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Chinese Have Been Eating Raw Fish for 3000 Years 吃鱼生有三千年的历史

Photo Credit: Raw sliced carp by Idalingi Flickr

✍ 16 Feb 2024. Chinese have been eating raw fish since almost 3,000 years ago.

Poem 小雅·六月 by 吉甫 around 800 BC

Emperor Xuan of Zhou dynasty
Raw sliced carp 脍鲤 was served during a victory banquet by Zhou dynasty minister 吉甫 who served under emperor Xuan of Zhou dynasty 周宣王 who ruled from 827 BC to 782 BC (more than 2,806 years ago).

This victory banquet held nearly 3,000 years ago was mentioned in a poem 小雅·六月 written by minister 吉甫 during the Western Zhou Dynasty era. This is one of the earliest mention of raw fish in Chinese history.

The poem has six stanzas. The final stanzas reads:

宴请吉甫喜洋洋, 终得天子多重赏. 从那镐京回家乡, 出征日子实在长. 斟满美酒敬好友, 蒸鳖脍鲤佳肴香, 出征酒宴还有谁? 孝友张仲也在场.

Translation with my annotations.

Victorious minister 吉甫 received many rewards from emperor Xuan of Zhou dynasty. Overjoyed, minister 吉甫 held a victory banquet. 

We are going home from 镐京 (today's Xi'an, the Zhou capital city) after a long expedition (against marauding Xiongnu nomadic tribes from the north). Pour wine, steam turtle, slice carp, and other delicious delicacies.

Who else is coming for the victory banquet? My loyal friend, minister 张仲 is also present.

Minister 吉甫 lived (for 77 years) from 852 BC to 775 BC, which means that raw fish is eaten in China at least 2,800 years ago.

兮甲盘 823 BC

Minister 吉甫's victory banquet is also mentioned in the inscriptions on the Western Zhou era bronze basin 兮甲盘 (it's a hand washing basin). The bronze basin was cast in the fifth year of emperor Xuan of Zhou dynasty (823 BC) i.e. 2,847 years ago. That year, minister 吉甫 was 29 years old.

吴越春秋 written by 赵晔 505 BC 

Emperor of Wu

In 吴越春秋 written by 赵晔, the book mentioned that in 505 BC, the Wu emperor held a banquet to celebrate the capture of 楚郢 Chu dynasty's capital (today's Yicheng 宜城 city in Hubei province). Raw fish 脍 was on the menu of the banquet.

赵晔 lived during the Eastern Han dynasty (25 AD - 220 AD).

子胥归吴, 吴王闻三师将至, 治鱼为脍, 将到之日, 过时不至, 鱼臭. 须臾子胥至, 阖闾出脍而食, 不知其臭, 王复重为之, 其味如故. 吴人作脍者, 自阖闾之造也.

Translation with my annotations.

When general 子胥 returned to Wu kingdom, emperor of Wu 阖闾 heard that the three army divisions were coming, and he served sliced fish. 

When the time came, the fish smelled bad. 

General 子胥 arrived, ate the raw fish, but he didn't know the smell. The emperor of Wu 阖闾 said the taste was the same as before. The people of Wu who made the raw fish made it since the time of emperor 阖闾.

Emperor 阖闾 ruled the Wu dynasty for 18 years from 514 BC to 496 BC.

Next, we examine how eating raw fish evolved in China over the centuries.

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Written by Tony Boey on 16 Feb 2024


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