Silent Spring Arrives: The Collapse of Bird Populations in Riverside, California

E. N. Anderson, June 2024


            Silent spring is here. Several mornings this spring I have walked out into my yard and heard nothing. Eventually a mockingbird sings, a dove coos, and slowly a few birds call, but birds are dramatically down in just two years. Rachel Carson’s sad prediction in Silent Spring (1962) has become reality. In 1962, walking out on any California morning was an amazing experience of bird calls and song. It is now almost or totally silent.

            Almost all species are declining in Riverside now. Many species flourished with the spread of agriculture and suburbs, which brought water, fruit trees, sheltered gardens, and other blessings. Unfortunately, they have lately brought more deadly chemicals, supposedly to kill pests but actually killing all living things. Strong rodenticides are wiping out our natural rodent controls, the hawks and owls. Insecticides and other poisons have decimated insect-eating birds. Most seed-eating birds must feed their young on insects at first, so this loss of insects has greatly reduced birds like goldfinches. Herbicides and fires destroy natural habitats. Introduced epidemics, such as the H5N1 bird flu and West Nile virus, have devastated some species. Climate change has brought unprecedented heat and drought. The drought of 2019-22 was particularly serious. Birds have not recovered after two subsequent wet years.

            Natural habitat has largely vanished. Fires and other factors eliminated what little chaparral the area had, and have almost eliminated the coastal sage scrub. It is replaced with nonnative grasses and annuals. The riparian strips are increasingly fragmented, or eliminated outright. Sycamore Canyon Park and Box Springs Mountains Wilderness Park preserve a large amount of excellent habitat. So does the March Base ammunition storage facility and an associated ecological strip east of the facility, but this area is now slated for warehouses.

            It is likely that there will be almost no birds in Riverside in 20 years. Only concerted, dedicated citizen action can save any significant populations. 

            Birds are sharply declining worldwide, with a very conservative estimate of 29% decline over North America since 1970 (Rosenberg et al. 2019), and a more local study showing dramatic declines in the Mohave Desert since early naturalists studied it (Iknayan et al. 2018). Declines in many species in Riverside, California, has been obvious for years. On the other hand, so have some increases. The record deserves some attention.

            This status and distribution account covers the Box Springs Mountains, Sycamore Canyon Park, and immediately adjacent suburbs. The limits are the footslopes of the Box Springs Mountains in Moreno Valley, a couple of miles south of the south boundary of Sycamore Canyon Park, and the Riverside Freeway (Highway 91) between Alessandro and Columbia Avenues.

            This area is about half suburbs, about half open land. The entire Box Springs range, a small hill range rising from 1000’ at base to a bit over 3000’ at the top, is protected, much of it by a wilderness park. Sycamore Canyon Park protects 1500 acres, now surrounded by suburbs, warehouses, and busy streets, making dispersal hard for mammals but not interfering with flying birds. The University of California campus has a large agricultural operations and experiment area, with ponds, and a large and lush botanic garden.

            This is strictly a personal and informal record. I have not dealt with casual records. Most of the eastern warblers have turned up in Riverside at one point, and almost all regular California migrants have occurred, but this list concentrates only on species that are regular and whose population changes, if any, are significant. (I do include a few once-only records too weird or interesting to neglect.) Notably missing are the extremely thorough records for the University of California, Riverside, campus. I have taught there all my adult life, and seen most the bird species that have shown up, but many of them were seen only on campus as strays from far away. I have seen such oddities as Pine Warbler and Ovenbird, but will confine the following account to birds common enough to have a dynamic history of interest to conservationists.

I am grateful to John Green and David Rankin for constant help in all things bird-related. The species order below follows the convenient Sibley guide, 1st edn. 2000, where the scientific names can easily be found.

            I have lived in northeast Riverside or just across the mountains in Moreno Valley since 1966, keeping records of birds observed. I have lived in southern California since 1955, first birding Riverside County in 1956, so have a sense of earlier changes. The bird life has changed dramatically during that time. Many birds have gotten rare, others common. Birds of the old agricultural environment have disappeared. Others, urban in association, have appeared and become established. Some have appeared and then gone.

            The droughts of the 21st century have had major effects. The great drought of 2019-2022 led to several sharp declines, some not evident until the wet year of 2023. This coincided with a huge epidemic of bird flu that caused enormous die-offs in the eastern and central United States; how much the flu had to do with decline in Riverside remains obscure. Very few birds showed up to breed, compared to previous years. The most obvious damage was to the “annual crop” species like goldfinches, which crashed. Longer-lived birds like American Kestrels did better, but most birds showed a sharp decline relative to 2019. Two wet years in a row—2023 and 2024—stabilized many birds, but others, including House Finches, goldfinches, Song Sparrows, and other small common species, continue to be dramatically down relative to 2019.

            Overall, the pattern fits with the models of Victor Cazalis (2022), who has shown on the basis of worldwide studies (largely of tropical forest environments) that the first to go are “habitat-specialist, sensitive, endemic, and threatened” species; these are “losers.” Then “winners” take over: “non-specialist, large-range, human-tolerant, anthropophilic, and non-native” (Cazalis 2022, abstract). Then the winners begin to give way, as disturbance increases, until only the most anthropophilic (human-associated) are left. Species richness of the area can increase at first, then usually decreases, though other patterns exist. In Riverside, long before I came, major predators were gone, and open-country and wetlands birds were decreasing. I have seen the agricultural landscape largely replaced by city, except for the University of California research fields.

The major factor in decline is the loss of brush-loving birds, due to fire and drought and the consequent replacement of native sage scrub and chaparral by weedy annuals. Most of the hills in our area have now become grassfields. This has led to near-disappearance as breeding birds of the Lazuli Bunting and Black-chinned Sparrow, decline in such species as Costa’s Hummingbird, Wrentit and California Thrasher, and lesser declines in birds that can adjust to human-planted shrubbery such as Bewick’s Wrens and Spotted Towhees. On the other hand, the Rufous-crowned Sparrow, which actually prefers a brush-grass mix, stayed almost as common as ever until donkeys became so common that the sparrows cannot nest undisturbed. The Say’s Phoebe has increased along with the open hill grasslands.

            Next most important are suburbanization, eliminating open-country and agricultural species; pesticides, largely by eliminating food; and the general slow decline caused by night lighting, tall buildings, and other factors that endanger migrants. A deadly toll of pervasive poisons, cats, cars, polluted air, and human-vectored epidemics makes suburbs as hostile an environment for birds as all but the harshest deserts.

Disease was certainly a major factor in the early days of the West Nile virus in the 2000s, but populations seem to have stabilized now. Other mysterious declines seem so rapid and large that they are most reasonably explained as the result of disease, but no data exists (see Spotted Dove and Brewer’s Blackbird below).

            One other factor in decline was the Brown-headed Cowbird, which lays its eggs in the nests of smaller species. The young cowbird outcompetes the smaller nestlings, and they usually starve. Small cowbird flocks routinely flew through riparian areas in spring, searching for nests. A female lays many eggs and rarely misses a nest. This led to the decline of several species and the complete extirpation from our area of several, including Willow Flycatcher, Swainson’s Thrush, Warbling Vireo, and Purple Finch. All the small riparian birds have been affected. Eventually the cowbirds too disappeared, partly for lack of victims, but of the birds they parasitized, few have even begun to recover.

            The increases are all due to expansion of suburbs, providing new habitat for birds that like such environments. There is one exception: Say’s Phoebe, formerly rare, has become one of the commonest birds. Burning of the native brush created the short-grass habitat preferred by the phoebe.

            Some interesting contrasts would seem to demand more research. Evergreen forest warblers, formerly abundant migrants, are almost gone, while other warblers continue without so much decline; this certainly has something to do with logging of their nesting areas, but the decline is so great that there must be more to it. The cliff swallow, formerly the commonest swallow, has become one of the rarest. Some flycatchers increase while others die out.

Caused by factors outside our area are the declines in migrants, especially warblers. The reasons for this are multifarious and not always clear. General decline of insect life, as the world gets saturated with pesticides, is probably the major one; it is the insect-eating birds that have declined most. Northerly species may simply be staying farther north (American Robin being a clear case), but the neotropical migrants are simply gone. The declines in some species, such as Townsend’s Warbler and Olive-sided Flycatcher, are horrific throughout their entire range, not just California. Clearcutting of breeding habitat and wintering habitat has been taking place and must be involved. Insecticides on the wintering grounds are also a probable factor.

An extremely disturbing change, since it has strong implications for human health and survival as well as for wildlife, is the collapse of the large-insect-eating guild: Poorwills, Western Kingbirds, Ash-throated Flycatchers, Loggerhead Shrikes, Western Meadowlarks, etc. Another guild collapse, involving far more individuals though without (so far) eliminating whole species, involves the aerial foragers. The Cliff Swallow has declined from thousands to ones and twos in our area. All other aerial foragers have declined sharply.

The major cause of these declines is the collapse of insect populations. It is really rare to see a butterfly (especially anything other than the Cabbage White, Pieris rapae complex) in the Box Springs Mountains, where they used to swarm and occasionally go through migrations or outbreaks of thousands. Grasshoppers are uncommon where they used to swarm. Flies and mosquitoes are no longer the maddening, insufferable problem they were. One indication of the level of decline is the lack of need to clean one’s windshield; once one had to clean one’s windshield every time one filled the gas tank. Now there are rarely any “bug spots.”  Another indication is the lack of fauna at the porch light in the evening. In the 1960s, the amazing quantity and variety of insects attracted to lights was breathtaking—the weirdest forms would turn up. Almost everything in a basic insect guidebook was there to see. Now there is almost nothing. The decline in insects is worldwide (see series of articles in Nature for 11 April 2024). It results from heavy pesticide use, habitat destruction, and climate change.

Obviously, with no insects, insectivorous birds will die out. Currently, only the phoebes, with their almost supernatural ability to see, chase, and capture the tiniest gnats, flourish and thrive. Cassin’s Kingbird hangs on by falling back on berries when necessary; apparently the Western Kingbird does not do that.

Among migrants, we have few shorebirds and no sea ducks, but it is worth noting the horrific decline of these species worldwide. Southern California’s shores and surf are empty.

A happier reason for decline is environmental sanitation. Cleanup of dead animals, closing of garbage dumps, and dramatic reduction in human littering has led to an extreme decline in Turkey Vulture numbers (they no longer breed anywhere near here) and a sharp decline in gulls, Rock Dove (Pigeon), Starling, House Sparrow, Brewer’s Blackbird, and possibly other species in our area.

Another happy effect of change is that the decline of large-scale stock farming has led to a reduction Brown-headed Cowbirds.

Conversely, suburban birds do well. Many are increasing along with suburbs. Black Phoebes, Mockingbirds, Hooded Orioles, and some other species are far commoner than they once were. (Unfortunately, this has apparently peaked; Black Phoebes and Hooded Orioles are down relative to 2019.) Within the last 50 years, Band-tailed Pigeons, Acorn Woodpeckers, and, very recently, Allen’s Hummingbirds and the nonnative Collared Dove and Nutmeg Manakin have colonized the area.

The Habitat

            The area consists of uplands formed of granodiorite (locally grading into tonalite), emplaced around 90-110 million years ago, deep below the earth’s surface. It is cut by many “veins” (dykes and sills) made up of quartz, feldspar, and other minerals that cooled slowly and filled in cracks in the granodiorite. The major ones often show prospectors’ diggings, vain attempts to find gold at the rock contacts. Darker spots indicate lumps of much older schist partially absorbed by the granodiorite under conditions of enormous heat and pressure miles below the earth’s surface.

            The whole area has been uplifted by tectonic action, which still goes on, with small earthquakes being a familiar feature of local life. The area is thus cut by hundreds of faults, large and small. The larger ones define the major slopes, including the spectacular west scarp face of the Box Springs Mountains.

            They also determine the major lines of drainage. Several large permanent springs and a greater number of temporary ones (flowing after heavy rain) provide water. Two Trees Canyon provides the major westward drainage of the Box Springs Mountains, and has a large permanent spring and several small transient ones. The well-named Big Spring also feeds into it. The name “Box Springs” derives from a spring complex at the southwest corner of the range, boxed by the railroad in the 19th century to prevent cattle intrusion; it supports another extensive riparian strip of woodland. Sycamore Canyon, a very large and deep canyon, drains the western part of Moreno Valley, and is thus a large permanent stream. It is joined by many small streams, some permanent, many within the park. South of Sycamore Canyon Park, across Alessandro, the ammunition storage facility of March Base comprised a square mile of fenced land surrounded by open space. This protected grassland supports the only meadowlarks and Western Kingbirds left in our area. An ecological corridor east of it, between Alessandro and Van Buren, includes several stringers of riparian vegetation along transient creeks. This is extremely rich and lush habitat, a lifeline for riparian species. Tragically, the March Base facility was sold by the government to a warehouse construction company, with the result that the wildlife there (which includes jackrabbits and Long-tailed Weasels) is doomed. One hopes the ecological strip can be protected.

            The natural vegetation of the area is now almost entirely eliminated by fire. It was largely coastal sage scrub, dominated on sunny slopes by brittlebush (Encelia farinosa), on shady ones by buckwheats (Eriogonum spp., mostly fasciculatum), black sage (Salvia apiana), white sage (Salvia apiana), and California coast sagebrush (Artemisia californica). Chaparral covered the Box Springs Mountains slopes above 2500’ as well as the more sheltered slopes of Sycamore Canyon. It was basically chamise (Adenostoma fasciculatum) and mountain lilac (Ceanothus crassifolius) with many other species including sumacs, currants, brush cherry (Prunus ilicifolia), and other species. Buckwheats and deerweed (Acmispon glauca) were the main successional plants. A distinctive habitat covered the rolling mesa area of Sycamore Canyon Park: scattered California junipers living in open sage scrub. Wet canyons support a dense riparian flora of California sycamore (Platanus racemosa), willows (largely Pacific Willow, Salix lasiolepis), cottonwood (Populus Fremontii), and rarely other species.

Dry and seasonal canyons and moist spots such as seeps and rockfoot areas were usually dominated by Mexican elderberry (Sambucus mexicana—for now; it gets reclassified every couple of years), whose berries are an essential food for many birds. Sumacs (Malosma laurina, Rhus glabra), penstemon species, monkeyflowers (Diplacus spp.), and other small bushes also occupy these water-concentrating rock formations.

The margins of the riparian strips are marked by dense stands of mulefat (Baccharis pilularis), poison oak (Toxicodendron diversifolium), threeleaf currant (Rhus trilobata), and much less often some other species. In one place in Sycamore Canyon, a salt meadow has developed, bringing saltbushes (Atriplex spp.), saltgrass (Distichlis spicata), and other saline species to the area. The canyon also has rare stands of yerba mansa (Anemopsis californica) and Indian hemp (Apocynum cannibinum), the latter quite likely introduced by Native Californians in pre-settlement times.

            Fire has eliminated or greatly degraded almost all the chaparral and coastal sage scrub, and every year large new areas burn over. Once, the natives regrew, but now introduced weeds choke out the shoots and steadily increasing drought and heat makes renewal impossible. Also, nitrogen from fossil fuel combustion has fertilized the area, benefiting the grasses and mustards and losing the natives their former advantage of being able to thrive on low-N soils. The burned areas have been taken over by various introduced weedy grasses, mustards, and small flowers such as filaree (Erodium, largely cicutarium) and stinknet (a new invader, Oncosiphon pilulifera).

Some native annuals persist, notably fiddlenecks (Amsinckia intermedia) and tarweeds (Deinandra spp.), but drought has reduced most annuals to the vanishing point, though there was a spectacular showing of poppies and Phacelia spp. in 2019. The riparian strips are preserved from most fire by moisture, but invaded by fan palms (Washingtonia filifera and W. robusta), which at least are native to Riverside County (the former) and the wider California floral world (robusta, common not far south of the US border). More serious invaders are castor bean (Ricinus communis, a major pest), giant reed (Arundo donax), and other species. Even California walnut (Juglans californica) occurs in Sycamore Canyon.  Fortunately, most of the riparian areas are still in good shape, unlike the scrublands.

            The suburbs and much of UCR campus are covered by introduced ornamental trees, shrubs, lawns, and flowers, of very wide variety. Many are beneficial to wildlife, producing nector-rich flowers or good fruits, or providing nesting habitat and protective cover. The suburbs thus abound with life—but only the few organisms that can tolerate traffic, dense cat populations, and enormous doses of deadly poisons. Saturating one’s property with many times the legal safe doses of toxic chemicals is a way of life. When buying our current home, we found a shed in the back absolutely filled with deadly poisons for every imaginable organism from mammals to molds. We promptly took all to the county toxic waste disposal, and then tore down the shed and took all its woodwork there too—the whole shed was drenched in poison. The boards showed the characteristic slits that mark injection of “protective” chemicals. We could easily have murdered a large number of people with what was in that shed. This is all too typical of surburban life. It impacts birds largely through eliminating insects and other invertebrates, but rodent poisons also get into the owl and hawk populations, probably causing the recent reduction of barn owls in the city.

Other wildlife

            Coyotes, raccoons, opossums (introduced from the US South in historic times), gray foxes, and smaller fauna abound, all happily entering the suburbs to feed. Striped skunks moved in and completely replaced spotted skunks during the 1970s.

            Two rare mammals of conservation concern occur. The Bryant’s woodrat (or pack rat; Neotoma bryanti) has recently been split from the desert woodrat. It is local to southern California, and has been reduced to rarity by fire, drought, and suburbanization. Formerly abundant in the area, it is now almost gone. The Stephens’ kangaroo rat (Dipodomys stephensi) is a rare, local species of level areas, largely in western Riverside County. It still abounds in the more level parts of Sycamore Canyon Park and the open areas around the March Base ammunition dump (as well as in March Base itself).

            Many lizards and snakes occur, including the rare and declining Orange-throated Whiptail (Aspidoscelis hyperythrus). Vast numbers of insects and other invertebrates, including many native bees, once occurred, but now not only are most insects gone, but many of the survivors are nonnative.


Canada Goose. Common migrant overhead, mostly Nov.-Dec. and Feb. Has become a common breeding bird in Fairmount Park.

Mallard Duck. Occasional flyover. A few nest on ponds not far from mountain foot, e.g. UCR Agricultural Operations reservoirs, occasionally golf courses, and probably the Eastern Municipal Water District waterworks adjacent to Sycamore Canyon Park. More nest in Fairmount Park, where they are heavily mixed with domestic ducks. 

Most duck species are observed in winter on the Agricultural Operations ponds and the golf course ponds. Common ones include Ring-necked Duck, Ruddy Duck, and Hooded Merganser (most years).

Mountain Quail. Very rare wanderer to area. Noted after winter storms in the Box Springs Mountains.

California Quail. Abundant till the droughts of 2001-2, 2006-7, and 2019-22; now much less so, but still common in riparian and chaparral areas. Completely disappeared from lower Two Trees Canyon in 2015, because of a combination of drought and an exceptionally active Cooper’s Hawk nest that raised two young. Recovered substantially after wet years of 2018-19, then decreased again with drought. Survives very locally in suburbs, but does not do well.

Ring-necked Pheasant. Formerly fairly common in the orange groves of the area, rarely appearing around the foot of the Box Springs range. Eliminating the groves has eliminated this bird. It was completely gone before 1990.

Double-crested Cormorant. Erratic but sometimes common migrant; large flocks often fly overhead. As with the other waterbirds, this species is common and regular at Perris Reservoir and the San Jacinto Wildlife Area, and the very commonly used migration routes from these to the coast or over Cajon Pass takes these birds directly over the Box Springs Mountains area. Flocks of water birds, and also migrant hawks, often avoid flying over mountains by flying over Pigeon Pass (on the east side of the Box Springs), or over Box Springs Pass and then over UCR.

White Pelican. Uncommon migrant, but flocks sometimes move northwest from the reservoirs and Salton Sea, flying over Moreno Valley and Pigeon Pass. Much less common than formerly.

Great Blue Heron.  Uncommon migrant and drop-in, usually at ponds, sometimes flying over or in fields. Common at ponds and lakes around Riverside.

Great Egret. Fairly common migrant or year-round visitors at Riverside lakes and ponds.

Snowy Egret and Green Heron show up more rarely.

Black-crowned Night Heron. Migrant. Now very rare, formerly much more common.

