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Abstract of Xiaohui Liu

Foodscape of Chinese America - the Transformation of Chinese American Culinary Culture in Metropolitan California


This project explores the evolution of Chinese food in metropolitan California, placing emphasis on the transformation of the foodscape caused by new immigration since the 1960s.

My goal is not only to investigate the reception of Chinese food in the U.S. which reflects the change of racial relations between the American whites and Chinese ethnic group, but also to see food, ethnic food in particular, as an agent of social change and show how ethnic food contributes to the change of social life in a particular region. I am trying to argue that culinary democratization and diversification exist alongside with homogenization and standardization in this era.

Two combating forces – multiculturalism and Americanization both have shaped and are still shaping Chinese foodscape in California. I focus on the scene of Chinese restaurant to study the cultural transplantation, adaptation and production of Chinese cooking in America. I see “Chinese California cuisine” as a new cultural product whose identity blurs and transcends the boundaries of ethnicity and regionalism.

First of all, I would like to study the transformation of the Chinese American foodscape after the mid - 1960s and analyze the new characteristics of this food trend as well as the economic and sociopolitical implications of this trend. Secondly, I will investigate the interaction and mutual impact between Chinese ethnic foodways and local food habits of California to find the reason why some particular Chinese dishes became so popular and influential in California. Thirdly, I will seek to explore the interrelation between the Chinese American cuisine and the perception and the image of Chinese culture and Chinese immigrants in the U.S.

I will base my research on newspapers, magazines, cookbooks and other archival materials as my main sources. I will also make use of the personal interviews I conducted with Chinese restaurant owners and chefs. In order to learn about the perception and response from the Chinese local community, I will also incorporate Chinese language materials into my research. My hope is to reconstruct the Chinese American foodscape, particularly the restaurant scene on the basis of individual sources.

I will take an interdisciplinary approach, taking into account sociological, anthropological and cultural theory. I will also borrow some concepts from ethnogastronomy for an understanding of the transformation of Chinese ethnic foodways in this particular time period. The sociality and ethnicity of food will be examined to show that food can be a manifestation of power relations as well as a marker and breaker of ethnic identity.