Jia Chen Fu

Emory University

Jia-Chen “Wendy” Fu is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Russian and East Asian Languages and Cultures at Emory University. After receiving her M.Phil and PhD in History from Yale University, Wendy was a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of California at Berkeley (2009-2010) and then Assistant Professor in the History Department of Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland, Ohio). Her primary research focuses on how new scientific disciplines and practices shaped conceptions of the Chinese physical body and diet. 

Abstract

Doujiang and the Fashioning of a Chinese Dairy Alternative

By the late 1930s, the Chinese reading public would have encountered on more than one occasion regular advertisements for milk powder, articles extolling the virtues of cow’s milk, and opinion pieces opining the lack of milk in the Chinese diet. Cow’s milk, though recognized as a Western practice alien to Chinese taste and sensibility, was also increasingly associated with the attributes of a modern, scientific, and progressive society. Light and nutritious, milk was not simply a food for Westerners. It was an essential food for all modern people. To not drink milk risked a potentially damaging confrontation with the universal law of evolution—one whose outcome could only be defeat and regression. What was a non-milk drinking country like China to do?

For a group of vocal Chinese and China-based foreign elites, the solution involved the re-fashioning of a local customary food, doujiang (soya milk or soybean milk), into a modern, scientifically proven nutritional food, whose functional role within the Chinese diet was akin to that of diary. While the West possessed the cow, China had the “wonder bean,” whose nutritional profile and malleability made it an ideal candidate as a dairy alternative. They argued that since existing Chinese diets were deleteriously low on protein, and cow’s milk was both expensive and alien to most Chinese people, the protein-packed soybean represented a modern and scientific solution to the country’s nutritional ailments. In recasting doujiang as both an indigenous and modern food—one that could improve and sustain health—proponents articulated a moral vision for how the foods one should eat defined one’s place in a shifting global order.