Turkey Vulture.  Uncommon migrant. Much less common than formerly. Migrant numbers steadily decline. Used to breed in Riverside area; declined with sanitation, disappearing as breeder with loss of garbage and rapid clean-up of dead animals.

Osprey. Rare migrant.

White-tailed Kite. Rare in the early 20th century, but established in the Santa Ana River bottom. Became steadily commoner, peaking in the 1970s, when it was a common bird. Steady decline since, and now almost completely gone; very rarely seen. The theory in the 1970s was that new suburb construction chased lots of mice out of their holes, and then final suburbanization eliminated open habitat without chasing any more mice.

Bald Eagle.  Rare migrant, mostly February. Winters at Lake Mathews nearby.

Northern Harrier. Rare migrant, very rare wintering bird; formerly common migrant and fairly common winterer. This bird has declined dramatically everywhere in its worldwide range.

Sharp-shinned Hawk. Common, migration and winter.

Cooper’s Hawk   Common resident. Pairs breed every year in Two Trees Canyon, Sycamore Canyon, and the ecological strip south of the latter. Others breed elsewhere in the city. This bird was very rare in the mid-20th century; DDT and probably other factors had almost eliminated it. With banning of DDT, it slowly began to increase, and is now very common here, with consequent devastation of easy-to-catch prey species. Cooper’s Hawks love pigeons, which are big, meaty, fairly easy to catch, and presumably as tasty to hawks as to humans, so where Cooper’s go the pigeons and doves thin out.

Red-shouldered Hawk. Always (since 1950s at least) a substantial and increasing breeding population in Riverside city, until 2023. Only rarely forages outside the suburbs, but has nested near Two Trees Canyon mouth and routinely forages up to the western foot of the mountains. It has spread with suburbs, where it enthusiastically catches rats and other animals. Unfortunately, some decline in 2023 coincided with a savage bird flu epidemic in the US and with the increased use of extremely strong rat poisons. Since the Red-shoulder feeds around houses, it is much more vulnerable than the Redtail, which hunts in open country where poisons are not usually spread. Some recovery in 2024, but still less common than formerly.

Swainson’s Hawk. Very rare migrant, mostly spring. Formerly commoner; appears to be steadily declining as local migrant.

Red-tailed Hawk. Most birds of prey are declining, but the redtail seems to increase slowly but steadily. Hunts for rats and ground squirrels along freeways and seeks out burns to hunt mammals that cannot find much cover. A dramatic situation was created by a major fire in Two Trees Canyon around 1988; the mammals had no cover and up to 8 red-tails hunted constantly over the burn all winter. Ground squirrels never recovered in the area. Breeds wherever there are tall groves. The Two Trees Canyon pair is particularly site-faithful, nesting every year in the central part of the riparian strip. Pairs in Sycamore Canyon and elsewhere are similarly faithful. The mercifully preserved ecological strip south of Sycamore Canyon Park (across Alessandro) has several pairs. The total population of the area is large.

Ferruginous Hawk. Formerly uncommon but regular migrant and rare winter in Pigeon Pass and south from there; now extremely rare. Never seen by me on the Riverside slope of the mountains until an immature appeared in upper Two Trees Canyon in fall 2017 and went on to spend the winter. None seen since.

Golden Eagle   Rare wanderer. Formerly much more common, breeding not far away (in Colton and all the higher mountain ranges) and common in winter. By 1970 it was gone as a breeding bird from most areas, and rare as a winterer. A pair nested on the Box Springs Mountains in 1979 and successfully raised one young, a female. Wind farms in the San Gorgonio Pass have killed many golden eagles, contributing to decline.

American Kestrel. Steady decline, as in most of the US, but not so bad here as in many (or most) areas. Until recently, a fairly common resident. However, following the drought of 2019-22, many pairs failed to breed in 2023. Considerable recovery in 2024.

Merlin. Very rare migrant. (Winters some years at UCR.)

Peregrine Falcon. Has occurred on UCR campus and was briefly regular on tall buildings in downtown Riverside in early 2010s.

Prairie Falcon. Rare migrant; once many migrants on the east side of the Box Springs and in the Pigeon Pass area, including the headwaters of Two Trees Canyon. One spent late fall and early winter in and near southern Sycamore Canyon Park in 2023-4.

Virginia Rail. A marsh formed at the mouth of Two Trees Canyon in a wet spring (1999) and a pair of these rails actually nested there (information from John Green).

American Coot. Common in winter on ponds and lakes throughout Riverside, but not as common as formerly.

Killdeer. Rare migrant and winterer, heard calling overhead on rainy nights. May still breed in UCR Agricultural Operations. Bred until recently in the large protected pond areas of the Eastern Municipal Water District. Steady rapid decrease during my entire time in California, especially with draining of wetlands in the mid-20th century. This formerly extremely abundant bird has shared the fate of many shorebirds. It has decreased at least 95% in our area as winterer.

Solitary Sandpiper.  I try to avoid one-shot sightings, but this one is too weird to miss. One spent several days, Sept. 16-20, 2014, at a transient rainpool left by rains from Hurricane Norbert, at the foot of the Box Springs Mountains, where the railroad blocked a wash channel.

Bonaparte’s Gull. Rare migrant (common where lakes and ponds occur, nearby).

Ring-billed Gull. Abundant in the old days. Steady rapid decline (even more dramatic in Los Angeles) after about 1990. This tracks the rise of recycling and better sanitation and garbage pickup, and probably also the greater charms of Lake Perris luring them away from our (cleaner) area. Closing the landfill north of the Box Springs Mountains greatly reduced gull numbers in our area.

California Gull. As for Ring-billed.

Rock Pigeon (Rock Dove). Extremely common 50 years ago, now almost extirpated from this entire area except for Riverside downtown, because of environmental sanitation and the Cooper’s Hawk population rebound. The very active Cooper’s Hawk nests since 2000 seem to have finally exterminated it from the entire eastern part of our area; Rock Doves occur only casually in the northeast corner of the city. They remain common in downtown Riverside, though Peregrine Falcons occasionally hunt them there.

Band-tailed Pigeon. Uncommon winterer as of 1966. The extreme wet year of 1968-69 drove huge flocks out of the mountains due to heavy snow, and kept them out. Many started breeding in oaks all over southern California, including Riverside suburbs and UCR campus. They stayed, and are still here. Populations rapidly climbed, and one could see flocks of 50 or more in the 1990s. Then Cooper’s Hawk populations recovered, and the band-tails declined in lockstep with the Cooper’s increase. Band-tails are declining in much of their range, so this phenomenon may be widespread. The band-tails and Cooper’s have now apparently reached an accommodation, with band-tails still found in every part of Riverside that has many large live oak trees. Combination of drought and very active Cooper’s hawk breeding in 2013 till present lowered numbers somewhat, and they have stayed down. Now that Rock Doves are essentially gone, the pressure on Band-tails is greater than ever, and they will probably not survive. Band-tails flock to the Box Springs Mountains in large numbers during elderberry season in early summer, with flocks of dozens (formerly) and at least 5-10 (now) often rising from elderberry bushes. The populations in the higher mountain ranges nearby are declining, partly due to poaching (information from Norm Lopez). Sharp decline in 2023-4, possibly due to the bird flu epidemic.

Eurasian Collared Dove. This introduced European bird spread through North America from the 1930s onward, appearing in our area by the early 21st century. Began to show up rarely but regularly by 2010. Now a regular but quite uncommon resident, though it is now common in much of the southwestern US. Our Cooper’s Hawks may be, once again, responsible for keeping it uncommon.

Spotted Dove. Introduced from south China to Los Angeles around 1890-1900, this species spread rapidly and steadily. It was extremely common in Riverside by the 1960s, its loud coo being one of the most characteristic suburban sounds. It suddenly began to decline in the early 1990s and totally disappeared by the early 2000s. It then disappeared from Los Angeles too, and is now extirpated completely from California. Cooper’s Hawk population recovery is almost certainly one part of the story, but the speed and completeness of population collapse, even in Los Angeles where Cooper’s Hawks are rare, implies a disease epidemic of some sort.

Common Ground Dove. Expanded from the deserts into the Riverside area with the expanding orange groves, and contracted as the groves did. Formerly not uncommon around groves, including the lower fringes of the Box Springs range, but gone by about 1980.

Mourning Dove. Much commoner when barley was farmed in Moreno Valley and when north Riverside was mostly orange groves. Part of the reason is probably the recovery of the Cooper’s Hawk population. However, this hardy survivor has adjusted, and remains one of the commonest birds in the area. No recent decline noted.

Parrots. Various escaped cage birds show up now and then. Species seen in the suburbs include Lilac-crowned Parrot, Cockatiel, Budgerigar, and Canary-winged Parakeet. Others will surely appear.

Greater Roadrunner. Formerly commoner, but still fairly common in all more or less wild areas, with about one pair per canyon. Regularly seen in suburbs.

Barn Owl. Remained common till about 2010, after which decline, very notable since 2014. The decline seems to track decline in human-commensal mammals (rats, etc.) due to tough plastic garbage bins and reduction in littering, and probably also to stronger rodenticides; the state has now banned the strongest rodenticide because of devastating effect on wildlife. Still fairly frequent in suburban areas, but sharp decline since 2022-3, probably due at least in part to continuing use of extremely strong rodenticides.

Flammulated Owl. One record near mouth of Two Trees Canyon, Sept. 1992, too unusual to ignore.

Western Screech Owl. Still not uncommon in suburban areas with large oak trees. Rarely observed, because it calls primarily in the wee hours of the late night, but sleepless nights reveal it was and is regular everywhere I have lived in Riverside.

Great Horned Owl. This powerful predator maintains several nesting pairs in the Box Springs Mountains, Sycamore Canyon, UCR campus, and suburbs—it is a common bird for a predator. It is probably a main reason for cat disappearances that get blamed on “coyotes.”  A pair has always lived and nested in Two Trees Canyon. Pairs occur in every major canyon, and in many old and large suburban trees.

Burrowing Owl. Rare migrant. Formerly common breeder in the interior valleys, even in quite urban areas around Riverside. Now eliminated, probably from all of western Riverside County, by suburbanization. I saw it as a breeding bird in Norco, in 1956. It is long gone.

Spotted Owl. One spent the first part of winter in Two Trees Canyon, first noticed 1-26-1988 (but surely there earlier) to 2-28-1988. Frequently photographed.

Long-eared Owl. Rare migrant. Regular, even common (at least formerly), in winter in old orchards in the San Jacinto Wildlife Area, but declining everywhere (as it is throughout North America). Formerly nested in riparian areas of the Inland Empire (Dawson 1923), likely including the Santa Ana River wetlands; nested at Morongo Reserve till fairly recently. Now altogether gone as a breeding bird in southern California.

Lesser Nighthawk. Said to have been common in open valley areas in the old days; now gone as a breeding bird from the Inland Empire. Occasionally seen in migration.

Common (Booming) Nighthawk. Rare wanderer from San Bernardino Mountains, where it breeds (but very much less commonly than formerly). Seen over Moreno Valley and Box Springs range, but not for many years.

Common Poorwill. Rare but regular migrant; slopes of the hills, e.g. in Two Trees Canyon. Much less common than before, when probably summer resident.

Vaux’s Swift. Uncommon spring migrant. Formerly much more common. Usually seen only when heavy cloud cover forces it to fly low. Steady decline over decades, throughout its range.

White-throated Swift. Much less common than formerly. Still fairly common migrant into the 2000s, but now definitely uncommon everywhere. Probably was once a fairly regular breeder in rockier areas. Formerly nested under highway bridges near Box Springs (the springs themselves) and may occasionally still. Rare nester elsewhere.

Black-chinned Hummingbird. This aggressive hummingbird succeeded well until the droughts after 2012. Growth of planted and wild sycamores led to an increase, especially where planted sycamores were near households with hummingbird feeders. Peak around 2011-2012; fewer in 2013; final, total collapse in 2016, when only migrants were observed in the canyon and in most of northeast Riverside. A displaying male in May 2018 indicated there was at least one pair in the lower canyon that year. It has now apparently completely deserted the whole area for breeding. Over the state it has been declining at 1-2% per year (English et al. 2022).

Anna’s Hummingbird. Always common resident. Now commoner than before, spreading with suburbs and feeders. Largest of hummers, it dominates the feeders and also most flowers.

Costa’s Hummingbird. Formerly abundant. Considerably less common now, because fire has turned the flowering bush areas into cheat grass and because drought has reduced the native flowers even more since 2001. Still found, but in steadily shrinking numbers, in the Box Springs wherever there are reliable summer flowers. Costa’s has taken to civilization, but Anna’s and Allen’s beat it out from feeders. It survives especially where humans have created desertlike habitat. Its adaptation to suburbs has led to its meeting the Anna’s and hybridizing; hybrids were apparently extremely rare before 1970 but are not so rare now.

Rufous Hummingbird. Far less common than formerly. Was a very common spring and late summer migrant in the 1960s. Now rare. Still a common summer migrant (July-August) around red flowers in the hills. There is a massive decline rangewide, probably from pesticides etc. on the wintering grounds. Statewide, Rufous/Allen’s hummingbirds declined at 7% per year from 2009 to 2019, indicating a horrific population crash, not fully explained (English et al. 2022).

Allen’s Hummingbird. Dramatic invader. Formerly in southern California (at least south and east of Ventura) confined to Channel Islands and Palos Verdes Peninsula. Spread in recent years, reaching Riverside at some undetermined point possibly in the 1990; first known nesting in 2008. Now common resident of the city, wherever there are many red flowers. Does not occur in wild areas, except briefly as a migrant; strictly a yard and garden bird. Its rapid spread and success in southern California cities, starting from a small population in Palos Verdes Hills (probably augmented from other sources), contrasts dramatically with the decline of most species, and of this species in particular in much of its range.

Calliope Hummingbird. Very rare migrant.

Belted Kingfisher. Uncommon migrant and winter visitor at ponds.

Acorn Woodpecker. Expanding as a suburban bird, as planted oaks grow and flourish. This bird did not occur in the area as a breeder before the late 1960s. There were no oaks here in the old days. By the late 1960s it had colonized areas of the city that had old (human-planted) live oak trees, and it has steadily increased in range and numbers since. Strictly a suburban bird, it almost never appears in the wild areas. Some decline appears to have followed the serious drought of 2020-22; some stabilization since.

Red-breasted Sapsucker. Rare, winter. Rarer than formerly.

Downy Woodpecker. Formerly common in winter, possibly breeding in Santa Ana River bottoms. Now essentially gone, though wanderers may occasionally appear.

Hairy Woodpecker. Rare wanderer. One appeared in fall 2017 and stayed through the winter in Two Trees Canyon.

Nuttall’s Woodpecker. Common resident; no change, perhaps even some increase with growth of trees. A common suburban bird, occurring also in all riparian areas. Readily comes to feeders, thus augmenting its success.

Northern Flicker. Uncommon winter visitor. Formerly common resident, no change noted from 1966 to 2011—but in the spring of 2011 all the flickers in the area, from Two Trees Canyon to the whole of Riverside city, disappeared, apparently simultaneously. They are now uncommon winter visitors. Drought and decline in ant numbers seem likely causes.

Olive-sided Flycatcher. Formerly uncommon migrant. Now very rare. The decline of this bird from one of the commonest in North America 40 years ago to extreme rarity now has been very striking. Factors identified in the literature include changes in forest composition that make its nests more findable to predators, and cultivation on its very limited wintering grounds in South America. There is also the tremendous decline of large insects everywhere, and the abundance of pesticides on the bird’s migration routes as well as its wintering area. Possibly it is given to population fluctuations; it was not scientifically described until 1831, and Audubon considered it extremely rare. Yet in the 20th century it was abundant in evergreen forests throughout North America.

Western Wood Pewee. Formerly very common migrant, now uncommon. Much less common than formerly.

Willow Flycatcher. Uncommon migrant. Formerly an extremely common nesting bird in riparian areas of southern California (Dawson 1923), now completely extirpated except for tiny, local relict populations (not in our area). Cowbirds appear to be the cause, along with destruction of much of the riparian woodlands.

Hammond’s Flycatcher. Rare to uncommon migrant. Empidonax flycatchers are notoriously hard to tell apart. All are seen locally. Pacific-slope is the most common and regular; Hammond’s may be next, or Willow. Definite decline in Empidonax flycatchers of all types in recent decades.

Gray Flycatcher. Rare migrant and very rare winter bird.

Dusky Flycatcher. Rare migrant, much rarer than formerly.

Pacific-slope Flycatcher. Fairly common migrant; has bred in Two Trees Canyon’s densest riparian area. No longer breeds and is much less common than once.

Black Phoebe. Abundant resident. Expanding steadily with suburbanization and sprinklers. Usually stays in the suburbs, but appears anywhere that has any water at all, natural or piped. Population leveled off and has declined recently (since 2020, sharply since 2022).

Say’s Phoebe. Common, winter; breeds in higher dry areas nearby, including the Box Springs Mountains (now from top to bottom). Has actually increased, with conversion of brush to grass over most of the Box Springs Mountains and Sycamore Canyon Park.

This is the only bird that has clearly increased for reasons other than suburbanization. It has taken over the vast areas that were formerly coastal sage scrub but are now weedy grassland. Doubtfully bred in the area as of the 1950s, but now is one of the commonest breeding birds of the open areas, and has even invaded suburbs where there are open patches to forage. Its astonishing ability on the wing, which give it the Indigenous name of “wind’s grandchild” in Arizona, allows it to engage in long chases of even tiny prey. Population has leveled off since 2020.

Ash-throated Flycatcher. Rapidly decreasing migrant, perhaps still rare summer breeder in the hills. Formerly common migrant and breeding bird. Replacement of chaparral and coastal sage scrub with cheat grass has cost it most of its breeding habitat here. However, most of its habitat in the western US and in Mexico is intact, and the key to its decline is the steady decline in large insects. It is one of the fast-disappearing guild of large-insect-eaters.

Cassin’s Kingbird. This is an interesting story. A few years after the Westerns largely disappeared, the Cassin’s began to expand, presumably to fill the niche. They often hunt from the very same trees the Westerns used. Most if not all the expansion is since 2000. Numbers of both kingbirds leveled off around 2011, with the Cassin’s common but no longer increasing, and the Western rare but hopefully stable. Nests abundantly in suburbs and wild riparian woodland. The extreme droughts of 2015-16 and 2020-22 led to abandonment of some of these nesting points, however. Decrease in 2024.

Western Kingbird. Formerly abundant summer breeding bird in all open grassland and field areas. Now almost gone as a breeder, as it is from almost all of southern California. (Statewide, it survives mostly in places with extensive not-very-disturbed grassland.)  Still fairly common migrant. Survives, or did until recently, as breeder in the wilder parts of Moreno Valley badlands and elsewhere—ironically, occupying the newly created grasslands resulting from replacement of chaparral by cheat grass. A couple of pairs survive and reproduce in the March Air Force Base ammunition storage facility south of Alessandro, where the birds are protected by chain-link fencing and razor wire. Successfully bred in the UCR agricultural fields in 2011 and apparently in 2013, and apparently at head of Two Trees Canyon in 2013. Most interestingly, a family appeared and successfully nested in the trees in the open country at the end of Manfield St. in 2015—the same trees being occupied by a family of Cassin’s. In spite of the high drama inevitable in kingbird families, the two families apparently got along well. Unfortunately, the droughts of 2015-16 and 2020-22 reduced the already-small population.

Loggerhead Shrike. Now rare migrant. The last breeding pair I saw in the area lived at the mouth of Two Trees Canyon. It nested every year, and usually raised young; it disappeared in the early 1990s. The young never seemed to establish themselves. This bird is now almost gone from southern California, as from most of its range. One of the more depressing worldwide events of the last 20-30 years has been the decline of many, if not most, shrikes. (Birding in Hong Kong reveals the same decline in the once-abundant Brown Shrikes that we see in Loggerheads here.) Declines of large insects, loss of grassland, and direct poisoning by insecticides, are causes.

Warbling Vireo. Formerly abundant migrant, now uncommon. This bird used to be an abundant breeding species of riparian forests in southern California. Cowbirds and habitat loss have wiped it out. It now appears completely or almost completely extirpated from southern California.

