Culinary Nostalgia and Chinese Neo-Liberalism:
Local Dish Restaurants in Shanxi Province

David L. Wank

 

Abstract

In the mid-1990s a local dish 地方菜 boom emerged in China’s restaurant industry. Restaurants ranging from family-style to luxury establishments started serving local dishes that are self-consciously represented as the foods eaten by the common people of a specific locale in China. Their menus feature coarse grains and wild greens while their décor evokes the culture and history of a locale. The focus of this essay is this “culinary nostalgia” in local food restaurants in Shanxi province, the heartland of Chinese civilization. Drawing on fieldwork the essay illustrates how the consumption of culinary nostalgia constructs a personhood of individuated differences—a Chinese-style multiculturalism—in the emerging national markets, while its production overlaps with the field of state power. Therefore, the culinary nostalgia of local dish restaurants embodies the disjuncture of market and state in China’s neo-liberal reform policies that have been transforming the economy since the 1990s.

 

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Bio

David WankDavid Wank is Professor of Sociology, Sophia University, Tokyo. He holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from Harvard University (1993). His research on numerous topics in China combines theoretical concerns of economic and political sociology with ethnographic field methodology. For his research on local cuisine in China he revisited Shanxi Province, where he lived from 1980-82. His most recent publication (co-edited with Yoshiko Ashiwa) is Making Religion, Making the State: The Politics of Religion in Modern China (Stanford University Press, 2009).