English

2012 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226

The History of the Litchi

Yüan-p’eng Ch’en

Ph. D Candidate, Department of History, National Taiwan University

The history of the litchi is the history of men eating litchis, and the history of litchis and litchi-eaters.

The fact that litchis have appeared ubiguitously and are described so broadly in traditional Chinese literature is worthy of discussion. Why were our ancestors so interested in this fruit? Where was this attraction coming from? How could such interest and attraction “survive” throughout our history? We may not find answers for all these questions until we discuss them in terms of other relevant elements, such as the natural environment, the character of the species, eating habits, preservation methods, transportation equipment, and value judgments. Other foods may not provide sufficient historical materials to support our research, but the litchi does.

We can see in the history of litchi that a fruit could be highly valued not only for its sweetness and juiciness, but also its “rareness.” We can also find that there is no direct relation between “being rare” and “being liked.” The value placed on the fruit and its social and cultural significance, will also draw people’s attention and spread the recognition of a taste.

The history of litchi is unique, and does not necessarily apply to other fruits or foods. However, from the viewpoint of the “interaction between men and food,” a general principle is not important. For here the proper approach to historical investigations into food involve the significance of the fruit for people and peoples’ attitudes toward the fruit.

 

Keywords: Litchi, li she, Litchi Pu, precious fruit, history of cuisine, Chinese cuisine, taste, recognition of taste, Yang Guei-fei