Bell’s Vireo. Formerly common migrant and summer breeding bird (at least nearby); declined due to nest parasitization by cowbirds. With the decline of cowbirds, this vireo expanded again, becoming common in riparian areas nearby, though so far not in the Box Springs Mountains (except as a rare migrant). However, several breed around Box Springs. Breeds abundantly in Sycamore Canyon Park and the riparian areas south of it across Alessandro Blvd. Supposedly saved in the Santa Ana River bottoms due to volunteers and paid staff systematically going through the willow thickets and throwing cowbird eggs out of vireo nests. Alas, higher-nesting vireos like the Warbling Vireo did not benefit from this.

Plumbeous Vireo. Very rare migrant.

Cassin’s Vireo. Uncommon migrant. Formerly much more numerous, though never really common. This bird has suffered extreme declines in the mountains where it breeds, tracking the rapid rise of cowbird numbers there as well as drought and fire.

Western Scrub-Jay. Some reduction from West Nile in 2010, but now about as common as ever. Largely a suburban bird now; natural habitat is so degraded by fires and cheat grass that the birds have taken to the suburbs. Seems to have shared in the widespread and rather mysterious decline of birds in 2023-4.

American Crow. This bird has taken a terrific beating from West Nile virus. The population declined well over 90% in the first 2 years of the virus (by my counts), and declined further since. However, they are rapidly recovering, and are common again, though nothing like their former abundance. There used to be many thousands breeding in the river bottom. Many streamed over to feed at the now-closed garbage dump between Blue Mountain and Pigeon Pass. Successive waves of West Nile keep knocking them back, however, with a serious outbreak in 2014. It might seem hard to be sorry for a bird that eats so many other birds’ eggs and young, but the highly social crow must be seriously and sadly affected by seeing the death of young and of flockmates.

Northern Raven. Very abundant resident. Increasing, as garbage and roadkills get commoner and competition from crows and vultures disappears. Lives mainly in the wildlands, but forages all over the city, seeking anything live or dead that has high nutrient value.

Horned Lark. Formerly common breeder in wide open fields, at least in Moreno Valley; now gone. Migrant in grassfields of Sycamore Canyon and occasionally UCR fields. Still bred in large numbers in the Eastern Municipal Water District lands until the late 20-teens, but this colony abandoned (a few larks in the area in spring 2022 seem not to have stayed). This tracks a general decline of the species in California, where its habitat is now suburbanized, overgrazed, or used by off-road vehicles and the like.

Purple Martin. Formerly very rare migrant. Not seen in recent years. This bird was always rare in southern California. It has declined steadily for the last 50 years, apparently throughout its range. Starlings out-competing martins for nesting holes have had at least something to do with this, but decline of large insects is clearly a more important factor.

Northern Rough-winged Swallow. Common but erratic migrant; some breed in lower parts of the Box Springs area, especially under freeway overpasses near Box Springs itself. Ironically, this once rarest of local swallows is the least affected by decline, though it too is fading slowly.

Violet-green Swallow. Formerly common migrant, but, as for Tree, much less so than once. Visible decline since drought became serious in 2020, and, as with other birds hard hit by drought, not recovering since. Very few in 2024.

Tree Swallow. Common early migrant, but far less common than even two decades ago. Very rarely seen in spring 2024. May still breed locally, but evidence is scarce.

Cliff Swallow. Major decline. Huge population as of 1966, nesting—among other places—under the cornices of the Citrus Experiment Station buildings (now the Business School) and on the agricultural buildings at UCR. The species has declined throughout California, with habitat loss (especially loss of reliable mud supplies for nest-building) and with loss of aerial insects. Some still nest in UCR’s agricultural fields. In 2014, the birds established a flourishing colony under the freeway bridge over University Avenue, showing that no amount of traffic can discourage them; in 2016 a few still nested there, but then no more. A large colony of barn and cliff swallows persisted in the Eastern Municipal Water District waterworks and nearby March Base ammunition storage facility, a large area with much water that is securely protected, until drought (probably) led to decrease, but some rallying by 2024.

This bird occurred in millions in southern California in the 1960s, with up to 100,000 counted at nesting season at San Juan Capistrano Mission. None has nested there for many years now. The bird was once a major part of the local bird fauna, but is now facing extirpation. No other swallow has declined so much, and indeed the numerical decline of this swallow is the greatest of any species except (probably) the Brewer’s Blackbird. The need for quality mud and probably a need for large colonies (for protection and socializing) are factors.

Barn Swallow. Erratically common migrant. A few (formerly many) pairs breed in the Riverside area and erratically forage over wildlands. The last significant colony, in the EMWD grounds and nearby, is greatly reduced. Formerly abundant.

Mountain Chickadee. Formerly casual, usually after winter storms with heavy snow in the mountains. Now a fairly regular winter bird, especially in the UCR botanic garden but sometimes in pines nearer the mountains. Probably tracking the growth of planted conifers.

Oak Titmouse. Formerly at least occasional, in suburbs and canyons, but very susceptible to West Nile, and thus now rare. Probably gone or nearly so, except as a casual visitor.

Bushtit. Still common everywhere that natural brush or extensive planted shrubbery occurs, but much less common after the extreme droughts of the 2000s, and gone from the vast areas of cheat grass where it abounded when those areas were coastal sage scrub. These birds can fluctuate in numbers dramatically from year to year and even from season to season, depending on conditions, making the level of decline hard to estimate, but it is certainly down at least 90% from the 1960s, largely because of loss of habitat to fire and drought. Visible decline throughout our area after the extreme 2021-2 drought.

Red-breasted Nuthatch. Rare wanderer in migration and winter, (but fairly regular winterer in pines on UCR campus). Irruptive, more common some winters.

White-breasted Nuthatch. Occasional wanderer, turning up in suburban areas.

Brown Creeper. Rare migrant or wanderer.

Rock Wren. Formerly abundant on the Box Springs Mtns. and Sycamore Canyon rocky areas, and indeed anywhere with extensive rocky outcrops. Less common after droughts since 2015. Sharp reduction from 2020 on, with drought, burros, and probably other problems.

Canyon Wren. Common in canyons of the Box Springs Mtns. Also in Sycamore Canyon. Declining, however, apparently tracking drought.

House Wren. Common, summer; slightly less so in winter. In spite of its name, it is confined to wild riparian areas in our area, and any wren seen around houses here is almost certain to be a Bewick’s. Much more common as migrant than as breeder. Apparent decline after 2020.

Bewick’s Wren. Common, but gone from pure-grass areas of the hills. Survives wherever some dense brush exists. Formerly abundant in the chaparral and sage scrub, so replacement of these by grass has meant a major population reduction—at least 90%–in the hills. It has, however, successfully colonized suburbia, and remains one of the commonest birds.

 Cactus Wren. Rare wanderer. A pair set up house in a large cactus garden (owned at the time by Jerry Gordon) at the mouth of Two Trees Canyon in the late 1980s and early 90s and bred, and indeed there was some spread, with records all along the west edge of the range, but the birds disappeared in the early 2000s. Otherwise, very rare visitor.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. Formerly fairly common winterer and migrant, now much less common. Probably bred locally in the old days.

California Gnatcatcher. The species was first described from “Riverside,” and occurred in our area; its nearest current breeding station is in the Gavilan Hills, if it still survives there. There are a few recent reports from the Box Springs Mountains area. My only observation in this area is of one near the end of Blaine St., Nov. 6, 2020.

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet. Common, winter. Possible decline noted; probably, individuals are staying farther north.

Wrentit. Still common, but drastically reduced by burning of hills and replacement of brush by introduced weedy grasses. Survives only where dense brush exists, but at least stable there, especially in poison oak thickets. Always commonest in riparian brush, which has expanded somewhat, but has lost almost all its habitat on the hills.

Western Bluebird. Common, winter. Formerly, usually did not show up till snow closed off mountain feeding areas. Now it appears early and stays late, and since about 2011 it nests (uncommonly) on and near UCR campus and erratically in Sycamore Canyon Park. A lovely addition to our fauna. Probably could not have nested without the recent decline in starling numbers. In the 1960s and 1970s it was eliminated from much of its lowland habitat through starlings pre-empting the tree holes it needs for nesting. Part of the increase may be due to the bluebirds being forced out of the mountains by drought and fires.

Swainson’s Thrush. Formerly common migrant, now uncommon. Largely (though not totally) eliminated as breeding bird from southern California, by riparian habitat decline and by cowbird parasitization of nests.

Hermit Thrush. Fairly common fall migrant and winterer. Less common than formerly.

American Robin. Still common wintering bird. Much less common in winter than it used to be. Global warming is letting them stay farther north. Breeds in the urban areas, though much less often than formerly. Robins, however, apparently did not breed in the lowlands at all until permanent watering, shade trees, and lawns entered the picture. Apparently wintering birds from the mountains or farther north simply decided to stay around. Numbers nesting in Riverside peaked in the 1980s-90s and have recently declined sharply.

Varied Thrush. Formerly extremely rare winter visitor to area. In the winter of 2014-15, hordes of them descended, with up to a dozen a day seen in the Botanic Gardens and one or two in Two Trees Canyon. This was a winter when several northern and eastern species appeared for the first time or in unusual numbers. No reason is apparent for this phenomenal migration. Since then, it is back to rarity.

California Thrasher. Still fairly common wherever natural brush occurs. Fire and subsequent replacement of brush by weedy grasses has reduced the population probably 90%. However, it has stabilized, remaining very common wherever even small patches of natural brush remain.

Sage Thrasher. Formerly rare to fairly frequent migrant, mostly March and April; now almost gone, due to decline of overall numbers as sagebrush disappears from the Great Basin.

Northern Mockingbird. Abundant resident, commoner than ever. This bird is now purely a human commensal in southern California, and increases with suburbia. Commonly observed in the wilder areas, also, foraging up from suburban nesting grounds, often to eat elderberries in the hills.

European Starling. Not here in the 1950s. Showed up mid-60s and common by late 60s. Kept increasing till peak around 1980s, then slow decline. Environmental sanitation seems to be the cause; the bird forages for insects but eats much human food wastes, and may depend on the latter. Now almost gone from the wilder areas. Pairs persist in Riverside city, commoner in denser suburbs near fast-food outlets.

American Pipit. Winter visitor. Much less common than formerly. Decline tracks loss of open fields. Still erratically common in the open grasslands on the higher parts of the Box Springs range, on UCR campus, and in grasslands of Sycamore Canyon Park.

Cedar Waxwing. Common winterer. Very much less common than before. This bird appears to be declining all over the west.

Phainopepla. Common migrant and occasional summer breeder in canyons and washes with elderberries and/or other small-berried bushes. Even manages to breed in suburban small parks.

Orange-crowned Warbler. Common migrant, rare winter. Less common than formerly, but has declined much less than most warblers.

Nashville Warbler. Fairly common migrant, much less so than formerly.

MacGillivray’s Warbler. Fairly common migrant, much less so than formerly.

Common Yellowthroat. Fairly common migrant, rare winter, occasional local breeder. Unlike other warblers, seems to be holding its own.

American Redstart. Very rare migrant.

Yellow Warbler. Formerly abundant migrant, breeding in riparian habitat. Now much less so, but may be recovering somewhat, though numbers seem erratic. Like the Warbling Vireo, this bird has been almost wiped out of southern California by cowbirds and riparian habitat loss. It was back on UCR campus as an apparently successful breeder in 2011 and since. An impressive population expansion led to its being downright common in summer 2014. Drought has thinned it out since, however. Breeds around Box Springs (the actual spring), and in other riparian areas nearby, but not in the riparian strips in the mountain range. Breeds in Sycamore Canyon Park riparian strips and the ecological strip south of it across Alessandro.

Yellow-rumped Warbler. Common migrant and winterer, but was much commoner once. Steady decline from about 1990, becoming a rapid and serious decline after 2010. The Myrtle type was a regular winterer in past years, but is now very rare.

Black-throated Gray Warbler. Now rare migrant. Very much less common than formerly; well over 90% decline, tracking horrific declines of its numbers in its mountain breeding areas. Drought probably has much to do with this, but perhaps insecticides on the wintering grounds are the real problem. Much of its range in California has burned out and become impossible for breeding purposes.

Townsend’s Warbler. Regular migrant, once seasonally common in Two Trees Canyon and UCR campus. Very much less common than formerly; overall decline over 90%. Formerly fairly common winterer in live oaks and similar trees in the suburbs around the Box Springs range and on UCR campus now much less common. The wintering population here is apparently all from the Queen Charlotte Islands, British Columbia. Much of its forest habitat in California has burned out in the last 10 years, greatly reducing breeding.

Hermit Warbler. Rare migrant, formerly much more numerous though never common. This bird depends on old-growth dense forest for breeding, and has lost most of its habitat to logging and forest fires. It is probably vulnerable on the wintering grounds also.

The Black-throated Gray, Townsend’s, and Hermit Warblers represent some of the most extreme declines of any migrants in our area.

Wilson’s Warbler. Formerly common to abundant migrant, now declined but still fairly common. Still, there seem to be fewer every year.

Yellow-breasted Chat. Summer visitor. Breeds at Box Springs (the actual spring). Has tried breeding elsewhere, and at least formerly was common breeder in the Santa Ana River bottoms. Otherwise uncommon migrant.

Western Tanager. Fairly common migrant. Far less common migrant than formerly. It is not clear why this bird has dramatically declined in the last two or three decades. Much of its California range has burned in the last 10 years, and drought has affected all the range. Large flocks were often seen in spring migration; now seeing even one or two birds is rather unusual. This bird nests in the same areas as the Black-headed Grosbeak, has somewhat similar feeding patterns, and was once at least as common, if not more so. The grosbeak has held its numbers, and is thus now much more common than the tanager. This needs explaining.

Black-headed Grosbeak. Common migrant, only slightly less common than formerly.

Blue Grosbeak. Breeds at least occasionally at Box Springs. Breeds regularly and commonly in Sycamore Canyon and nearby riparian strips. Has bred casually at other springs, but drought has probably ended this. Otherwise, rare migrant. This bird nests only in dense willow thickets near open grasslands. Despite cowbirds and suburbanization, it remains a common breeder in that habitat. Some reduction, presumably due to drought, from 2022; dramatic rebound in 2024.

Lazuli Bunting. Common migrant; formerly bred in the higher Box Springs (probably not every year; largely after fires), but drought has eliminated it in recent years. Breeds in ecological refuge strip and March Base ammunition storage facility south of Alessandro.

Indigo Bunting. Rare migrant; I saw one over several days in May 1994, Two Trees Canyon, and have suspected others in other years. Also Sycamore Canyon Park, April 13, 2021.

Green-tailed Towhee. Rare but regular migrant and winterer. Usually in urban areas, very rare in wild ones.

Spotted Towhee. Eliminated from the high parts of campus and from much of the Box Springs Mountains by post-fire replacement of native brush with introduced weedy annuals, with decline around 90% in such areas. Remains common where there still is brush. Uncommon but widespread in suburbs, wherever there are extensive areas of dense shrubbery.

California Towhee. This indestructible bird is commoner than ever. They even survive in areas where introduced weedy annuals have replaced sage scrub and chaparral, as long as there are any bushes at all. They are always the first birds to come back after fires, sometimes returning to their territories before the ground cools. Extremely abundant in the suburbs; few yards are without their pair. One key to its success was revealed when I watched a pair drive a hungry cat away from their nestling. The weight ratios are comparable to those of a human driving off a tyrannosaur.

Rufous-crowned Sparrow. Better able than other species to accommodate to the vegetation change from sage scrub to grass; still common on the hills. Less so than formerly, but nothing like the declines of the Bewick’s Wren, Wrentit, etc. Harder hit in Sycamore Canyon Park (which is more level and more thoroughly burned) than in the Box Springs Mountains. Unfortunately, overgrazing and general environmental damage by burros has eliminated this otherwise hardy, and very attractive, species from most of the Box Springs Mountains and other burro-infested hills.

Bell’s Sparrow. Greatly reduced in number by replacement of sage scrub by annuals, but they hang on wherever brush continues to exist. Gone from Two Trees Canyon and at least some other areas by 2011, but remains common all along the lower pediments of the Box Springs Mountains and in comparable habitats in Sycamore Canyon Park and south of Alessandro, wherever there are sizable tracts of coastal sage scrub surviving. Sage sparrows may occasionally wander here and should be watched for (the desert race of Bell’s is almost indistinguishable; our common one is the easily distinguished coastal race).

Black-throated Sparrow. Very rare migrant or wanderer.

Black-chinned Sparrow. Common migrant; still breeds in the higher parts of the Box Springs range; numbers steadily and greatly reduced by fires and droughts.

Brewer’s Sparrow. Formerly common migrant, mostly in spring; now greatly diminished in numbers.

Chipping Sparrow. Formerly common migrant and occasional winterer; now almost gone.

Grasshopper Sparrow. Formerly erratically and locally common breeder in Moreno Valley but hard to find; now gone from at least the west and central parts of Moreno Valley, because of urbanization. Spring migrant (and presumably fall migrant, but impossible to find unless singing) in grasslands of Sycamore Canyon Park, so presumably at least occasional in other grasslands.

Savannah Sparrow. Very common migrant, fairly common through the winter, in extensive grasslands and open areas, including all open level areas around the Box Springs Mountains, in Sycamore Canyon Park, on UCR campus, and elsewhere. Some reduction in numbers, but one of the least hard hit of our birds.

Vesper Sparrow. Common migrant in grasslands, such as the outwash area of Two Trees Canyon and the Sycamore Canyon Park grasslands. Regular in winter.

Lark Sparrow. Rare migrant; rarer than in previous decades. Formerly common migrant in Moreno Valley, fairly common winter; now much less common. Common breeder in grasslands in and around March Base ammunition storage facility, and possibly still in or near Sycamore Canyon Park, but requires protected ground areas for nesting.

Golden-crowned Sparrow. Common migrant and occasional winterer wherever there is dense brush. Much more often heard than seen.

White-throated Sparrow. Very rare wanderer, migration and winter.

White-crowned Sparrow. Abundant migrant and winterer (Gambel’s). Dark-lored birds, presumably oriantha, occasionally seen late in spring migration and very rarely in winter. No reduction in numbers noted.

Fox Sparrow. Rare migrant and wintering bird. Remains common in local mountains.

Song Sparrow. Abundant everywhere in dense riparian brush. Also extremely successful in suburbs, where any area with dense shrubbery will have its resident one. Probably has increased with suburbanization. Major decline in 2022-3 probably follows on the 2019-22 drought, but may indicate ravages of bird flu or the like, since two wet years have not reversed this decline.

Lincoln’s Sparrow. Uncommon but regular migrant and winterer wherever there is dense riparian brush.

Dark-eyed Junco. Migration and winter. Much less common than formerly. Almost all are the Oregon subspecies, but Slate-colored and Pink-sided have been seen. Less common in nearby mountains, also.

Western Meadowlark. Formerly extremely abundant winterer and frequent breeder, anywhere that was at all open. Conversion of high Box Springs Mtns to grass has brought a sizable wintering population, but even this population is sharply declining. A few sometimes stay around through the summer and may breed. This bird has crashed all over the west, with population declines of over 99% very widely in California. This decline tracks suburbanization, fencerow-to-fencerow cultivation, heavy pesticide use, conversion of native brush and grassland to weedy nonnatives, and heavy stocking rates of cattle. The only places where meadowlarks nest now are the few places with extensive grassland subject to light grazing, or controlled burning, as in the Santa Rosa Plateau reserve, or in protected areas that are open, like the San Jacinto Wildlife Area. A small population persists in the extremely closely guarded March Base ammunition storage facility.

Brown-headed Cowbird. Fairly common, especially in spring. Much less common than formerly, and declining due to trapping and decline of cattle raising, but still too common for the welfare of riparian birds. Its decline correlates with some rebound of breeding populations of Bell’s Vireo, Yellow-breasted Chat, and goldfinches (but then the goldfinches crashed again with drought).

Red-winged Blackbird. Occasional in migration and summer, where there is water. Once a common migrant, now very rare. (Tricolor and Yellow-headed have been seen in the past, but only as stragglers.)

Brewer’s Blackbird. The most spectacular and mysterious decline in our area. In farming days, this bird occurred in flocks of thousands in the area. Now it is totally gone from northeast Riverside. It has declined all over southern California. My observations suggest that foot pox (avian pox) is one reason; many birds on UCR campus were heavily infected. Cleaner farming is another, urban sanitation another, starling competition probably is another. There are no doubt other problems. The bird has been essentially a human commensal for decades; its natural habitat was probably damp areas near water. It early deserted these for farms, and in its heyday it was largely a farm and ranch bird associated with dairies and other farm environments with much water and food. The last population in northeast Riverside hung on by scavenging in the Stater Brothers parking lot north of campus. It faded out by 2020. The species is still a town bird in Los Angeles.

