Foodscapes of Chinese America

The Transformation of Chinese Culinary Culture in the U.S. since 1965

by Xiaohui Liu (Author)
©2016 Thesis 238 Pages


This book explores the transformation of Chinese food in the U.S. after 1965 from a cultural perspective. The author asks how Chinese food reflects the racial relation between the Chinese community and the mainstream white society and investigates the symbolic meanings as well as the cultural functions of Chinese food in America. She argues that food is not only a symbol that mirrors social relations, but also an agent which causes social and cultural change. A particular geographic focus of this book is California.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Abstract
  • Chapter 1. Introduction
  • Chapter 2. The Era of Chop Suey – the Early Evolution of Chinese American Food
  • Chapter 3. The Transformation of Chinese American Foodscapes
  • 3.1 Culinary Diversification – The Chinese Restaurant Revolution
  • 3.1.1 The Coming of the Culinary Diasporas – Change of Restaurant Operators/Chefs
  • 3.1.2 How New Cuisines were Introduced – Menus and Other Translation Strategies
  • 3.1.3 There was More Than One Cuisine – From Standardized Cantonese American Fare to Diversified Regional Cuisines
  • a. The Charms of Hong Kong Cuisine and Its Cultural Identity
  • b. The Awakening of the American Palate – America’s Love Affair with Spicy Szechuan and Hunan Cuisine
  • 3.2 Americanized Panda – The Rise of Chinese Fast Food Chains
  • 3.3 Chinese Food and Chineseness in the New Era
  • Chapter 4. Culinary Culture in Metropolitan California
  • 4.1 Serving Outsiders: Restaurants for Non-Chinese
  • 4.1.1 Chinese Cuisine and Californian Taste – Cultural Adaptations and Negotiations
  • 4.1.2 Representing and Reconstructing a New Ethnicity through Restaurant Décor
  • 4.2 Serving Insiders: Restaurants for the Chinese Community
  • 4.2.1 Features and Cultural Functions
  • 4.2.2 Non-Chinese Customers – Authenticity and Foodie Culture
  • 4.3 Cross-over Consumption – The Birth of a Transethnic Cuisine and Cosmopolitan Identity
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography

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The process of writing a dissertation is like a spiritual odyssey, full of difficulties and pains. It is a painstaking and challenging journey. And once you get through it, you are much stronger and more mature than before. But the biggest difference is that in finishing a dissertation there are so many people who selflessly provide you with help and facilitate the advancement of your work, which makes us doctoral students much luckier than poor Odysseus.

I am deeply indebted to many people in turning an abstract idea into this finished work. I would like to first of all thank my primary supervisor Professor Christof Mauch for his expert guidance, consistent support and kind encouragement. During the three and a half years of my doctoral studies, Professor Mauch endured my numerous questions and gave me countless useful and practical feedback. He offered me great assistance in developing the framework of my dissertation and guided me through the conceptualizing, researching and writing processes. He also encouraged me to participate in academic activities and provided me with many precious opportunities for academic exchanges. In spite of the fact that he is an extremely busy scholar and always dashing around the world, I have the feeling that he is always available to help out whenever I need him. Without his step-by-step guidance and supervision, my doctoral studies in Germany could have never been this fruitful and smooth.

I feel very grateful to my secondary supervisor Professor Berndt Ostendorf. Professor Ostendorf, an extremely knowledgeable and respected scholar, played such an important and irreplaceable role in keeping me on the right track while writing and provided me great motivation to move forward. His insightful suggestions as well as the valuable documents on food studies he gave me meant so much to my research. His kindness and generosity was far beyond my expectations.

I would like also to thank Prof. Christof Decker, who served on my defense committee. He kindly spared his precious time for my defense and raised a number of inspiring and wonderful questions, which are quite conducive to my future research. ← 9 | 10 →

I sincerely thank my colleagues and friends at the LMU. I thank my friend Sasha Gora for exchanging ideas on food studies and also for taking time from her busy life to improve my manuscript draft. The members of Professor Mauch’s Oberseminars gave many useful suggestions and feedback on my research project during different phases of the research. Their questions and suggestions pushed me to reexamine my ideas and better structure my thesis. In this respect, I am especially indebted to Charlotte Lerg and Angelika Möller. Many colleagues and friends kindly offered assistance and made my studies in Germany much easier. Among so many, Angelika Möller, Agnes Kneitz, Antonia Mehnert and Arielle Helmick deserve special mention for their generosity and patience. Sabine Buchczyk, a dear friend of mine, also gave me lots of encouragement during my studies at the LMU. I would like also to thank the members of ProAmHist. It was such a pleasure to be a part of such a friendly and nice team.

