To Understand Culture, Cuisine & Consumers, Take “A Bite Of China”

Chinese cuisine is closely connected to the country's history and culture

With events like ART HK 12, the Hugo Boss 3D fashion show in Beijing and Facebook’s IPO taking place over the past week, I had a difficult time deciding what to cover in my latest column. But one trending topic I couldn’t ignore is a new television program in China entitled “A Bite of China” (舌尖上的中国).

I’m not much of a television watcher, but I am online virtually 24/7. For the past week, I’ve seen dozens of retweets about this show on my Sina Weibo feed, and I don’t even follow that many foodies.

The new seven-part high-definition documentary series, shot by filmmaker Chen Xiaoqing, highlights the geographical, historical and cultural dimensions of what Chinese eat and why. More importantly, it looks at the most basic tenet of Chinese culture: you are what you eat. I can’t say how good a job the show does at showcasing Chinese cuisine, or how good it is in general, but I do believe that the show’s relation to the business world makes it, at the most basic level, useful viewing.

Personally, I find the easiest way to understand others is by looking at what they eat. You can learn a great deal about their buying habits, favorite colors, personalities and even the climates in which they live — all important things for businesses to know about potential consumers.

Screen grab from "A Bite of China"

Even the series director, Liu Wen of CCTV-9 (the English-language channel of Beijing’s China Central Television), said the stories included in “A Bite of China” look not only at food but how it reflects societal changes. As Liu said, “the documentary aims to help a global audience not only appreciate the beauty of Chinese cuisine, but also to learn about Chinese customs and social realities.”

Having started shooting in March 2011, the series covers 60 locations throughout the Greater China region, with Hong Kong and Macau included along with mainland China. The series recently premiered on the Chinese-language CCTV-1 and will debut with English subtitles on CCTV-9 on May 23. For anyone with an interest in what Chinese food says about the country today, and its relation to deeper particularities about traditional and modern Chinese culture, I’d recommend giving “A Bite of China” a look.

In addition to her work as a social media and PR professional, blogger and brand consultant, Hong Kong-based Elle Lee now hosts the new online program Weibo Today. Check out Elle’s personal site at and follow her on Twitter at @ElleIconLee or Sina Weibo at @ElleLeeHK


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