Great-tailed Grackle. This bird invaded San Bernardino and other California communities, becoming abundant at Glen Helen Park and nearby golf courses. However, it stopped increasing by the late 20th century, and has not become established in our part of Riverside. My only observation is April 25, 2022, over the southern part of Sycamore Canyon Park. More apt to occur at Fairmount Park.

Bullock’s Oriole. Always a fairly common migrant, but much less so than formerly due to loss of nesting habitat in California. However, unlike the smaller riparian birds, it is still seen, due to its being rather large for cowbird parasitism (cowbirds prefer smaller birds, and more open nests) and because this oriole has adapted itself to suburbs. Occasionally still breeds not far from our area in open stands of trees in grassland country. Seems to be declining steadily.

Hooded Oriole. Common summer resident in fan palm trees; an obligatory fan palm nester. Thus, probably not native to the area, appearing only with palm plantings. Dawson (1923) considered it much less common than Bullock’s, a situation now reversed. The Hooded faced a decline when starlings moved into the area and took over the palm trees, but it survived and has rallied considerably, as starling population declines. It is now commoner than ever, expanding with suburbs and growth of taller palms. Hummingbird feeders help this oriole. Unfortunately, the urban areas now trim palms excessively, to their major damage and to the cost of the orioles. Some visible reduction in parts of Riverside in 2024 clearly followed extreme palm pruning.

Scott’s Oriole. Very rare migrant and wintering bird. Extreme droughts in the desert have greatly reduced the population of this species in recent years. One noted near foot of Box Springs Mtns., May 6, 2018.

Purple Finch. Formerly common in migration and winter. I recorded it on almost every morning walk in spring through the 1980s. Now mostly gone, probably largely because of cowbird parasitism on its breeding grounds. Still occurs erratically in winter. Greatly reduced in breeding in the surrounding lower mountains where it once was abundant.

House Finch. Became commoner in early and mid 20th century, due to orchards and suburbanization. Some decline recently, especially since 2011. This is probably because of droughts and the slow decline of home and commercial fruit growing, but also because of an eye disease first noted in 1994 that has now swept the continent, affecting house finches. Sharp reduction in 2023, with stabilization but no increase in 2024, almost certainly due to disease, possibly bird flu.

Pine Siskin. Occasional, winter, often after storms in the mountains and in irruption years.

Lawrence Goldfinch. Formerly uncommon but regular in Riverside, common in parts of Moreno Valley; now rare, as it is in most of southern California. The usual combination of factors that devastate riparian birds—cowbirds and habitat destruction—is presumably the cause. This bird’s entire habitat is being urbanized. With cowbird decline, there was considerable recovery. The birds were abundant in 2010 and 2011. However, they declined after that, almost certainly because of drought, and by 2015-16 were rare again, with continued decrease since.

Lesser Goldfinch. Remained abundant till recently; still common, but sharp decline since the droughts since 2001, especially from 2013 on, with real collapse in 2023. Decline tracks the decline of home fruit growing and of orchards, as well as the droughts. Hard to explain the recent crash without postulating an epidemic, perhaps bird flu, in 2023. Stabilization but no increase in 2024.

American Goldfinch. Like other small riparian birds, extreme decline in southern California. Still fairly common wintering bird through the early 2000s, but became increasingly rare. With decline of cowbirds, this bird appeared to be recovering, but then came drought. Population very low in 2013 and even rarer since. One in south Sycamore Canyon Park on April 27, 2021, is the last I have noted locally.

House Sparrow. Not as common as it used to be. Declining widely. This scavenging human commensal has declined steadily with environmental sanitation, but still succeeds by eating bird seed handouts and what crumbs still fall. More rapid decline in the recent droughts.

Nutmeg Manakin. Invasive; a southeast Asian bird propagated by escapes or releases from cages. Common locally, and rather erratically, in suburbs around UCR.

Pin-tailed Whydah (Vidua macroura). Escaped cage birds wander over southern California, and turn up in suburbs here, notably Andulka Park. They do not seem to have a resident population at present.

Major declines of breeding birds:

Turkey Vulture

American Kestrel

Rock Dove

Mourning Dove

Lesser Nighthawk

White-throated Swift

Costa’s Hummingbird

Ash-throated Flycatcher

Tree Swallow (major decline)

Cliff Swallow (extreme decline)

Scrub Jay

American Crow (extreme decline, then some recovery)

Oak Titmouse


Bewick’s Wren




Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

Yellow Warbler

Lazuli Bunting (possibly all gone)

Spotted Towhee

Bell’s Sparrow

Black-chinned Sparrow

Grasshopper Sparrow

Western Meadowlark (extreme decline relative to 1950s)

Brown-headed Cowbird (extreme decline)

Bullock’s Oriole

Lawrence’s Goldfinch

Lesser Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

Most of the neotropical migrants have suffered declines ranging from minor (e.g. Black-headed Grosbeak) to extreme (Olive-sided Flycatcher), and many wintering birds too, including the Townsend’s Warbler.

Totally extirpated as breeders in the immediate area and more widely:

White-tailed Kite (increased, then declined, now apparently completely gone)

Ring-necked Pheasant

Spotted Dove

Common Ground Dove

Burrowing Owl

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Northern Flicker

Loggerhead Shrike

Warbling Vireo

California Gnatcatcher? (early status uncertain)

Brewer’s Blackbird

Significant increases, all stopped or reversed as of 2024:

Cooper’s Hawk

Band-tailed Pigeon (increased, then declined again, but still commoner than formerly)

Anna’s Hummingbird

Allen’s Hummingbird

Acorn Woodpecker

Cassin’s Kingbird

Black Phoebe (recent decline)

Say’s Phoebe

Northern Mockingbird (steady)

House Finch (recently reversed or stabilized)

Nutmeg Manakin (new, introduced species)


Carson, Rachel. 1962. Silent Spring. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Cazalis, Victor. 2022. “Species Richness Response to Human Pressure Hides Important Assemblage Transformations.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States 119:e2107361119.

Dawson, William Leon. 1923. The Birds of California. San Francisco: South Moulton Company.

English, Simon G., et al. 2022. “Demography of Two Species and One Genus of Hummingbirds with Contrasting Population Trends in California, USA.” Journal of Field Ornithology 92:475-484.

Iknayan, Kelly, and Steven R. Beissinger. 2018. “Collapse of a Desert Bird Community over the Past Century Driven by Climate Change.”  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115:8597-8602.

Rosenberg, Kenneth V.; Adriaan M. Dokter; Peter J. Blancher; John R. Sauer; Adam C. Smith; Paul A. Smith; Jessica C. Stanton; Arvind Punjabi; Laura Helft; Michael Parr; Peter P. Marra.  2019. “Decline of the North American Avifauna.”  Science 366:120-124.

Sibley, David Allen. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. New York: Knopf.


Early Ethnobiology: Historical and Personal Notes

Early Ethnobiology: Historical and Personal Notes

E. N. Anderson

University of California, Riverside


To me, the critical moment in ethnobiology was the point at which anthropologists began to specify what words meant in traditional small-scale languages, instead of “translating” words by finding an English or Latin equivalent. Self-conscious use of “native categories” began with Lewis Henry Morgan and Frank Cushing in the 1870s, and won its way slowly against some opposition. The term “ethnobotany” was coined by John Harshbarger in 1895. By the time of John Peabody Harrington, indigenous categories were focal to research, and “ethnozoology” appeared as a term. Harrington had much to do with spreading the idea. I got into the field in 1960, by which time “ethnoscience” had just been added to the mix. My personal experiences at the dawn of that field may be useful to historians of ethnobiology.


            To me, the critical moment in ethnobiology was the point at which anthropologists began to specify what words meant in traditional small-scale languages. The near-universal pattern before had been to use an English or Latin equivalent. Earlier translators of all forms of literature were often quite careless about this. Apparently Mary, the mother of Jesus, became a virgin by mistranslation: the Aramaic for “young woman” was translated early into Greek parthena, “virgin,” and even later Biblical writers followed this. More clear are the mistranslations of Asian writings into western literature in the 18th and 19th centuries. At that point, most of the translators were missionaries, and they cared little about biology or even philosophic concepts. They had been concerned largely with translating Christian concepts into Asian languages. Thus, translating in the reverse direction, 18th and 19th century translators rendered Chinese mei “sour apricot” as “plum,” Japanese tanuki “raccoon dog” as “badger,” and so on. This continues. Chinese qing, the comprehensive term for green, blue, and light gray, is translated with glorious indifference to context into English; I have seen references to a “green fox,” a “blue buffalo,” and so forth. Non-anthropological writers in general cannot seem to understand that many languages lump these colors, and it does not mean that the people could not see the differences in actual hue. Chinese, in fact, has distinctive words for pure green and pure blue, derived from dyestuff names. Such mistranslation extends to philosophy. Missionaries often could not resist pushing their favorite Christian words onto the Chinese. Thus the famous pair of ren and li, literally “humaneness and principle,” appear as “benevolence and righteousness”—good forthright Victorian Christian virtues.

            On the other hand, scholars since the earliest times often worked to find the right words to translate alien concepts. This was perhaps especially true in religion, where exact translations of the Bible were required from earliest times. Even so, countless errors crept in, such as “eagles” for “vultures” in the King James Bible (see Hunn 1979). Islam reduces the problem by holding that the Quran was revealed in 7th century Arabic and must stay that way. Students must learn it in the original, hopefully with good glosses to explain the meaning. Chinese classics are also read and studied in classical Chinese, with commentaries to explain them. Translations into modern vernacular Chinese are a new thing. The characters are the same, but grammar and usage are different, and the classics are in a telegraphic form that would have required unpacking even in their own time. Greek and Latin classic presented much deeper problems, because their main modern readers were people speaking daughter languages or wholly different languages. Concepts like kalon agathon “beautiful and noble” had implications far beyond their literal meaning.

            The problem of translating concepts to and from unwritten languages of small-scale societies confronted Bible translators from the beginning. Trying to discuss deserts, camels, lions, and such in Inuit or Paiute posed obvious difficulties. Trying to understand what the Inuit or Paiute were saying was often even harder. Countless mistakes are enshrined in modern placenames. “Arequipa” means “yes, you may rest here,” an answer to the Spanish request expressed by pointing to the ground and making questioning noises. Similarly, when Columbus on one of his voyages stopped a canoe full of Maya north of the Yucatan peninsula and asked about the name of the land over there, the person he questioned looked blank, and somebody helpfully said “Ma’ u’ yu’u’ ka t’aan ih”—“he didn’t understand what you said.” Columbus took the accented syllables and everyone was happy. The Spanish then compounded the error by thinking tan was the Nahuatl locative ending tlan or tan, and thus started to refer to the inhabitants as Yucatec, tek being the Nahuatl ending for “people a place ending in tan.” Some scholars have now taken this to a truly ridiculous level by assuming “Yucatec” is a genuine indigenous term, and spelling it Yukatek. Such is linguistic evolution.

            Seriously translating unwritten languages became a real scholarly concern with the rise of kinship studies, and especially the landmark work of Lewis Henry Morgan. He was far from the first to realize that traditional kinterms do not map onto English or Latin ones, but he was the first to realize how much it mattered for understanding society. His monumental compilation kinship systems, Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family (1871), remains unparalleled. It came out in the same year as Darwin’s Descent of Man and Edward Tylor’s Primitive Culture—surely the true birth year of anthropology as a serious discipline.

            Morgan’s students and correspondents were quickly converted. He and they expanded the interest in what would come to be called “native categories.” He applied them to Iroquois terms (Morgan 1954 [1851]) and house terms (Morgan 1882), but it was left to his follower Frank Cushing to invent what we now consider real ethnobiology. Cushing was a New York boy who became fascinated with “Indians.” Discovering the work of Morgan, he was converted, and became an anthropologist, without at the time needing much teaching. He attached himself to research trips in the southwest, and was influenced by Jesse Walter Fewkes, who started so much in southwest studies; Fewkes was already working on Indigenous plant names and uses. Cushing nested in Zuni Pueblo, and spent several years there. Here he invented participant observation, leading an entirely Zuni life—farming, hunting, and eventually being initiated into the highly respected Bow Priesthood. Unfortunately, he was always sickly, as well as being a bit erratic, and he died before publishing most of his work. (According to Zuni tradition, he was disclosing some secrets of the Bow Priesthood, and thus was struck dead.) Enough survives to produce profound respect for his ethnographic skills.

His most impressive work appeared in an odd fashion: during one of several periods of needing money, he wrote a series of articles for a milling company’s house magazine. These were collected after his death, and published as Zuni Breadstuff by the Museum of the American Indian in New York (Cushing 1920). This is possibly the most anthropologically sophisticated and thorough report on a small-scale culture’s staple food in early anthropological literature. Almost all the articles concern maize. Cushing not only wrote down all the practical knowledge he could collect, but also all the Zuni rituals and religious and ideological ideas about maize. They were an integral part of maize production and consumption.

In this and in his articles on Zuni ethnobiology (see Cushing 1979), he was meticulous about explaining the Zuni words rather than providing a simple translation. For this, he was taken to task by Matilda Cox Stephenson, who had written a Zuni ethnobotany conspicuously failing in that regard. Cushing responded with a reasoned argument for getting the Indigenous concepts right, rather than merely approximating.
             Morgan and Cushing continued to inspire authors. The next generation included Frank Russell, who taught briefly at Harvard before being consigned by ill health to the deserts of Arizona. Here he completed a superb ethnography of the Pima (now Akimel O’odham) before passing away (Russell 1908). The book is the first ethnography to take the Indigenous perspective consistently in all aspects of culture. At about the same time appeared Alice Fletcher and Joseph La Flesche’s enormous ethnography, The Omaha Tribe (1906), compiled largely by La Flesche, who was himself an Omaha. Franz Boas’ enormous ethnographic compilations of Northwest Coast lore similarly involved reliance on Indigenous consultants. His work with George Hunt (part Anglo, part Tsimshian, but raised from early childhood by and as a Kwakiutl) is famous as perhaps the most utterly comprehensive ethnography from a largely Indigenous point of view. It includes a vast number of recipes, collected with the help of George Hunt’s Kwakiutl wife. She also supplied a range of respectful sayings used by women for such acts as asking permission of trees to take bark from them, and then thanking them for the gift.

The other major development of the time was the beginning of John Peabody Harrington’s epochal work. He dedicated his life to documenting Native American languages, working on dozens of them, focusing most on Chumash, a nearly lost language family. He and his wonderful Chumashan consultants had a great deal to do with saving the languages and culture, now being robustly revived by tribal members. Unfortunately, he became more and more paranoid, hiding his work and refusing to publish. A few early researches on Pueblo groups and on the Karok saw the light, and in these he and his coauthors argue for full exploration of Indigenous categories in linguistics (Harrington 1932; Henderson and Harrington 1914; Robbins, Harrington and Freire-Marreco 1916). Cushing is duly acknowledged in the Pueblo work, and his influence clearly lies behind it. It is worth noting that these books popularized the fairly new coinage “ethnobotany” (Harshberger 1896) and introduced the companion word “ethnozoology.”

The scene now shifts to England. British ethnography had rarely taken Indigenous perspectives. Bronislaw Malinowski was to change all this. Apparently Cushing was the ultimate source of Malinowski’s ideas. As nearly as I can reconstruct it from the histories (Kuklick 1991; Kuper 1983; Stocking 1995), A. C. Haddon met Cushing in New York and was told how and why to seek out Indigenous categories rather than simply using loose translations. Haddon told his co-explorer W. H. R. Rivers, who was Malinowski’s main teacher in anthropology. Rivers tried some work with Indigenous categories, but was pulled back by his main field, psychology, working with “shell-shocked” soldiers in World War I. His work laid the foundations of what we not call post-traumatic stress disorder and its treatment. Meanwhile, Malinowski found himself interned on the Trobriand Islands by Australia; being from Poland, at that point occupied by Germany, Malinowski was classed as an “enemy alien.” With nothing to do but ethnography, Malinowski compiled what may still be the best single corpus of ethnography ever done on one group of people, in spite of Malinowski’s thoroughly Colonial and unregenerate attitude. (He was to reform later, and train Jomo Kenyatta and other rebels against the British Raj.) His classic book was Argonauts of the Western Pacific (1961, orig. 1922), which greatly elaborated on Morgan’s analysis and understanding of kinship. His work Coral Gardens and Their Magic (1935) was his major contribution to ethnobiology, and here he meticulously documents the full meanings of all terms for crops, garden tools, processes of gardening, and so forth. Following Cushing again, he details the rituals as an integral part of the gardening process.

The next major event was the birth of ethnobiology and ethnoscience, new coinages that rose along with the union of cognitive, linguistic, ethnological, and biological research in the 1950s. This union was effected by students of George Peter Murdock at Yale. Many had worked on Murdock’s enormous project to study Micronesia, newly acquired from Japan after WWII. The first on the post, however, was Harold Conklin, who had been researching the Philippines. Here the veteran botanist H. H. Barnett introduced him to ethnobotany and the need to get the names right. The result was Hanonoo Agriculture (Conklin 1957), still a landmark in the field. His papers (the major ones collected in Conlin 2007) discuss in detail his ways of studying language.

The other great ethnobiologist and linguistic analysis of the Murdock lineage was Charles Frake. He wrote little, but his papers (collected by Anwar Dil, 1980) remain the best introduction to semantic analysis of words for things, specifically in Indigenous languages. It is revealing that Conklin’s and Frake’s main contributions to the field were dictionaries, not ethnographies. Among Frake’s students at Stanford was Brent Berlin, who quickly became the leader of semantic analyses of traditional terminological systems for plants and animals. His work Ethnobiological Classification (1992) remains the definitive study of that field. It has never been surpassed, and findings since then have largely confirmed his analysis, though qualifying it substantially in some areas.

In particular, we have rediscovered Cushing’s finding that religious and spiritual dimensions are often embedded in traditional words and concepts, and must be considered part of the definition of a term. (See, for various perspectives on this observation, Anderson 1996; Berkes 2008; Kohn 2013; Sponsel 2012).

A large number of publications in ethnobiology and ethnoscience followed, and the field acquired increasing sophistication in cognitive psychology and in linguistics. Some pushback developed, from people who opposed such detailed study of people’s actual concepts and words. Marvin Harris (1968) attacked the entire enterprise as a waste of time, since he considered simple comparative ethnology to be the only real purpose of anthropology. His mission was to ground the field in functional studies of how cultures guide people in getting calories and protein. Among other things, he was largely responsible for the misuse of “emic” and “etic” to mean “insider’s view” and “outsider’s view,” a mistake that still bedevils the field. Kenneth Pike generalized the terms from “phonemic” and “phonetic,” to mean “given by the structure of the language itself” as opposed to “given by analysis using a generalized grid suitable for all languages.”

An example I always use of how clueless Harris was even about his own chosen area (calories) was his attack on Metzger and Williams’ study of Tzeltal firewood (1966). He considered it too trivial a topic. He should have known that firewood was at the time the principal use of wood by humans, and probably still is today. I had to spend serious time in the field with the Maya learning which woods to use and how dry they should be. In an area with dozens of tree species, ranging from worthless woods that flash off in a minute to the rock-hard, slow-burning, coal-forming jabiin (Piscidia piscipula), firewood gathering is a major subject, and getting firewood can absorb two or three hours of a Maya woman’s day.

The earlier work could now be rooted in knowledge of how humans classify and how language is constructed. Findings on traditional biological classification were brought together in Ethnobiological Classification (1992).

People with similar anthropological, linguistic, cognitive, and biological backgrounds formed a tight group, coalescing around the Society of Ethnobiology and the Society for Economic Botany, which eventually changed its name to the Society for Ethnobotany. Impressive ethnographies, comparable in scope to the earlier works of Russell and Malinowski but drawing on far more sophisticated social science, included Eugene Hunn and James Selam’s ethnography of the Sahaptin, N’Chi-Wana, the Big River (1990), and Russell Bernard and Jesús Salinas Pedraza’s Native Ethnography (1989). From many non-United States examples, we may simply mention Ian Saem Majnep’s magical books with Ralph Bulmer (1977, 2007).

