Jin Feng

Jin Feng 馮進 is Professor of Chinese and the Orville and Mary Patterson Routt Professor of Literature at Grinnell College, United States. She is the author of _The New Woman in Early Twentieth-Century Chinese Fiction_ (Purdue, 2004), _The Making of a Family Saga_ (SUNY, 2009), and _Romancing the Internet (Brill, 2013)_, in addition to other publications. She is currently working on food nostalgia in China's Lower Yangzi Delta.

Abstract

Imperial Nostalgia: Historical Restaurants in Contemporary Hangzhou  

Food, Catherine Palmer tells us, constitutes the “three flags of identity” of the modern material world along with landscape and the body. A form of “banal nationalism,” it also reminds people of their “national place in the world of nations.” In this paper I explore how Chinese people conceive of, represent, and refashion their individual and collective identities as their culture and society undergo vast transformations through a specific lens: how they produce and consume food nostalgia in Hangzhou, China.  

“Food nostalgia” refers to the recollection, representation, and reinvention of culinary traditions by both food service professionals and intellectuals. It also involves consumer behaviors and practices with regard to local culinary traditions offered up for consumption in various venues: as self-identified “local dishes” in restaurants, cultural artifacts in literature and media, and postings on the Internet and via social media. 

Historical restaurants invoke Hangzhou’s history as capital of the Southern Song dynasty to generate business. They utilize conventional symbols of locality such as signature dishes and interior decorations, and produce books, pamphlets, and multimedia publicity materials to produce an “imperial mystique” and attract customers. However, the Chinese millennials prefer casual, fashionable, and Western-style food establishments rather than “old and famous” (laozihao) restaurants. The Internet has further transformed traditional business models, and shifted power from the producer to consumer, and expert to amateur through various Web-based platforms.  

Ultimately, the “imperial nostalgia” of Hangzhou restaurant business functions as a prism that refracts a host of socio-cultural phenomena in the process of Chinese modernization. It also reveals to be a site of identity politics, facilitating the self-fashioning of identities at both the individual and collective level, while being both abetted and frustrated by gender politics and state intervention.