I thank the kind librarians and archivists at Los Angeles Public Library, San Francisco Public Library, the Ethnic Studies Library at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Hoover Institution Library & Archives at Stanford University for their assistance. I also thank the staff at the Chinese Historical Society of America and the Chinese American Museum for showing me a rich abundance of research sources, which I never knew of before. Special thanks go to Eugene Moy for taking me to an interesting exhibition on Chinese restaurants and for giving me a guided tour around downtown L.A. I am also grateful to the many restaurant operators, chefs and employees who offered me the chance to interview them. Among others, I thank Bingcheng Zhang, owner of Fu-shing restaurant, who kindly took me into his kitchen while he was preparing food for customers and shared his personal stories about the restaurant business. I thank Mark Ting, a retired master chef and owner of Plum Three Inn, for giving me the chance to get to know him and his view on Chinese cooking and American Chinese restaurants. David Chan, a Chinese food lover and food writer, who has eaten at over 6,000 different Chinese restaurants, shared with me the spreadsheet he made of Chinese restaurants over the past 30 years and took the time to meet me in his office. His observations on Chinese restaurants are a great source for my research.

I am truly thankful to my sponsor – the China Scholarship Council – for the financial support during my doctoral studies in Germany. The grant I received from CSC enabled me to study overseas and acquire new perspectives. I thank ← 10 | 11 → the Alumni Association of the Amerika-Institut Munich for offering me the stipend, which allowed me to travel to the U.S. for research.

I am most grateful to my mom and my grandma, whom I miss so much each day. My mom attached great importance to my education since I was young and always encouraged me to pursue further education and engage in intellectual endeavors. My grandma, an amiable lady with lots of love, showed me the importance of food in human lives with her actions, and the relationship between food and love. It might probably be one of the reasons that I developed such a strong interest in food and chose it as the research topic for my doctoral studies.

Last but not least, there is one person whom I want to extend my heartfelt gratitude to: my husband Feng Yang. It was him who accompanied me through the most joyous and difficult parts of writing my thesis and offered the most selfless support and love. He tried everything to convince me that I can successfully finish and calmed me down whenever I felt frustrated and desperate. In spite of his busy work schedule, he flew all the way from China to Germany to support me at my defense. I can never pay him back for all his efforts and love. Both the English and Chinese languages fail to express my appreciation enough for him. This dissertation is for him.

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This book focuses on the transformation of Chinese American foodscapes after 1965. The basic questions I ask are how Chinese food culture has changed in America over time and what eating Chinese food has meant to Americans. I explore the symbolic meanings and cultural functions of Chinese food both within the Chinese community and in society at large. I argue that food is not only a symbol that reflects social relations, but also an agent, which causes social and cultural change. Chinese food facilitated the upward social mobility of Chinese immigrants and challenged the power relations between the Chinese community and white American society. California, which is not only standing in the forefront of recent culinary changes in America but is also the birthplace of Chinese American food, serves as the perfect location to examine the changes of Chinese American culinary culture. Owing to the large Chinese population in California, the Chinese foodscape here is the most complex. Based on the ubiquitous presence of Chinese restaurants and the great popularity of Chinese food in America, it seems necessary to figure out why Americans eat Chinese food, its social and cultural implications and the mutual influence between Chinese ethnic cuisine and the local culinary culture in the U.S.

Key words: food, Chinese American, ethnic cuisine, California, immigration, restaurant

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Chapter 1. Introduction


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (December)
Ethnic cuisine Immigration Restaurants California
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 238 pp., 6 coloured ill.

Biographical notes

Xiaohui Liu (Author)

Xiaohui Liu studied at Fudan University (China) and Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (Germany). Her main fields of research are Immigration Studies and Food Studies.


Title: Foodscapes of Chinese America
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240 pages