This type of tightly constructed, meticulously detailed, scientifically grounded ethnography continues today. Eglée and Stanford Zent’s work with the Venezuelan Nï Jotï y Jodena U (2019) is exemplary (but hard to find and solely in Spanish).

Berlin, Hunn, Conklin, and other stalwarts set standards that cannot be totally neglected, and all serious ethnobiological research now takes account of the need to document Indigenous linguistic usage, as well as both practical ceremonial associations of plants and animals in the cultures in question.

Unfortunately, I am seeing a drift away from the standards of the late 20th century. Several factors have conspired to thin out the use of Indigenous categories in current ethnobiological work. One is the steady rise of academic silos. The easy cross-disciplinary days when we could merge anthropology, biology, psychology, and linguistics are gone. Specialized knowledge is now required to make significant contributions to any of these areas, and no one can stay current enough to be functional in even two of them. This, in turn, leads to loss of focus on the essential cross-disciplinary nature of the field. We can fix the problem up to a point by working with people from different disciplines, but even this is getting hard to do.

Under such case, the disciplines are drifting apart. More and more biologists are attracted to ethnobiology, but they are not always well trained in eliciting and recording Indigenous categories and worldviews. More and more anthropologists are interested in “animal studies,” “plant studies,” “multispecies ethnography,” and similar newly-evolving subfields, but they are often quite ignorant of biology. They can write at length about people who live with animals, but they are not always in a position to say much about the animals. There is a new field of “critical plant studies,” but apparently it has nothing to do with ethnobiology; it seems to be about modern people’s attitudes toward plants. A notable exception is Anna Tsing (e.g. 2015), who does her homework on biological as well as ethnographic issues. Similarly, there is a new and exciting trend in environmental history to combine standard history with extremely competent and well-deployed biology, allowing for major new insights in that area (some good new examples are Hoffmann 2023 for Europe, Lander 2021 for China).

            It is thus useful to recapitulate the reasons for wanting more accuracy in these matters. First, it should be common scholarly convention to at least be accurate in identification. Blue buffaloes and plums that are really apricots should absolutely not be allowed. Second, there is point made by Cushing and echoed by his many followers: We are trying to understand Indigenous culture, including language, and we obviously are not understanding those matters if we insist on using simple glosses for words that cover complicated realms. Working on China, I have found that sloppiness in translating simple plant and animal names goes with sloppiness in translating more serious philosophical and religious terms. Understanding is not served by that. Third, there are serious issues of psychology and linguistics at stake here. There are even philosophical questions to address, as David Ludwig has been telling us for some years now (Ludwig 2018; Ludwig et al. 2023). Brent Berlin has been so much the authority for years that few think of going beyond his work.

            Fourth, the world’s languages are among the most amazing creations of the human spirit. Every language is a masterpiece of brilliant innovation. The classifications of the world embodied in biological terminology are stunning works, like the masterpieces of portraying nature that one finds in medieval manuscripts (e.g. Phebus 1998). We should pay them the highest respect. This, at the very least, means getting the names right.


Some examples of why you need to look at local categories: What happens to words.

            Other categories can be really different. In Tahitian East Polynesian, there is no concept of “water.” Salt water is a totally different thing from fresh. Salt is “white people’s seawater”—so seawater and salt are classed together, but fresh water has a totally different word.

            Words can be polysemous—having more than one meaning. “Wood” in English means both the material and the grove that produces it. “Tree” once had a similar extension, meaning “wood” as a material, but this has been lost, and “tree” means only the living plant itself.

            Words very often get used metaphorically, and then the metaphoric meaning may become commoner than the original meaning. Only dog breeders now use “bitch” in its original sense.

            Words can get expanded over time. Chinese wen “marks” originally meant spots on an animal, tally marks made by people, and the like. When writing was invented, it was used for characters. It thus came to mean “literature,” and then “culture in general,” and by extension “civil” as opposed to “military”: wen vs. wu, people who write vs. people who fight. Something similar happened with English “score,” originally meaning to scratch something, thus expanded to mark a win in a game, and on from there. “Current” extended from streams to electricity, to say nothing of current events.

            Words can contract in meaning over time. “Man” was the original gender-neutral term for “person” in English (cf mann in German). It has only recently come to mean “male.” One of Frake’s examples of semantics is the multiple-level contrast of “man” in English: Person vs animal; male vs. female; adult vs child (man vs boy); stalwart tough guy vs meek one (“Are you a man or a mouse?”). Thus the word has four levels of contrast (Frake 1980).

            A Chinese example is fan “cooked grain,” which originally meant any grain or even root staple crops, and still does in North China, but has become restricted to cooked rice in South China, parallelling Southeast Asian words for cooked rice (e.g. Indonesian nasi).

            And, speaking of rice, in English we call the semidomesticated aquatic grain Zizania “wild rice,” though it is not very closely related to rice. However, in China, real rice (Oryza sativa) occurs in both domesticated and wild forms, and so does Zizania. Worse, Zizania has now been fully domesticated in US. Thus, we now speak of “wildrice” to mean Zizania, even when it is domesticated, and “wild rice” to speak of wild Oryza. So, China has both wild rice and domesticated wildrice. Clear?

            Another process famous in ethnobiology is marking reversal. Newly introduced animals, foods, etc., are very often called “foreign X,” “new X,” or something like that, “X” being the local equivalent. Thus, in English, chiles get called “red pepper,” using the term for a completely different and unrelated plant that is similarly spicy. Chinese does this a lot: “foreign jakfruit” for pineapple, “foreign pomegranate” for guava, and so on. Often, the foreign item becomes more familiar than the local, and thus the “foreign” gets dropped. So pineapples are jakfruits in China now. Maize is called by a name formerly applied to a kind of millet. Similarly, anyone learning Maya might wonder why there are native Maya words for horses and guns, in spite of those being very new to Maya experience, coming with the Conquest. The answer is that the Maya soon saw the resemblance of horses to tapirs, and called the horse the “Castilian tapir”—kaaxlan ts’iimin. Soon the horse became much better known than the tapir, so the horse is now just ts’iimin, while the tapir is k’aaxih ts’iimin, “forest tapir.” The word for gun originally meant “blowgun.” So the Spanish gun was at first a Castilian blowgun.

            All these processes are common in most languages. Thus, pinning down the meaning of a word often means following up metaphoric extensions, expansions, restrictions, changes over time, marking reversals, and much more. It is not a simple or easy process. Ethnobiologists must spend a great deal of time in the field hearing people actually talk about plants and animals.


Anderson, E. N. 1996. Ecologies of the Heart. New York: Oxford University Press.

Berkes, Fikret. 2008. Sacred Ecology: Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Resource Management. 2nd edn. Philadelphia: Taylor and Francis.

Berlin, Brent. 1992. Ethnobiological Classification: Principles of Categorization of Plants and Animals in Traditional Societies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Bernard, H. Russell, and Jesús Salinas Pedraza. 1989. Native Ethnography: A Mexican Indian Describes His Culture. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Boas, Franz. 1921. Ethnology of the Kwakiutl. Bureau of American Ethnology, Annual Report XXXV: 43-1481.

Conklin, Harold. 1957. Hanumoo Agriculture. Rome: FAO.

— 2007. Fine Description. Ed. Joel Kuipers and Ray McDermott. New Haven: Yale Southeast Asia Studies, Monograph 56.

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China Food Updates

Chinese Food Updates

E. N. Anderson


Historic sections: History, then ecol and EB, then actual food, then poems and such.

Modern: by province, then ethnic group; then country in that chapter


Many years ago I wrote a book, The Food of China (1988), intended as a modest contribution to a cultural ecology of east Asia.  This book has remained one of the few accessible studies of Chinese food, and as such has achieved a rather undeserved status as a reference book.  It is now far out of date for such a purpose.  In particular, archaeology has made enormous strides since the 1980s, dramatically pushing back the dates of Chinese agriculture, and greatly increasing our knowledge of early millennia.

Many readers of the earlier work became captivated by descriptions of wonderful food, and missed the fact that I was largely concerned with describing a highly successsful agricultural system, and crediting its success to the billions of anonymous farmers and food workers who created it.  The world now needs more than ever the insights of traditional East Asian agriculture. 

I have written several obscure publications on Chinese food since 1988 (notably Anderson 1990, 1991, 2004, 2007, 2009, 2011a, 2011b, 2013a, 2013b), and a book that brings together recent findings and old data on early and medieval Chinese food (Anderson 2014).  The present posting adds stray notes, especially on Chinese food ethnography—an area that has progressed considerably.

In the period since The Food of China appeared, serious studies of Chinese food have greatly increased.  My book was soon followed by Frederick Simoons’ encyclopedic Food in China (1991).  Meanwhile, several brilliant studies by the great French scholar Françoise Sabban brought a whole new level of sophistication to the field. 

Then, with the new millennium, came several truly magistral syntheses of selected areas.  Hu Shiu-Ying, an amazing ethnobotanist whose career spans over 70 years of research, produced her own life synthesis, Food Plants of China (2005).  Dr. Hu passed away in 2012 at the age of 102—surely a testimony to the virtues of Chinese food and medicinal herbs.

H. T. Huang’s life work on Chinese fungal and fermentation technologies reached fruition in the enormous volume (Huang 2000; Dr. Huang passed away in 2012 at the age of 95).  Chinese ferments also received their fair share of attention in Sandor Ellix Katz’ The Art of Fermentation (2012), another truly magistral work. Fermented foods can now boast that perhaps the two best books in world food literature are written about them.  Lillian Li completed a similar life project in her definitive study of famine in Chinese history (Li 2007). 

The French scholar Georges Métailié (2015) contributed a long volume on the history of botany to the Needham series, Science and Civilisation in China. It discusses food plants along with other works, but is focused on the history of plant books and bencao (“basic herbal”) literature, so has little on food.

The German sinologist Thomas Höllmann has written a fine general introductory book, beautifully illustrated, translated as The Land of Five Flavors: A Cultural Hisory of Chinese Cuisine (2014).

A pleasant and accurate new history of Chinese food is The Emperor’s Feast, by Jonathan Clements.

Environmental history of China, once an arcane topic left pretty much to Mark Elvin (1973, 2004a, 2004b; Elvin and Lui 1998) and me, has exploded as a field, with major works coming out literally every day. Elvin’s morbid assessment of long decline in the environment and the welfare of the people and my own more upbeat analysis is well balanced by Robert Marks in two superb studies (1998, 2012; see also Marks 2009). His careful accounts show indeed a rapid and depressing environmental decline, but also China’s success in feeding a rapidly expanding population. None of us disagrees on the facts; the difference is that Elvin and Marks are more impressed by the loss of biodiversity and environmental riches, while I am more impressed by the success of a huge, diverse empire in feeding its people reasonably well without totally destroying its entire life support system. Europe coped with rising population by conquering weaker lands, genociding or enslaving their inhabitants, and exporting millions of people to them. China did not have that option, except for relatively quite small migrations from southeast China. I have discussed these works at more length elsewhere (Anderson 2014, 2019).

More recently, a valuable environmental history of China into the Han Dynasty has been provided by Brian Lander (2021), and Kathryn Linduff and coworkers have produced an excellent analytic history of China’s early intereaction with neighbors (2018).

All these works note the incresingly rapid decline of large wild mammals, and this has been put on a solid footing with dates, maps, and numbers by Shuqing Teng and associates (2020) and Xinru Wan and others (2019). They record the disappearance of elephants and rhinoceroses (once common), the near disappearance of bears and tigers, the reduction of wild camels to a tiny handful (now threatened by roads; Yang et al. 2019), the loss of most deer, and other sad losses. These declined along with the rise of human agriculture, but the rhinos, were hunted into extinction even before that got out of hand. Even the little muskdeer is about gone, doomed by its valuable musk, a scented oily compound in a gland on its back. On the other hand, Père David’s Deer has been reintroduced. It survived in Qing only in royal parks. From here it went to England, surviving there in parks. It died out in China. (It is properly milu in Chinese, but often called xiangsi, “resembles four,” because it looks like a mix of deer, horse, donkey, and goat—or sometimes other animals.)

Among more specialized recent works we may count David Pietz’ Yellow River (2016) and Ruth Mostern’s The Yellow River, A Natural and Unnatural History (2021). Both biographize this center of China’s history. The river heads high up on the Tibetan plateau, then flows through mountain and desert country, making a huge bend around the Ordos Desert. It then flows south through the loess plateau, then turns east, cuts through mountains, and opens onto the North China Plain. Here it is blocked from flowing directly to sea by the Shandong mountains, so it must turn north or south to get to its fate in the ocean. Over time, it has shifted back and forth, with catastrophic effects in the historic period. Mostern provides an amazing array of graphics, from her own beautiful color photographs to charts and maps of every period’s management, settlements, and disasters. The book is not only a historical account, but an atlas.

The river became “China’s Sorrow” after the deforestation or grassland destruction for agriculture of the loess plateaus along its middle course, a process well begun by Han and catastrophic by Song. Earlier, much of the country included in the Great Bend had been rather fertile, with lakes (cf. Fan 2018 for even earlier good times). In Tang it deteriorated, especially during and after the great rebellions. Brushy and dry in cold dry periods, forested on higher ground in warmer and wetter ones, the loess plateau became more and more damaged by human-caused fires as well as agriculture from about 3000 years ago (Mostern 2021; Tan et al. 2018).

The wars of Song and Yuan led to violence and chaos, which, among other things, led to massive deforestation to build fortifications in the loess region, a center of violence and strife. In Song, the North China Plain also became devastated. The river broke its banks in 1048 and cut a whole new channel, debouching north of Shandong. Then in the 1120s came enormous floods (Zhang 2016). In 1128, the local governor, Du Chong, made what may be the most disastrous mistake in all military history: he opened the dykes to flood the land in a foolish and hopeless attempt to stop the southward advance of the Jin forces. The river cut a new channel again, moving south, and devastated millions of peoples’ homes and farms. The loss of life reached astronomical figures.

The Yuan briefly tamed the river, during a period of mild weather, but renewed rains and storms broke it out again. Ming saw not only more and worse flooding, but an earthquake in the Wei River area killed an estimated 830,000 people (Mostern 2021:185), many buried when their homes, caves excavated into the loess, collapsed. Enormous famines and other disasters from then till the mid-twentieth century are chronicled by Pietz (2016) and Mostern.

Many excellent understandings of the problem were aired, and many good ideas on fixing it were written up. Some were even tried: distributory channels, dredging, canals, multiple levees, dams. The problem was insuperable in preindustrial times. Only late 20th century technology could do the job, by a combination of big dams, small dams, reforestation, terracing, levees, diversion, and rechanneling. Even now, erosion is a problem and flooding is a danger. The dams are rapidly silting up, so the problem will be as bad as ever in the near future. Diversion of water for irrigation, however, lowers the river significantly, such that it sometimes fails to reach the ocean, so extreme floods are less serious than once.

The silt load has been reduced more than 90% recently, however, by a combination of checkdams, reforestation, reservoirs, and diversion of much of the water for irrigation upstream from the loesslands (Y. Liu et al. 2020). This may or may not be sustainable. The river carries less and less water—now only 3% of China’s overall fresh water—but still irrigates 13% of China’s cropland (Y. Liu et al. 2020). 

More local are studies of lakes. A saline one in far north China shows cooling at 8.2 thousand years ago, dry at 6.9-5.9, and—like almost all records from the northern hemisphere—cooling at 4.2-4 (J. Li and Y. Liu 2018). Solar forcing is responsible for these widely-seen changes. Another case is Lake Bosten at China’s far northwest corner, almost in Kazakhstan. It gets its precipitation from the Atlantic, not the monsoon. A large fish-rich lake with much cultivation around it, it was a farming center from Han, and even supported wet-rice agriculture in the wetter times of Ming (Fontana et al. 2019; the Little Ice Age forced the Atlantic storm tracks south, leading to more rain for China’s far northwest). Another local lake study concerns Kunming Lake, at Kunming, Yunnan, which flourished as a rich, productive, beautiful lake with incredibly fertile shores through much of China’s history, but shrank due to encroaching farms, and finally has become polluted beyond all measure (Hillman et al. 2019).

Endymion Wilkinson’s monumental Chinese History, A New Manual (new editions every couple of years) contains a long section, “Agriculture, Food and Drink” (in the 2012 edn., pp. 433-466), which covers the basic historical, anthropological, and culinary literature very well.  It is followed by a section on “Technology and Science” (467-479), but this section is brief and concentrates on modern times.

The sociology of Chinese food has also advanced.  A number of Chinese scholars have devoted time and energy to interpretive studies, revealing the social and cultural complexities of food, eating, and food ideologies in the Chinese world.  Among these are Sidney Cheung, Rance Lee, Ambrose Tse, David Wu, Yan Yunxiang, and many others.  Western anthropologists such as Sidney Mintz and James and Rubie Watson (Watson 1997; Watson and Watson 2004) have also contributed greatly.  The medical aspects of Chinese foodways have received much attention, with outstanding work by Elisabeth Hsu, Vivienne Lo, and many others. 

Jacqueline Newman has not only contributed introductory works, but has also done yeoman service editing the food journal Flavor and Fortune.  Dr. Newman has chosen a “popular” approach and style, but her scholarly knowledge of Chinese food is orders of magnitude greater than that of many scholars who write in proper academic style.  Newman (who has given her collection of over 4000 Chinese cookbooks to SUNY-Stony Brook) has edited for many years a journal, Flavor and Fortune, which though popular in tone is scholarly in content and standards.  She has described regional cuisines, as have many contributors to the journal. She finally retired in 2021, but expect further writings from her.

Historian Miranda Brown of the University of Michigan has a food blog at that introduces her highly original and thoroughly researched findings. She is emerging as the United States’ leading scholarly historian of Chinese food.

Chinese food has to be served on something, and from earliest times the ceramics and metalware of China have been famous as among the most beautiful in the world. Rose Kerr and Nigel Wood (2004) wrote a history of Chinese ceramics for the Needham series, and it is arguably the most thorough and sophisticated volume of them all. Ceramics connoisseurship included beliefs about the value of certain wares for protecting the food as well as for highlighting its beauty.

In 2005 I had the opportunity to teach a short course on Chinese food history at the Universita di Scienze Gastronomiche, Pollenza, Italy.  This made me try to catch up somewhat on the explosion of information since 1988.  In the years since The Food of China appeared, I drifted away from Chinese studies, because of pressures in my department (Anthropology) at the University of California, Riverside.  I came to rest in Native American studies, doing research first on the Northwest Coast and then for over 25 years with the Yucatec Maya of Quintana Roo, Mexico.  This is a group whom I have come to love, and many of whom have become literally family (through Maya adoption practices).  Even so, with retirement, I found myself drifting back toward Asia.  Partly, I am simply getting too old for field work in the Quintana Roo rain forest (not the least harsh environment on the planet).  Mostly, however, it was encouragement by many China scholars and food-lovers who have proved wonderfully forgiving of my drift away from the field for so many years.

Some Basic Background

            China’s food and everything connected with it depends heavily on the monsoon. It, in turn, depends on the winds and sea currents around, Intertropical Convergence Zone, the place where southern hemisphere and northern hemisphere winds and waters diverge from a hot, fairly calm equatorial zone. The ITCZ can shift well to the north of the equator, and when it does China gets more rain, from the hot, wet air that rises from the heated seas and is driven north. Hadley cells evolve as the hot air rises, flows north, and then sinks again. In most of the world, this sinking air produces deserts at the edge of the tropics; the air dry now but still hot. In China, however, it just flows on, driven by the massive heat engine of the South China Sea, and gives out only over north and northwest China (Beck et al. 2018; Clift and d’Alpoim Guedes 2021). It still produces most of what little rain comes to Gansu. North and west of there, other air currents cut in: far west China gets the last feeble dregs of the Atlantic storms, especially when the Atlantic is cold, driving the storm belt south (Anderson 2014). North China gets winter rain from Siberia, and even Hong Kong can have miserable cold winter drizzles from north winds that pick up further water from the China Sea.

            The Himalayas block the monsoon, making northeast India and Bangladesh incredibly rainy but Tibet extremely dry. When Tibet is cold, it depresses the temperature and rainfall quite widely over China. More sun in north China is also costly, heating the land and reducing the monsoon (Beck et al. 2018).

