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Complete Manchu-Han Banquet

In the long history of China's 5000-year civilization, Chinese cuisine can be regarded as one of the richest heritages handed down from the ancestors. The Complete Manchu-Han Banquet might be the best representative which is a perfect combination of food, nutrition, health, art, aesthetics culture, etiquette, and science. It combines the different flavors from south and north China and best dishes from both Manchu and Han People.

This imperial banquet became popular during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), and its first record was made in the reign of Qianlong. The method Manchu people used for cooking was usually either toasting or boiling. After their occupation of the Han areas and in order to strengthen their control of the whole country, they promoted a large number of former Han officials, landlords and scholars. At the beginning, in order to satisfy both the Han and the Manchu, banquets during the Qing Dynasty were divided into two forms -- the Han banquet and the Manchu banquet. Different cooking utensils, dinner sets, materials, and cooking methods were used in preparation of the banquets.

In the middle of the Qing Dynasty, the folk customs and cultures of the Manchu and Han became gradually blended. It is said Emperor Qianlong once made an order to allow Han dishes to come to the imperial kitchen, which promoted the development of a Qing Dynasty palace food culture where the two styles became mixed. During the period of Emperor Kangxi and Qianlong, when society and politics were stable and economy was flourishing, luxurious customs became popular. It is said that when Emperor Kangxi first tasted the complete Manchu-Han banquet, and wrote down the four characters -- Man Han Quan Xi (The Complete Manchu-Han Banquet), the banquet hence became popular among the imperial family as well as the nobles and officials.

The materials used to cook the food were varied, and a characteristic of the food was that it looked very beautiful and tasted delicious. As time went on, Mongolian, Hui and Tibetan foods were added in this banquet, so the Complete Manchu-Han Banquet has actually become a multi-ethnic banquet. The exquisite appearance of the food had never been seen before and it became the most colorful and luxurious banquet in Chinese history.

Following the development of cooking methods, courses in the Manchu-Han banquet have undergone considerable changes, its contents have become richer, its appearance has further improved, and today there are more than 200 kinds of courses, including varied materials from the mountains and sea. Indeed this banquet has become a symbol of traditional Chinese culture. Due to the fact that its courses are very rich, it is impossible to eat all the courses at the same sitting, therefore such a banquet is usually eaten at several sittings. It can be eaten for lunch, dinner and supper or some people eat it over a two-day period, others over a three-day period.

According to Qing's historical records, as the eight cooking schools came into being and approached perfect, the Qing courts adopted the essence of different schools, carefully recruited chefs around the country and produced the exquisite and delicious dishes of various ethnic groups.

The Complete Manchu-Han Banquet fully embodies the majesty and elegance of the emperors. The utensils are all in the traditional imperial style. During the banquet, the guests are served by waitress in "Qing" Dynasty customs. The dishes are put in adequate containers, like pieces of art. Further for the glittering golden tableware, the dishes taste delicious, smell fragrant and looke fine. The antique and elegant decoration, the typical emperor's eating procedures and court service, together with singing and dancing, create a historical and cultural ambience.

In the Qing Dynasty, grand banquets were held for a number of reasons: when a new emperor came into power, when the government changed its title of reign, when a war was won, for the Spring Festival, or for special birthdays. Each banquet had its own typical characteristics, and hence different types of grand banquets. Generally, the Complete Manchu-Han Banquet can be roughly divided into six different types, namely, Mongolian Qinpan Banquet, Tingchen Banquet, Wanshou Banquet, Qiansou Banquet, Jiubai Banquet and Jieling Banquet.

Six Types of the Complete Manchu-Han Banquet

1. Mongolian Qinpan Banquet

As the name suggests, this banquet was to entertain the Mongolian royal family members. All the emperors in the Qing Dynasty attached great importance to this banquet and it was a great honor for those who had the prestige to enjoy the royal dinner. This banquet was held annually and only the highest-ranking officials have the chance to be the entourage.

2. Tingchen Banquet

Tingchen Banquet was held on the sixteenth day of the first lunar month to award the officials and scholars who had made distinct contributions to the government, and the emperor himself would name the people to attend the dinner. During the banquet, the attendants would make poems while enjoying the food and wine.

3. Wanshou Banquet

Wanshou Banquet, which means longevity banquet, was to celebrate the emperors' birthdays. It was one of the biggest dinners in the inner chambers of the imperial palace. All the civil and military officials regarded it as a great honor of having the chance to attend this banquet.

4. Qiansou Banquet

Qiansou in Chinese means thousand of senior citizens. This banquet first began in the reign of Emperor Kangxi, and flourished in the Qianlong reign. In 1713 when was the sixtieth birthday of Emperor Kangxi, he hosted a banquet in the spring with more than one thousand senior citizens, and he made a poem Qiansou Yan, therefore, this dinner got the name of Qiansou Banquet.

5. Jiubai Banquet

Jiubai literally means nine white. When Emperor Kangxi first conquered the Mongolian tribes, these tribes gave one white camel and eight white horses as tributes to show their loyalty, and then the emperors would hold a banquet to serve the convoy and called it Jiubai Banquet.

6. Jieling Banquet

Jieling Banquet was served according to the Chinese solar terms, such as the Duanwu Banquet, the Chongyang Banquet, etc. 

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