Michelle T. King

University of North Carolina, U.S.A.

Michelle T. King is an Associate Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her primary research interest is in Chinese gender history. Her first book, Between Birth and Death: Female Infanticide in Nineteenth-Century China (Stanford UP, 2014), examines significant differences between Chinese and Western perspectives on the practice. Her latest research project focuses on the life and career of Taiwan's noted cookbook author and television celebrity, Fu Pei-mei, as a way to understand changes in postwar society, including the development of foodways as a critical national political project, shifting gender roles, and the transnational construction of identity through successive generations. 

Abstract

Visualizing Chinese Cuisine: Fu Pei-mei on Taiwan Television  

Fu Pei-mei (1931-2004) appeared on Taiwan Television as a cooking program host for more than forty years, beginning with the very inception of television in Taiwan in 1962. As her career and audience grew, viewers likened her to a beloved grandmother figure, who could whip up a mouth-watering Chinese dish in only five minutes. Wielding a fierce cleaver and warm smile, Fu showed off her knifing techniques, cooking skills and cultural/historical knowledge of Chinese cuisine as she prepared thousands of different dishes over the course of her television career. 

This paper will investigate the visual instruction of Fu Pei-mei’s cooking programs, in both set design and food presentation, as well as considering the long-term impact of her television career. Fu’s program taught viewers about more than how to prepare Chinese dishes; it also inculcated certain ideas about middle-class domesticity and family, particularly the role of the good housewife. The set design mimicked the set-up of a middle-class kitchen, with all its modern conveniences, just as consumers in Taiwan discovered the utility of the gas range, refrigerator and rice cooker. Moreover, Fu’s program presentation changed over the decades, accommodating demographic shifts in women’s workplace roles and shifting tastes in Taiwan in favor of international dishes.