            Another factor is the Walker circulation, the grand pattern of circulation over the oceans. It gives us, among other things, the alternation (erratic, every 5 to 50 years or so) of El Niño and La Niña. The latter is normal. Trade winds (from the east) blow warm water from the rest of the Pacific to its western area, especially just south of the Equator, which causes cold water to well up on the west side to make up for it, one reason for the California and Humboldt Currents. La Niña makes for a dry east (California and the coasts of Peru and northern Chile) and a wet west, mostly in Indonesia and Australia but also a bit of support for the Chinese monsoon. El Niño occurs when the warm water sloshes (technical term) back to the east, giving California and sometimes even north Chile some rain but causing drought in southern Indonesia and in Australia.

            Lately, global warming has added to the picture, giving Australia historic droughts and China slightly more reliable rain but also heat and flooding.

            China’s climate has had massive ups and downs over time: warm and wet till 6200 BCE, somewhat cooler and drier, then sharply cooler and drier in 2200-1800 BCE, with coolness marked till 1500 (B. Yang et al. 2021). The far northeast, which gets winter rain and snow, remained wet till 3100 (X. Liu et al. 2019). Long dry periods alternated with warm, wet ones during the period from the decline of the Ice Age glaciers to the dawn of agriculture (Weiwei Sun et al. 2019). These track the release of vast amounts of cold, fresh meltwater as glacial lakes drained. Such events affected especially the north Atlantic. Warm water, and thus warm air and rain, were forced south. The Atlantic Meridian Overturning circulation, which causes a huge percentage of the climate and weather in the northern hemisphere, was weakened. Even the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) moved south. Even the Indian monsoon weakened at such times. Other than these periods, which included especially the Younger Dryas, the entire time range was warm and wet in China.

            The climate turned warmer and wetter during the Han Dynasty, turning worse near the end of Han—probably a major factor in that demise. Then volcanic eruptions elsewhere in the world led to a terribly cold and dry period after 536 CE and especially after 550, lasting till about 650 and clearly affecting the rise and fall of Sui. Climate improved sharply,  climaxing in the Medieval Warm Period of 900-1200 or 1300, which gave very good times to the Song Dynasty, except for a cold wet period in the early 1100s that greatly damaged Song rule (Zhang 2016). The MWP allowed the rise of the Mongols, as their subarctic habitat got warmer and wetter. They took China, but the rise of the Little Ice Age after 1300 caused cold and flooding that helped end their rule there. However, they were by then established in warmer parts of Asia, and continued rule over central and western Asia for centuries.

            The Little Ice Age hit China extremely hard, hurting Ming and probably encouraging the Manchus to move south and take China (Pei 2021). The modern period went with warming after 1800, and of course the recent extreme warming due to release of greenhouse gases by human action—including vast amounts of coal burning and some oil and natural gas use by China, as well as release of methane by rice agriculture (Anderson 2019; Pei 2021). The role of climate in Chinese history and prehistory is usually best seen as an accelerator and trigger for events that would probably have happened anyway (Anderson 2019), but sometimes seems to have really caused things that would not otherwise have happened, such as major damage to Northern Song (Zhang 2016) and the timing and violence of the Sui-Tang and Ming-Qing transitions (Pei 2021). A more detailed study shows that the Little Ice Age was particularly cool in the northeast and east, and was wetter there; it was drier in the west, and sometimes even a bit warmer than usual, as in the Tarim area (Xuecheng Zhou et al. 2019).

            Taiwan, unusually for China, gets considerable winter rain, especially in the north. This is directly a result of the winter north winds blowing over the China Sea, but more remotely it is connected with Arctic sea ice, and thus increased with cooling weather in the last 3000 years (T. Lin et al. 2021), especially the Little Ice Age.

            Tibet had similar dynamics. One study (C. Liang et al. 2019) of vegetation near the great Qinghai lake shows  rapid change from 10,500 to 9000; increase in amount and diversity to 6500; decrease to 4000, then increase to 1500, then fluctuations after that as people become numerous. The increase at 4500 to 1500 is dramatic, with a real crash around 1500. There was a fairly even balance of grassland and evergreen forest (pine, spruce, etc.). This tracks temperature and precipitation, but not very well; note the increase after colder times (4000-4200 BP). Vegetation cover drops suddenly about the time of the 536 shock but then never recovers, thanks to human pressure (overgrazing and overharvesting of fuel).

            In China’s far western deserts, similar things were happening. They were even drier than usual some 6000 years ago. Glacial melt after the Little Ice Age led to much more water for a while in the last couple of centuries (J. Liu et al. 2019), but now all is drier than ever. Faunal changes confirm the broad contours of climate change there (T. Zhang and Elias 2019; X. Zhang et al. 2018). The extreme northwest corner of Xinjiang, in the Altai mountains, is under the influence of the Atlantic and gets its rain on the westerly winds from there, thus contrasting dramatically with the rest of China. This area was warm and dry in the early Holocene, then cool and wet 8000-6300 years ago, then warm and dry till 5500, cold and wet till 4000, warm and dry till 2500, colder and wetter till a thousand years ago, then gradually warmer and drier. This tracks Atlantic temperature shifts, but is nothing like the rest of China. Note the key shift at 4000 that made the rest of east Asia cold and dry, but made the Altai warmer (Y. Zhang and P. Meyers 2016; Y. Zhang and P. Yang 2018).

            In the farthest northeast, sediments from a lake in Heilongjiang reveal that the area was warm and wet 13,400 to 8700 years ago. It was warm and dry for a while after that. A cooler dry period set in 8200 years ago, but the Intertropical Convergence Zone shifted north in that period, which spared this area. The 4200-4000 BP event was more dry and cool, with the ITCZ shifting south and making everything worse (S. Zhang et al. 2020; Zuo et al. 2018).

            Later, a cave record from south China shows fairly consistent good monsoon till 860, then a dry period, followed by a very dry one 910-930, a dramatic rise in monsoon activity to 980, high rainfall till 1020, then sharp drop 1340-1380, and weakness till 1850, with extreme minimum 1580-1640. It then rose and stabilized. The correlation with dynastic events is obvious; note especially the dry periods at the fall of Tang, Yuan, and Ming.

            In the tropics, the Little Ice Age was wetter, as the ITCZ contracted and concentrated the rainy monsoon there (W. Zhang et al. 2018).

            China’s flora now reaches 31,200 vascular plants as of 2017 (M. Lu et al. 2017; W. Xu et al. 2018), with 26,978 that can be analyzed as to timing of origin, with many still to be described. Famously, China includes such “living fossils” and the ginkgo and dawn redwood, in the east and center, but evolution has been rapid, especially in the west and especially for the non-tree species (Li-Min Lu et al. 2018). The breakdown as of 2018 is “2308 ferns, 2105 annual herbs, 12,721 perennial herbs, 2295 climbers, 5690 shrubs, 3642 trees” (W. Xu et al. 2018).


Languages and Prehistory

Proto-Tibeto-Burman (Proto-Sino-Tibetan) has words for rice, the millets, and beans, and perhaps even a word for wheat reconstructs (Bradley 2011), though early borrowing would guarantee that wheat words spread through the language phylum. The Tibeto-Burman (or Sino-Tibetan) phylum is more and more clearly derived from original stock of some sort spoken in the central Yellow River drainage and possibly as far south as Sichuan, in or just before Yangshao times (Sagart et al. 2019; Menhan Zhang et al. 2019). Stories among some South Chinese Tibeto-Burman minorities record a homeland in mountains to the northwest, a perfect fit for the mountains of Shaanxi and Gansu. The phylum has picked up astounding linguistic diversity in its far south and southwest, especially in the northern Indian subcontinent, but this is largely by mixing with local languages, many now lost. The main Tibeto-Burman stem, largely in China (broad political sense), is a fairly coherent group with many words for agriculture (Sagart et al. 2019).

In earlier works, I dismissed the “Altaic” language phylum as unproved and dubious, with existing evidence against it. Marina Robbeets has recently made a powerful case for it, as her “Transeurasian” grouping: the Turkic, Mongolian, Tungus, Korean and Japanese families all deriving from a common source (Robbeets et al 2021). She reconstructs words for sowing, millet gruel, pigs, and other cultivation words. In her major article (Robbeets et al. 2021) she provides an enormous list of words cognate to all or some of the languages. (Alas, it is available only to the fortunate few who can call it up online; it is “supplementary material” to the major published document.) She also traces the origin of the phylum to the Liao River drainage in northeast China. The list does provide compelling evidence for the initial unity of at least Tungus, Korean, and Japanese (the Tungus-Korean link was already well known), and for a homeland where she pinpoints it. The connections of Turkic and Mongol to each other and to the wider grouping are certainly credible, but early borrowing cannot entirely be ruled out.

Some Russian linguists argue further that these languages relate onward to the Indo-European, Uralic, and even Semitic and Caucasus languages, in a giant “Nostratic” or “Eurasian” phylum. This is definitely pushing the evidence—the few similarities could be pure chance—but it cannot be ruled out.

Genetic evidence runs strongly counter to the above scenarios. There is no genetic commonality (besides generic Asian) between the Liao farmers of ca. 3000 BCE and the Mongolian and Amur peoples of the time. On the other hand, Robbeets’ ideas are confirmed for Korea and Japan: they are today overwhelmingly descended from (or at least closely related to) the Liao farmers. I suspect the Tungus are also in this category, and the unrelated Amur people known archaeologically spoke a different language, possibly Gilyak (a language of uncertain relationship spoken on the Amur today). At least, the Russian “Nostratic” phylum is almost impossible to square with the enormous genetic diversity of modern and archaeological Eurasia. Sharing of a single language group across vast stretches of genetically unrelated people is a feature of modern armed military conquest; it is hard to imagine it happening any other way.

 Soon after this, people genetically like modern Tibeto-Burmans (as far as Nepalese Tibet) expanded rapidly from the central Yellow River area (C. C. Wang et al. 2021; S. Q. Wen et al. 2016). Also, people with western Eurasian genetics moved in from the west; at least some of them were probably Indo-European speakers. Interesting is a boy buried about 2000 BCE in far west China is fully east Asian genetically, but the burial goods all represent the Afanasievo culture, a west Eurasian one often assumed to be carried by Indo-European speakers. In general, central Asia at that time was as wildly mixed as it is now. The famous mummies of the area were light-haired and dressed in western-style clothes, but at least some were genetically East Asian.

The Silk Road, then as now, was a whole complex of routes carrying all sorts of commodities; silk had probably not been invented at that time. Among other mysteries, the two or three Tokharian languages, Indo-European languages distantly related to Germanic and Balto-Slavic, entered at some point, probably from Yamnaya and Afanasievo cultural backgrounds. They are historically attested from Xinjiang, but the languages died out in early Medieval times.

Evidence continues to pour in confirming the progress of Austronesians from south China to Taiwan, and then later the radiation of the Malayo-Polynesian branch to the whole Indo-Pacific region, from Madagascar and East Africa (see Beaujard 2009, 2012) to Oceania. Genetics confirm massive mainland migration to Taiwan from before 1300 BCE till many centuries later; they were genetically like modern Austronesians, but also a good deal like Tai and “Austroasiatic” (presumably Vietnamese and Cambodians), showing a good mix of early rice farmers (C. C. Wang et al. 2021). They also show similarity to a very early northeast Chinese genetic strain that exists today only in dilution, as a component of east Chinese genomes. A thorough review of the early evidence shows an earlier occupation, not known to be agricultural, but possibly so.  Then came the Austronesians, farming rice and millet.  They apparently came from the Pearl River area, which is known as one possible area for rice domestication and differentiation.  The Austronesian sites in Taiwan are now very numerous and cover all the island (Hung and Carson 2014). Conversely, Neolithic people of Fujian show close relationships to the Austronesians, but later Fujianese are largely descended from migrants from farther north (M. Yang et al. 2020). In general, the migration of north Chinese to the south is classically a world-scale demographic shift, but there was also some migration from south to north in southern China (M. Yang et al. 2020), possibly involving Tai and Vietnamese people.

Modern South Chinese are rather poorly studied genetically, but appear to be an amalgam of ancestral Tibeto-Burman (Sino-Tibetan), Tai, and other peoples, including Austroasiatics moving up from southeast Asia. Tai customs and loanwords survive in Cantonese culture today, and the Cantonese and Vietnamese tonal systems appear borrowed from Tai. (“Tai” here represents the Thai languages, related to the obscure and now rarely-spoken Kadai languages of south and central China; these two branches had a common ancestor around the time of the rise of rice agriculture, and presumably spread with it, as Tai/Thai was certainly doing in historic times.)

Katy Hung, a Chinese investigator working in Taiwain, has found that the Saisiat, an Austronesian group of Taiwan, has a legend of “little black people” living there before the Saisiat came in from the south (which fits with the Pearl River origin).  The “little black people” taught them a good deal about agriculture (Katy Biggs [Hung], Facebook postings and emails, Nov.-Dec. 2014).  It seems likely that the pre-Austronesians of Taiwan were related to the Philippine Negritos and other small, dark peoples of south Asia (such as the Andaman Islanders), and were absorbed by the taller, lighter-skinned Austronesians; this is what has happened, but only partially, in the Philippines and southeast Asia.  If the Saisiat are right, the Austronesians did not introduce the first agriculture to Taiwan. Recent work casts doubt on the whole question of migration of agriculture from the mainland and its association with proto-Austronesians. The basic model still works, but inevitable complications have appeared.

New Syntheses on the Neolithic and After

            Excellent reviews include Gina Barnes’ Archaeology of East Asia (2015).

            Gang Deng’s major opus The Premodern Chinese Economy (1999)chronicles the long process of developing a rural economy based on free small-scale farmers and an agriculturally conscious and sensitive state that did a great deal to aid that sector. He chronicles the successes of many small landowners in passing civil service exams, thus allowing upward mobility, but also documents the enormous number and seriousness of famines. Like others who have written histories of Chinese agriculture, he sees the steady shrinking of farm sizes, forcing harder and harder work and innovation by the farmers just to stay at the same level.  The government was willing to help, possibly all too willing, since it trapped farmers in an endless cycle rather than giving them other opportunities. I must register opposition. I agree with most historians that the reason for the trap was increasing government autocracy, and thus hidebound reaction, in Ming and Qing, rather than a structural matter.

            Brian Lander’s The King’s Harvest (2021) stands out as an insightful synthesis of the development of the Chinese state and its environmental policies from the Neolithic through Qin. Lander has also done thorough studies of the animals of the Neolithic (Lander 2020; Lander and Brunson 2018).

            A very thorough up-to-date review of the transition from hunting and gathering to early agriculture has been provided in a two-part paper by Shengqian Chen and Pei-lin Yu (2017a, 2017b).  They cover all major sites, crops, pottery and stone manufacture, and related concerns.  They point out that intensified foraging preceded and merged with agriculture.  Hunting was important in the north, but plant use always dominated the center and east.  A good brief review of paleolithic China is provided by Bar-Yosef and Wang (2012).  Little new is offered, but it has details on sites, fauna, and possible foods.  I have updated my coverage of the earliest Chinese food in my book Food and Environment in Early and Medieval China (2014).  There is still much more to be done on food in early Chinese ritual, as more and more tomb materials allow us to test reports in the early writings (such as Xunzi; Tang and Yue 2013:5). 

A thorough overview of the origins and rise of agriculture, best in its coverage of prehistory, is found in Clift and d’Alpoim Guedes (2021).

Pottery from ninth millennium BCE in Henan is associated with pre-agricultural settled communities (Wang et al 2015).

Basic Archaeology

I generally begin my accounts of China with the rise of agriculture, but cannot here resist flagging a Paleolithic site in Henan that is 30,000-40,000 years old, because of the list of fauna there: tapir, rhino, cheetah, deer, raccoon dog, lynx, fox, etc. Presumably people were eating many of these. Wild millets of both common types were being harvested and processed by 28,000-24,000 years ago, along with wild roots and tubers (Li Liu et al. 2018).

Pottery was first invented in China, and later, independently, in the New World and possibly elsewhere in the Old. Pottery up to 19,000 years old, possibly 20-21,000 (Sato and Natsuki 2019), has been found in China. By 16,000 years ago it was common and widespread, and moving out to Korea and Japan. By 17,000 it was in the far northeast and what is now neighboring Russia but was historically part of China; here it had an uneven course, with local abandonment by hunting specialists who had little use for it (Terry 2021). By 9000 years ago they were firing it up to 1050 C in Cishan and Peiligang (Barnes 2015:93, 102). They thus must have already invented the simple ancestor of the “dragon kiln,” a kiln built up a hill slope at a carefully calculated angle, such that high caloric value firewood burned at the bottom, with a vent that sucks in oxygen as the wood burns, will produce extremely hot air that flows upslope at an even rate. I saw such a proto-dragon-kiln at Banpo, the neolithic village near Xian, in 1978. It was dug into a slope, extended several feet up, and would have done the job. Dragon kilns later produced enough heat to melt iron, allowing the Chinese to invent cast iron (in Zhou, by the 8th century BCE; Barnes 2015:145-147), long before anyone else could get such heat. It requires over 1500 C.

A famous traditional dragon kiln still operates in Okinawa. I saw it in full cry in 1966, when it was simply one more old kiln producing standard traditional pottery for the town. I assumed it was closed long ago, but it is still operating, as a living museum, producing the old classic Okinawan styles for avid tourists.

            The warm post-Pleistocene “thermal maximum” or “optimum” gave good rain even to Inner Mongolia (M. Jiang et al. 2020). It came to a sudden but not widespread or dramatic break at 6200 BCE. Far more serious, in fact a major worldwide shift, came at 4200-3800. Climates widely turned colder and drier. These two changes were evidently a major shock to Neolithic populations, forcing them to work harder and smarter for a living. Shifts in the direction of increasing and intensifying agriculture appear in local records (Barnes 2015:121; Anderson 2014).

            Charcoal from archaeological sites reflects choice. A revealing study by Hui Shen et al (2020) shows that in the Guanzhong Basin in Yangshao times it ran to elm, oak, tamarisk, and jujube. From the eastern plateau, basically Shanxi, in Longshan, there was much oak and Prunus (peach, possibly mei, and others). In late Longshan and after, there was more maple, also willow, pine, fir, Rhamnus, etc. and some bamboo. More northern sites in Longshan had pine, oak, elm, sumac, Prunus. Later, in the early dynastic period, there was pine, oak, hackberry, elm, sumac, willow/poplar, etc. Western areas in Shaanxi, including the Majiayao culture of Yangshao times, had considerable spruce, from the mountains of the Tibetan frontier ranges. There was oak and some fir, not too much else. Spruce drops off and oak comes in over early times. Platycladus, a warm-weather conifer, occurs. Increases in oak and Prunus probably show deliberate selection; pine increases where fire became common. Warm temperate to subtropical woodland in the southeastern part of the study area (roughly the Tianshan mountains) grades into dry pine in north and west. This boundary shifted northwestward during mid-Holocene, then back southeast after 4000 years ago. They thus found woodland, where others find grassland with scattered trees and groves; this is due to the sampling method—burned wood from fires. Only trees get much attention. Another group around Hui Shen found evidence of fruit collecting, including Prunus padus (cherry), Pyrus, Sorbus, Cotoneaster (a red berry), from 2300 BCE, wild; then cultivated mulberry (not native there) appears from 1500 BCE—the first evidence of tree cropping in the Xian area.

            A related study by Tao Shi et al. (2022) surveyed the entire frontier zone between farmland and what was historically grazing land, from far northeast Tibet (Qinghai Province) to the Liao River area. Agriculture was widespread in the moister parts by 5000 BCE, but wild animals dominated; pigs and dogs were domesticated, but not heavily used. Wild steppe animals prevailed in the southwestern parts of this transect. The northeast was still dominated by forest and little-grazed grassland. Sheep and cattle came around 3000 BCE, horses and goats around 2300, and these came steadily to dominate animal assemblages in the Longshan period. By then, they surpassed pigs as stock and food.

            On the Mongolian plateau, millet agriculture was already moving in from the southeast by 6500-5300 BCE. Hunting of aurochs, deer, raccoon dogs, and other game was important for food. Drier times after 4000 BCE impacted this rather edenic world (C. Zhao et al. 2021).

