of “How Soy Sauce Shapes Modern China: The Power of an Everyday Food – 2023 Fairbank Center Reischauer Lecture Series featuring Angela KC Leung, Night Three, “Soy Sauce in Crisis: China’s First Engagement with Technoscience””


March 30, 2023
4:30 pm – 6:00 pm
Event Category:


Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies


CGIS South, Tsai Auditorium (S010)

1730 Cambridge St
Cambridge, MA 02138 United States

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