            Farther west, near Dunhuang but up on the high plateau above it, the small Tian’E Lake shows wet periods 1270 BC-AD 400, AD 1200-1350, AD 1600-near present, with dry in between. Vegetation there was sagebrush and other desert shrubs, and dryland grass. Spruce was nearby, but not after 1420 BCE. Nearby lakes had similar records, with some minor differences. This is near the extreme west limit of the monsoon and the extreme east limit of Atlantic-origin rainfall, so it is not only extremely dry, but the rainfall is erratic (Jun Zhang et al. 2018).

            In central China, what is now the Yangtse Delta was drowned by rising sea levels at 9000 BP. Sea levels fell enough by 7000 to begin exposing it again, and a paradise developed (L Li et al. 2018). River deltas, especially subtropical ones, are high-energy, high-nutrient environments that maximize food production, especially with the moderate and fluctuating salinity, which maximizes production of such food factories as oyster beds. The land continued to grow, and still does so; Shanghai was open ocean a very few thousand years ago.

            The Luoyang area near the Yellow River had broadleaf deciduous forest 9230-8850 BP (not BCE), steppe-meadow 8850-7550, steppe with sparse trees 7550-6920. The floodplain stabilized after 8370. Millet-based agriculture arose in Peiligang, 8500-7000. The Yangshao period peaked 7000-5000 in this area (Junna Zhang et al. 2018).

By the 3rd millennium BCE, huge settlements had arisen in north China. They tend to be in rather unexpected places, cold and dry. Perhaps the need to secure a lot of food, for emergencies, led to such early cities. Hongshan, a huge site with a major temple and blue-eyed goddess figure, flourished around 3000 BCE. Much bigger towns arose soon after. Shimao in the northern loess plateau of Shaanxi flourished from 2300 to 1800 BCE, covered 400 ha, had a huge wall and palace, was beginning to work with bronze, and was in every way a city except for lack of writing or other record-keeping. The other great city of the time was Taosi in the Jinnan valley of Shanxi, at 280 ha, which, among other things, developed a musical ensemble of alligator-skin drums and suspended chimestones (lithophones) that lasted into Zhou (M. Li 2018:126). It was conquered by Shimao in 1900 and ceased to be important (Jaang et al 2018). Wars of conquest at considerable distance were obviously a major issue of the time. Erlitou, the capital of the Xia dynasty, rose a bit later than these early cities.

Prehistoric Agriculture

In at least some parts of central north China, broomcorn millet dominated early periods, from the dawn of agriculture around 8000 BCE to perhaps 4000 (see Lander 2021).  It was apparently domesticated in the dry northwestern loesslands, not the Yellow River valley or plain (Hunt et al. 2018), though this requires confirmation. It spread to Mesopotamia by 1100-1500 BCE (Rutgers University 2022).

Broomcorn millet yields in 45 days, and is the fastest-maturing and most water-efficient of grains (Hunt et al. 2018).  It has been a great crop to raise by nomad tribes.  It also makes a fine catch crop if a major crop fails.   It spread from China over Central Asia from 2500 to 1500 BCE, its characteristic isotope signature (presumably of C4 metabolism) appearing in bones by then (Hunt et al. 2018; Spengler et al. 2016).   This helped develop multicrop agriculture in cooler areas (Popular Archaeology 2015), since, though the plant is very tolerant to heat and prefers hot conditions, it will grow in a very short summer.  Its use declined slowly over time, then rapidly with the coming of the New World starch crops, especially maize.  It still is useful in central Asia (Wang et al. 2016:333). Early broomcorn millet from northwest China is genetically close to samples from India and Europe, showing where they originated (C. Li et al. 2016).

Foxtail millet rose to dominance after civilization started; it was a clear leader by Shang. It is somewhat resistant to salt as well as drought, though not as drought-tolerant as broomcorn millet. An interesting insight into the rise of millet agriculture is that wild cats and rats by the middle 6th millennium BCE had been eating a great deal of C4 food, the only common ones in the area being the millets. The rats had been raiding fields and stores and the cats had been eating the rats (Barnes 2015:124).

On the eastern North China Plain, the Houli culture grew millets and had possibly-wild rice and domestic dogs and pigs from 6500 to 5000 BCE, to be followed by the more agricultural Beixi culture (5000-3900), which added more pigs. At this time much or most food was still gathered: acorns and hazelnuts, grapes, jujubes, wild cherry (Cerasus japonica), water chestnut, euryale, elderberry, wild soybean, perilla, Physalis alkekengi, crabgrass.

These cultures preceded the better-known and fully agriculture-dependent and rice-farming Dawenkou (4100 to 2000) and Longshan (2900 to 1900) cultures. Beixin seems to have invented the tripod dish, a constant of Chinese art from humble ceramic beginnings in Beixin to the spectacular cast bronzes of the early dynasties (G. Jin, Chen, et al. 2020; G. Jin, Wagner, et al. 2019). Rice made it to the middle Yangzi only about 3000 BCE, and to Hainan Island by 2600 BCE (Yan Wu et al. 2016).

By 3000-2000 BCE, a pattern of broomcorn millet in the driest northwest and foxtail millet, with increasing rice, in moister areas arose in north China (Sheng et al. 2018).

A major synthesis of the development and spread of agriculture from north China to central Asia was presented in a special issue of The Holocene (Spengler et al. 2016). Wheat and barley spread from the west at about the same rate they did in Europe, a kilometer or so a year, reaching China 3000 (northwest China)-2000 (north-central) BCE. Millets spread the other way, but more slowly, reaching India and Europe around 2000 BCE or later. Agriculture came very slowly to the northern central Asian reaches, where the climate is hostile. Flax came to China from Europe, but not until the Han Dynasty. Going the other way, peaches and apricots reached northwest India and Pakistan by the second millennium BCE, having been domesticated in China perhaps as early as 4000 BCE (Stevens et al. 2016).

Rice came a bit later than millet. As of 7000-5000 BCE, people of the south China coast lacked agriculture, and lived mostly by fishing and seaside foraging where possible (Zhu et al. 2021). Wild annual rice grew in natural seasonal marshes and ponds, as I always thought; wild perennial rice has wider habitat preference.  The annual was the type domesticated, beginning around 8000 BCE (Huan et al. 2021) but not fully domesticated for a couple of further millennia (Clift and d’Alpoim Guedes 2021).  At first it was grown wet (presumably by decrue agriculture, as in west Africa later), then dry or wet. At the Xiaohuangshan site in the lower Yangtze Valley, rice was eaten from 7000-5000 BCE, but was just coming into possible domestication, and competed for attention with root foods and acorns (Ling Yao et al. 2016).  A well-preserved rice paddy has been excavated at the huge and long-occupied Chengtou Mountain site in Hunan (Facebook posting by Chinese Archaeology—the Tiger Meets the Dragon, Jan. 26, 2022). Wet-growing developed as paddy fields became more general in the 5th through 4th millennia BCE (Weisskopf, Qin, Ding, Ding, Sun and Fuller 2015; Weisskopf, Qin and Fuller 2015). 

Rice spread from two centers, Hunan and the Yangzi Delta, and these may represent independent domestications.  It spread throughout East and Southeast Asia at a speed averaging .8 km/yr (Cobo et al. 2019).  This rate implies strongly that most of the diffusion was by farmers actually spreading into new territory, rather than by hunter-gatherer groups picking up the art (Cobo et al. 2019).  The centers and timing are right for proto-Thai-Kadai spreading from Hunan and Austronesian from the lower Yangzi, as Cobo et al imply by noting the spread of those linguistic groups in later times.

            Since 8500 BP, with a strong monsoon, rice flourished north to lat. 36, in the Peiligang (8500-7000 BP) culture. Acorns were more important than cultivated foods at that time. Wild foods stayed important into the Yangshao period (7000-4500, contemp w Qujialing, 5300-4500, elsewhere, and roughly with Dawenkou in the east). Miaodigou with its beautiful pottery is a middle phase of Yangshao, Majiayao (5300-4000 BP) a late phase (Li Liu 2021). Majiayao was succeed in the west by the Qijia culture, running about 4200-3500 BP; it was in this time that horses, sheep, and goats enteresd the area (Womack et al. 2021).

            Rice agriculture was trimmed back by the 4200-4000 BP event during Longshan (4500-4000) to lat. 33.29.  But after that the rice and farming methods improved and it expanded north again.  It was at least present, possibly through trade, in the early dynastic Erlitou (3800-3500) and Erligang (3600-3400) periods. Over time, rice grew along rivers, in low basins; foxtail millet dominated on pediment plains; broomcorn dominated in high valleys  (Jia et al. 2021).

Rice agriculture may have led to China’s famous communalistic yet individually responsible philosophy of life (Talhelm et al. 2014), because of the need to work together while still remaining individually responsible for one’s share. South China shows more communalism, the north more individualism. Small farms managed by independent farmers but requiring a great deal of cooperative labor would strengthen this idea of the proper society. However, Ruan et al. (2014) cast serious doubts on this, pointing out that the study used thin sampling, straw-man alternatives, and rather little awareness of traditional Chinese views. In fact, the basic communalist-individualist philosophy is straight from Confucius, and he lived in a millet-dependent area where rice was uncommon.

Millets reached the south coast by 5500 years ago, an expectably early date (Dai et al. 2019). However, much of the coast resisted agriculture, apparently because they were doing fine as mobile fishers and foragers. On the Fujian coast and Taiwan, agriculture barely made a dent before 3000-2500 BCE, when presumed Austronesian expansion brought advanced rice agriculture. Before that, people lived on fish and seafoods, sago, yams, Job’s tears, acorns, Cordia fruits (still popular), arrowroot, and Canarium nuts (Hung et al. 2019).

Inner Mongolians were consuming millets, beans, nuts, and yams at the same time and even earlier (Guan et al. 2021). Strikingly different is the finding from a site in the Chengdu Plain that shows no occupation at all until 2700 BCE, when millet agriculture appears (d’Alpoim Guedes et al. 2013).

Rice was locally present by 6000 BCE, and remained rare but available (C. Wang et al. 2017).  A very early site in Shandong had rice by then, as well as millets. Probably still wild were soybeans, perilla, and chenopods (Crawford et al. 2019).

By contrast, the more nomadic area of Goukou in Xinjiang subsisted rather steadily on meat, dairy foods, millets, and some wheat and barley from the Late Bronze Age right through the Tang Dynasty (W. Wang 2017). 

At Dadiwan, an early site (5500 BCE), many bones were reported as chicken bones, but turned out to be local pheasant (Nuwer 2020). So did the “chickens” reported from other Neolithic sites (Peters et al. 2016). The chicken had apparently not gotten that far north yet. It is native to far south China, and linguistics strongly implies that it was domesticated by ancestral Tai-Kadai, since the Tai word for it, kai, has gone worldwide. (Cantonese kai; Mandarin ji, derived from kai.)

Deng (with Fuller et al. 2019) has also reviewed archaeological finds of wheat. Wheat and barley were delayed in acceptance for quite a while, because of local preference for boiling grain into porridge (Archaeology News Network 2020); wheat is terribly slow and hard to cook that way, and barley not very tasty or nutritious (though barley gruel was a staple of old Europe). They were present, and used, by 2500 BCE in northwest China (earlier in east Central Asia, later in central China), possibly popularized by the harsh climate of 2000-1800 BCE, which would have made them popular as a winter crop alternating with the summer-grown millets (Cheung 2019). Millets came late to western China, but wheat and barley were fairly early there, established by 2000 BCE (Xinying Zhou et al. 2016). However, wheat and barley did not take off as foods till the introduction of superior milling technology in Han or slightly earlier (Anderson 1988; Lander 2021). Central China did not really adopt wheat till 1500 BCE (Barnes 2015:417). Cold, dry periods inhibited their spread, after warmer times before the 2000 BCE event helped them (d’Alpoim Guedes and Bocinsky 2018).

New Shandong and Liaoning Peninsulas data show wheat there by 2600 BCE. There is no data from Gansu until 1900. It reached the middle Yellow River and Tibet by1600 (Long et al. 2018). It was probably in Xinjiang well before 2100-1700.

Rice appears as a wild or semiwild food by 8,000-10,000 BCE, but cultivated rice may not be older than 6000, with abundant cultivated rice before 5000 (Luo et al. 2019, Huai River area; Yangtse dates are a bit earlier). It was domesticated in the middle and lower Yangtse valley, spreading rapidly to the Huai and much more slowly to the south. In warmer periods it spread north to Shandong. The dry period around 4200-3800 years ago hurt rice farming, but caused it to spread and be adopted more widely, as other sources of food dried up. Early impacts on vegetation were low, but soon became visible. A series of papers by Ma Ting and coworkers have traced its relationship with climate in east and central China (Ma, Rowlett, et al. 2020; Ma, Tarasov, et al. 2019; Ma, Zheng, Man, et al. 2018; Ma, Zheng, Rowlett et al. 2016). Rice agriculture was strikingly slow to spread to Taiwan (around 3000-2000 BCE) and Japan (only a few centuries BCE), leading Qin Ling and Dorian Fuller to maintain that “rice farmers don’t sail” (Qin and Fuller 2016). A bit exaggerated—the rice did get to those islands eventually—but their explanation, the difficulty of getting out of the paddy and sailing with rice and the needed skill package, rings true.

Oats came to China from western Asia by 3400-3000 BCE (Barnes 2015:417), but remained an extremely minor and obscure crop in the far north and northwest (see Buck 1937). Elsewhere, millet outcompeted them as a high-protein, easily boiled grain.

Best of all, beer (more technically ale) residue and brewing equipment have been recovered from the Qiaotou site at fully 9,000 years ago (Dartmouth College 2021). It was made of rice, Job’s tears (a grain still used for beer locally in southeast Asia), and roots (unidentified). The pottery in which the residue was found was painted red and white—some of the earliest painted pottery in the world. Ale then occurs Mijiaya site at 5000 years ago (Wang et al. 2016), as well as from the better-known Jiahu site.  Broomcorn millet, barley, Job’s tears and tubers were fermented together.  This is the oldest barley in the traditional lands of China, though equally old barley has turned up in what is now Chinese Central Asia.

            Li Liu, one of the top archaeologists of China, has done a major study of brewing in the Yangshao period (Li Liu 2021). Neolithic farmers brewed using what is now called caoqu, “herbal starter,” of herbs and moldy grain. Most important as a fermenting agent was our old friend Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is most diverse in East Asia (there are fascinating ancient strains from Hainan I.). She looked at brewing of millet ale with sprouted wheat or maize starter in steamed millet flour, and found mostly that species. She gives a quite amazing list of ingredients in 19 Neolithic beers, almost all including snake gourd root, often other tubers, and sometimes foxnut (Euryale). Barley shows up late, but Yangshao at 5000 BP is the oldest known in China. Many of the Yangshao vessels look almost exactly like Mediterannean amphorae (and are called so in this paper). The narrow necks are easy to seal.

            All the Neolithic ales are made from millet, except the rice beer of Jiahu; often Triticeae also appear. Glutinous broomcorn millet was preferred because the amylopectin has a higher conversion to ethanol rate. (Modern millet ales generally use foxtail.)  She quotes a late Han source on stages of fermentation (from a commentary on the Zhou Li). She has photographs of modern Qiang doing zajiu, a ritual that involves drinking with straws from a communal jar. (This is also very widely found in modern Southeast Asia, among highly traditional small-scale societies.) Few drinking cups occur in Yangshao, so she suggests they used the communal-straw ritual then, and she found marks on amphora necks that look like rubbing by straws (with their silica granules). Zajiu is mentioned in the Huayang Guo Zhi of 348-354 CE. Some modern groups have associated dances similar to ones shown on Yangshao bowls. At some point that red Monascus ferment came, probably from east, and spread with rice—even in western China, rice and probably the associated semisolid ferment technique were used.

Ale has also turned up at the great late-Neolithic town of Shimao, in the loesslands of northern Shaanxi. It was made with millet, plus snake gourd root (Trichosanthes kirilowii), rice, lily (possibly L. lancifolium) bulb, ginger, some sort of barley-like grass, and beans (yes, all in one lot). It was served in pitchers, whence residue was recovered for analysis. Shimao survived the 2200-1800 BCE cold dry event, but finally gave way at the end of it, and was abandoned. However, the ale went right on. It survives today as hunjiu, rather porridge-like, made from barley and broomcorn millet, and using a yeast called Pichia kudriavzevii along with the familiar Saccharomyces cerevisiae (Y. He 2021).

It should be repeated that ale is fermented but not distilled grain-based alcoholic liquor. Beer is the same with hops or other additives to protect it from spoilage; and wine is fermented, undistilled alcoholic liquor made from fruit, flowers, roots, or the like. All are covered by the Chinese word jiu, which then expanded to include distilled alcohol when that came along (probably in the Tang Dynasty). Jiu includes any alcoholic liquid, even tincture of iodine. Sinologists love to mistranslate it as “wine,” and even get defensive about this flagrant error. This could be excused as a “cultural” thing, since ale in old China had the association with song and romance that wine does in European lore, but unfortunately mistranslation is an infuriatingly regular thing in Chinese studies, and carries over from bad biology to mistranslation of basic philosophical and social concepts (“peasant” for free farmers, “caitiff” for villainous enemies, and so on endlessly).

Red yeast remnants have been found in a Peiligang culture site, from around 8,000 years ago—by far the earliest evidence for this classic Chinese fermentation source (posting by Keith Knapp on Facebook, Dec. 23, 2021).

Peach pits showing evidence of cultivation go back 7500 years in the Yangzi Valley (Griggs 2014).

Archaeological records of canarium use have been reviewed by Deng, Huang, et al (2019). One wonders. This tropical tree barely reaches south China and was rather uncommonly used in historic times.

Hemp, a.k.a marijuana (Cannabis sativa), originated in China, though the Indian form (var. indica) may be an independent domestication (see Metcalfe 2019, but his claimed domestication date of 12,000 years ago is preposterous; the truth may be closer to 7,000). A huge amount of it was found in what was suspected of being a shaman’s grave from 700 BCE (Nature 2015b).

The rise of agriculture came slowly in China, especially in areas with rich nut tree forests, because acorns were easier to get. This was even more true in Japan. Agriculture spread surprisingly late there. The reason was the extremely successful adaptation to a tree-nut and fishing economy. Forests of chestnut, acorn, hazelnut, and similar trees were drawn on from earliest times. These were obviously being managed (I assume by selective burning, and clearing undesirable seedlings) in the Jomon period (Barnes 2015:112). More evidence is accumulating that there was also management of, and some planting of, annuals. There was also intensive fishing and shellfishing; by analogy to the Pacific Northwest Coast, the shellfish too were probably being intensively managed. All this kept the Japanese from bothering with serious agriculture until massive immigration from Korea brought the joys of rice agriculture around 1000 BCE, with the first known rice paddy from the 10th century (Barnes 2015:271; see also Graeber and Wengrow 2021 on Jomon’s deliberate avoidance of agriculture). Cultural and skeletal remains had already made the Korean immigration clear, but DNA has fixed it beyond doubt (Robbeets et al. 2021).

            Brian Lander and coworkers have written a history of pigs in China that extends from the Neolithic to today (Lander, Schneider and Brunson 2020).

Pigs were exceedingly important in China from earliest agricultural times onward.  A recent study by Ningning Dong and Jing Yuan (2020) shows that they rapidly increased from their first appearance at Jiahu in 8600 BP to the difficult period from 4200 to 3800, when the climate turned cold and dry, largely due to volcanic action.  This was probably the worst climatic period China faced from the end of the Ice Age up to 536 CE.  Up to that point, agriculture had been rapidly developing in north China, with Yangshao sites recording up to 90% pig bones among all animal bones, as at Xipo (5800-5500 BP).  From 7000 to 5000, the pigs show more and more C4 diet, i.e. millet feeding as opposed to just foraging. 

At Liangzhu in the lower Yangzi Valley, where towns almost reached urban size, pigs show the expected increase from 5500 to 4300, but then a decline sets in because of climatic deterioration, with the Liangzhu culture drastically shrinking down by 4000.  What was left was buried by a flood around 3800. Liangzhu produced much ale, ancestral to modern jiu; other cultures of the time produced a great deal too(M. Li 2018:62ff).

Liangzhu covered 300 ha, and had perhaps 23,000-35,000 people, as well as dams, rice paddies, levees, canals, and in general a managed landscape (B. Liu et al. 2017; L. Xie et al. 2015). It may have been the source of the Austronesian migrations that reached Taiwan and the south coast of China—or it may not. Alas, buried rice paddies do not speak, and inferring language from them is a dubious endeavor.

By contrast, north China flourishes up till 3800 BP, after which centripetal tendencies concentrate development more and more in the central Yellow River area, where full civilization begins, pigs and all.  Yuan Jing and collaborators (2020) review the data.  The West Asian domesticates had providentially come in just in time to save the north from collapse.  The animals in particular—sheep, goats, and cattle—supplemented the pigs, while wheat and barley slowly became visible, though never common until the rise of urban civilization.  The cattle soon became heavily C4 in diet, indicating grazing in millet stubble and probably being fed on millet hay.  The relatively enormous and very complex sites of Shimao and Taosi flourished during the worst climatic time of all, 4300-3800 BP (2300-1800 BCE), in northwest China, at the same time that the previously more impressive Liangzhu culture was collapsing. (Taosi may have collapsed by 3900.) Shimao at 400 ha was by far the biggest site in east Asia up to those dates; Taosi with 300 has was in the next bracket. Both were in the loesslands, and depended on the usual millet-pig base. Food animal bones recovered from Shimao were 20% cattle, 44% sheep or goat, 28% pig. Taosi was much more pig-dependent (52% of bones), with many dog bones, indicating use as food (as in many other early sites), and had 9,000-15,000 people (Campbell et al. 2022).

            It now seems even carp aquaculture can go back 8000 years (Archaeology News Network 2019; Nakajima et al. 2019). A lot of common carp (Cyprinus carpio and C. longzhouensis) up to 75% larger than normal have been found at Jiahu in central China. The local carp is mostly crucian carp (Carassius sp.), a different species, so somebody was raising those common ones, probably from fingerlings caught and transferred to a rearing pond.

            For further notes on early domestication, including those carp as well as cats, see Dodson and Dong (2016). Dodson et al, (2022) have also covered the dawn of agriculture and its later intensification in far northwest Xinjiang. Wheat, barley, and west Asian domesticated animals came by 5000 years ago. Agriculture got considerably more serious after the harsh weather of 4200-3800 years ago. The central Asian Andronovo culture brought very early bronze. The same group has found agriculture back to 3400 years ago, expanding after that, in the Qinghai area; this is the highest agriculture on record at that time (Dong et al. 2016). The usual crops and animals appear: barley, wheat, millet, sheep, other animals. It is worth noting here that barley varieties kept migrating to China throughout history, with some coming by sea or via the Silk Road in fairly recent historic times (Jones et al. 2016).

Earliest History: Xia and Shang

            Yu the Great tamed the Yellow River by diverting it into many channels and shoring these up, thus eliminating extreme flooding; he then founded the Xia Dynasty. Extensive flooding at the time he supposedly lived confirms at least that part of the story, and the rest seems a greatly exaggerated but not unreasonable story. One assumes that various unsung leaders tried hard to do what was alleged, and their stories were combined into one superhero (see Li Min 2018:400ff for the latest information).

            More and more evidence goes to confirm that the Erlitou culture was indeed the Xia Dynasty, with Erlitou itself as capital.  The Central Plains Metropolitan Tradition was born.  Erlitou depended largely on pigs and millet, but already had much rice, as well as “small quantities of soy and a few wheat seeds” (Jing et al. 2020:912). A woven grass basket from the time produced residue of soured milk—either yogurt or cheese (Xie et al. 2016). Fruits were known, probably including peaches and cherries.

            “The presence of large, dangerous game such as tigers, rhinoceros and water buffalo suggests the practice of elite hunting known from later Central Plains Bronze Age sites” (Jing et al. 2020:911). Brian Lander (2021) chronicles the enormous amount of hunting in neolithic China and the steady reduction afterward, with game getting scarce by Xia times. Sika deer, hunted with abandon in previous eras, were more carefully managed, with only adult males being taken—partly because their antlers were prized, for tools and probably for medicine (C. Zhang 2021). They were evidently getting rare enough to make hunters more careful about killing females and young.

            Erlitou was the first city and period to cast bronze ritual vessels, which dominated Chinese art and monumental display for centuries. The city had an inner royal quarter with extremely lavish royal tombs—an ancestor to the “forbidden city” of later times. The city was no larger than the huge late-Neolithic sites, but had 18,000-30,000 people. High-quality kaolin clay was brought from the nearby site of Nanwa, showing that local trade in important materials was well established (Campbell et al. 2022).

            The first city of the Shang Dynasty was Zhengzhou, which still continues as one of the greatest cities in China. The ancient city is under the modern center, making archaeology difficult. One memory I can never stop repeating is from my seeing and photographing beautiful ash-glazed pottery kettles with three small, stubby feet in the marketplace there in 1978—then going to the city’s Shang Dynasty museum and seeing the same kettles, literally unchanged in 3500 years. When you get something right, don’t change it! Population estimates for Shang Zhengzhou run from 39,000 to 65,000 or even more (Campbell 2022). After a brief time in another city area, the capital moved to Anyang, much more available to the modern spade and now one of the best-known ancient cities in the world. It served as capital around 1250-1050 BCE. It grew even larger, covering 30 square km and reaching 100,000 people. There were many specialized craft areas. Trade flourished; spiced millet ale was identified with merchants. Royal tombs included many sacrificed human victims, totaling many thousand over the term as capital (Campbell et al. 2022). The Chinese city was set in a pattern that lasted for centuries, and, without the sacrifices, for millennia.

            The Shang oracle bones allow a good, if unbalanced, ethnography of Shang China, and the great oracle-bones scholar David Keightley provided one (Keightley 2000). The oracles were often taken in response to disasters, from floods to locusts. Typically, one of the former Shang kings or royal family members had been slighted in the latest round of sacrifices, and was causing trouble to send a message; put another way, the oracles were good excuses to rack the farmers for more food to sacrifice and consume in elite feasts. The focus on disasters led Keightley to conclude that the Shang “may have been nature worshippers [sic]—or, more precisely, worshippers of certain Powers in nature—but they were unlikely to have been nature lovers” (p. 116). On the other hand, many oracles simply asked about hunting, rain, crops, and other mundane and more nature-loving concerns.

            One king, Wu Ding (1250-1192), did not speak for three years, meaning that communications to and from him were written, leaving us with an enormous record of the time (M. Li 2018:276).

            Officers of the court included a Many Horses Officer and a Many Dogs Officer, in charge of the royal stables and hunting hounds. The latter title was duochuanshi (in modern Mandarin), using an Indo-European term that may have still been recognized as an elite foreign word. (Chuan from something like *kiwon in early Indo-European, the source of our word “hound”; the indigenous Chinese word for “dog” is gou. Both are probably meant to represent the sound of a bark.)

            Jiu of the time was sometimes flavored with such things as peach, plum, jujube, sweetclover, and jasmine; more interesting perhaps was jiu infused with cannabis (M. Li 2018:285-286). By this time, jiu was enormously important in society. From the early Neolithic on, it had grown in importance and ceremonial use. Li (M. Li 2022) has studied the libation ritual as it grew from late Neolithic times into Shang and Zhou. It was the all-important unifier of Bronze Age rule, bringing together the king and the elite. His landmark study draws on contemporary research into food and drink sharing in ritual contexts to produce a major work of alcoholic-beverage research.

Further lore on early foods is found in Adam Schwartz’ study of Shang sacrifices (2019).  The vast majority are the usual domesticates, as well as turtles, but wild boar are noted, and—more strikingly—chi, a term later referring to a mythical creature, but here considered to refer to ling, Tibetan antelope and gazelle (Schwartz 2019:40-42), largely on the basis of stylized but identifiable representations on Shang bronzes; the taotie monsters on those bronzes are modeled after real creatures, and some display the long, thin horns and long, thin faces of the Tibetan wild fauna. Bulls were sacrificed, leaving the cows, who had to do the heavy work (M. Lin 2022).

Sika deer were heavily hunted in Shang, but no notable decline was evident, showing the hunt was more or less sustainable (Y. Li et al. 2021). Later loss of the deer may owe more to deforestation than to hunting (see Lander 2021; Mostern 2021).

Cheese dating to about 1615 BCE has been discovered in the Taklamakan Desert, in association with mummies.  The material was excavated years ago, but only recently tested.  It is a low-lactose cheese made with a bacterial and yeast starter, not rennet (Archaeology, online, Feb. 26, 2015).

Chopsticks have been found in Yin Xu, capital of the Shang Dynasty, dating from later Shang, over 3100 years ago (Warrant and Honten 2008). Chopsticks now have a full, detailed, excellent history of their own (Q. E. Wang 2015).

Zhou and Warring States

            Of the common people:  “Those with constant means of support will have constant hearts, while those without constant means will not have constant hearts.”  Mencius 3A/3, p 97 in Lau; there is muchmore in that story.  “The common people cannot live without water and fire, yet one never meets with a refusal when knocking on another’s door in the evening to beg for waer or fire.  This is because these are in such abundance.  In governing the eampire, the sage tries to make food as plentiful as water and fire.  When that happens, how can there be any amongst his people who are not benevolent?”  7A/23, p. 187 in Lau

            “One adept at learning is like the king of Qi who, when eating chicken, was satisfied only after he had eaten a thousand feet; if he were still unsatisfied, there would always be another chicken foot to eat.”  -Lü Buwei, from his Lüshi Chunchiu, ca. 220 BCE (Lü 2000:129).

            “The lord said, ‘Are harmony and unison different?’ Yan Ying replied: ‘They are different. Harmony is like a stew. Water, fire, jerky, mincemeat, salt, and plum vinegar are used t cook fish and meat. These are cooked over firewood. The master chef harmonizes them, evening them out with seasonings, compensating for what is lacking, and diminishing what is too strong. The noble man eats it and calms his heart…. Thus, it says in the Odes,  There is a well-harmonized stew….’” (Durrant et al. 2020:217-218).

            Xunzi gave us a terrific definition of nature (ben xing, lit “basic inborn”): It “is what is impossible for me to create but which I can nonetheless transform” (Xunzi, p 199).

            The philosopher Mozi advocated frugality and thrift, and could be downright puritanical about such matters as wine, meat, and feasting in general (Mozi 2010). I have always been struck by the difference between China and the old-time United States. China rejected Mozi, with even the relatively abstemious Confucians arguing that eliminating grand feasts would also eliminate society as they knew it. Feasting, or at least good food, were necessary for hospitality and good fellowship. America’s Puritan tradition had discouraged good eating when I was young, and I found the debates around Mozi to be quite liberating.

            In eastern Zhou, in the central Yellow River plain, women ate more of wheat and barley, still a bit strange and uncommon, while men ate more millet and meat (Y. Dong et al. 2017). The significance of this is obscure; no difference has been noted from earlier periods. 

            Roel Sterckx’ book Food, Sacrifice, and Sagehood in Early China (2011) has a self-explanatory title; it covers religious uses of food and philosophical issues deriving from those in the Zhou period.

            Sterckx, with Martina Siebert and Dagmar Schäfer, have edited a major work, Animals in Chinese History (2019). It includes data on sacrifices, cats (probably new in Han), pigs, and other animals, but most of the articles are on cultural issues, not food. An interesting exception is David Pattinson’s article on bees (2019). He notes that bees and wasps were lumped as feng in old China, species were not differentiated. The larvae were eaten. Honey was poorly known. It became known around Han times and popular since Tang, possibly under Buddhist influence. Bees were (and are) known as mifeng, “honey wasps”; significantly, mi for “honey” is an Indo-European loanword, cognate with miel in French. Honey became important medicinally, but has never caught on as a major food, though China now produces much of the world’s honey. The native bee Apis cerana has been domesticated for the purpose, but I think (but do not know) the standard west Eurasian A. mellifera dominates today.

            Francesca Bray, later in the same volume, notes that domestic animals figure less and less large in Chinese agricultural manuals and similar books throughout history, showing an increasing shift to dependence on vegetable food. There was a “golden age of animals” between Han and Tang, when north China was dominated by Turkic and Mongol peoples, with their fondness for animal-keeping and animal foods. Thus the Qimin Yaoshu has considerable material on this. Beef avoidance was popularized by Buddhism, maintaining an uneven but notable role from Song (Bray 2019b). Many people still avoided beef to at least some extent when I worked in Hong Kong in the 1960s. Japan almost totally avoided it until very recently.

            Critically important is a new tea find: 2,400-year-old tea, a good lump dried up in a cup from the capital of Zhu (Jiang et al. 2021). This shows tea was definitely known and drunk long before Han, and the connection with the southwest is probably significant. Tea shows up in tombs in Tibet and near Xi’an by early Han (Farrer 2017).

            Armin Selbitschka (2018) has contributed an exhaustive and extremely important study of food sacrifices in tombs in Zhou and early Han times.  He finds that the usual assumption that food was for the individuals’ consumption in the afterlife is too simplistic.  Food was indeed offered for this reason—typically, small amounts, or even empty but labeled vessels, were left, evidently with the assumption that they would turn into an endless supply in the other world.  Sometimes, food was simply sacrificed, either to feed the spirit or simply to placate or console or pay respect to it.  Food was apparently both sustenance for the dead and respectful homage to their spirits.  Sometimes food was explicitly offered to other deities, those that guarded or were otherwise involved with the dead.  What does not stand out is any evidence for feasting at or in the tombs.  Food in tombs is neatly placed in proper vessels, rather than being the litter from a feast.  Feasts may have been held outside the tombs, but there is only thin and equivocal evidence for that.  There is also no good evidence for sacrifices outside the tomb.

            Production of food was also complex in ideology.  “Overgrown courtyards and tilled fields” occur as a frequent image in Warring States texts, and Tobian Zūrn (2018) has found that the more Daoist-leaning texts tend to use these as symbols of proper rule.  Mengzi uses carefully tilled fields as a frequent symbol of civilized life and good governance.  The Zhuangzi material includes some cynical comments indicating preference for a more anarchic, wild, unmanaged state.  The Huainanzi, predictably enough, combines these: the good ruler is removed and “acts inaction” (wei wuwei), stabilizing the universe by his presence but acting as little as possible, even to allowing his courtyard to be overgrown with brush and weeds.  The common people, in this idyllic near-anarchist state, will till their fields with great care and diligence.  (Recall that the Huainanzi, an amazing and until recently a most underappreciated work, was compiled by the group that very likely put the Zhuangzi in a largely final form, at the court of Liu An in the middle early Han.  The Zhuangzi got its final editing by one Guo Xian [d. 312 C.E].  The same group seems to have done the same for the equally underappreciated Guanzi material.  What might have been the beginning of really serious science in China was cut short by the rebellion, or alleged rebellion, of Liu An against Emperor Wu; see Sima Qian 1993:321-346.)

            Monica Zipki (2018) has shown that the goddesses important in the Chu Ci, an early song collection, lost ground steadily as male commentators reduced them to commoner or mere symbolic status; the male deities suffered no such demotion.  The Chu Ci, “Songs of Chu,” originated from a state probably heavily Thai in culture, far less patriarchal than the Chinese.  They came up against a “Han Confucianism” that “consistently elevates yang over yin, heaven over earth, the ruler over the ministers, and male over female, and tends toward strong gender essentialism” (Zipki 2018:345). This connects to food via the intense absorption with foods, tastes, flavors, scents, and sensations in the poems.  On a more general level, Han Confucianism remained the ideology of empire, and still colors Chinese thought today; any insights into its role in distorting older ideas are welcome.

From the early Zhou Dynasty comes a bronze vessel from around 800 BCE with a fascinating inscription that records the myth of Great Yu and goes on to record ideas about filial piety, virtue (de), the Way of Heaven, and resulting blessings of longevity and blessings (Chen 2013, esp. 153-154).  These ideas later became foundational in Chinese philosophy; apparently they were already foundational that early, and in remarkably “modern” phrasing.

Taxes were low, but not as low as they often became in later times. Mencius held they should not go as low as 5% of agricultural product, since that level was too low to sustain much of a government (Li Feng 2013:193).

Eastern Zhou infant feeding has been studied by archaeologists, focusing on the site of Xinzheng, a city near Zhengzhou. They found a shift toward more introduced grains, notably wheat, and the tendency of men to eat more millet and meat while women ate more wheat. Teeth show that breastfeeding was universal (in their sample, and probably in general). Weaning was gradual, and at different ages in different individuals. Children, like adult women, ate more wheat and other foods (possibly beans), less millet, than adult men. One suspects that the preference for wheat among women and children indicates that flour milling was already important, since if the grain was being made into whole-grain porridge, millet would surely have been the choice, since it cooks much faster and becomes softer and easier to eat and digest.

Meanwhile, in Yunnan, where civilization was just beginning and spectacular bronzes were coming into style, food was rice, millet (probably foxtail), acorns, and some water plants, barley, and beans (N. Zhang et al. 2017).


            I spent considerable time in Food and Environment in Early and Medieval China (Anderson 2014) discussing the brilliant and underappreciated collection of political-economic works assembled by Liu An (notably Liu 2010). It seems worth repeating the emphasis here. These works should be restudied. Just as an example of wry wisdom, I quote one line: “when people are in the majority, they eat wolves; when wolves are in the majority, they eat people” (p. 650). It should not escape the reader that the wolves are not necessarily the four-footed kind.

            Starting from Han but continuing through Qing is a record of famines, assembled and analyzed in the Chinese literature and recently analyzed by Yan Su et al. (2018). They found 4186 famines in the 2117 years of their study—about two per year. The famines were slightly worse in colder areas, but nobody escaped. Cold areas were more than twice as likely to report economically depressed years, partly because they depended heavily on one or two species of millets, usually reliable and tough but vulnerable to bad years. Far more famines were reported in bad harvest years, but even the best years had a few local ones. Periods of sharp improvement (from famine to good times) were 70-90 CE, 580-590, 1140-50, 1280-1300, 1400-1410, 1680-1760 (note that the last is much longer, but after it conditions steadily deteriorated). Good governance was almost as important as climate in making a decade good. Note, however, that all but one of those recovery periods come shortly after a major cold spell (536-580, 1120s, 1300s, early and mid 1600s; see Anderson 2019). The exception, 1280-1300, was an exceptionally warm period. Cold years were deadly.

            Liu Lei, according to legend the founder of the lineage that later became the Han royal one, not only raised dragons but made fine stews from them (Cook 2013:76). 

            The cynical and realistic Han thinker Wang Zhong provided some insight into Han food in a line about not wasting effort and skill on minor matters: cooking mallow pods with onions does not require Yi Di or Yi Ya, and “to the Village Mother one does not sacrifice a whole ox” (Wang 1907:69, as “Wang Ch’ung,” translation by Alfred Forke). The mallow pods with onions would be the most humble side-dish imaginable; small mallows (Malva verticillata complex) were the coarse but flavorful and nutritious food of the very poor, and I remember nibbling on the pods when I was young. The Village Mother was also a humble and rustic deity, deserving of a small pig at best. The insight into animal sacrifice is worth note: Han continued the vast sacrifices of earlier times, but was beginning to realize they were an awful waste, and cut back. Human sacrifices, already on the wane in much of China, became infrequent.

An entire genre of rhapsodies on imperial hunting parks developed, with famous writers like Sima Xiangru, Pan Yue, and Yang Xiong contributing. These were collected in the Wen Xuan, an anthology dating around 530 CE (Knechtges 1987). These give long and much exaggerated accounts of the beasts and birds in these parks, the enormous size of kills from hunting, and the variety of trees. Imaginary beings reminiscent of the west’s phoenixes and unicorns appear. More to the point is the fact that the writers condemn tying up so much land and resources for sheer luxury, and praise the emperors whenever they release land for farming. Thus Yang Xiong writes in praise: “He opens the forbidden parks, Distributes the public stores…releases pheasants and rabbits, Stores nets and snares; Elaphures and deer, fodder and hay, He shares with the common folk” (Knechtges 1987:135). A later, beautiful ode on a ruined city laments the replacement of exotic luxury items like ostriches by “marsh moss…wild kudzu…snakes and beetles…deer and flying squirrels…field rats, wall foxes,” and overgrowth by poplars, grasses, scrub (Knechtges 1987:257). These poems exhibit what Karen Laura Thornber (2012), in writing about more recent Chinese literature, calls “ecoambiguity”: love and appreciation of the wild, but seeing the need and moral rightness of taming it when people need food and security. The love of both wild and tame, and the regretful awareness of necessity when the wild is sacrificed, has always characterized Chinese literature, though admittedly the “wild” is often a hunting park rather than a wilderness.

            Han developed the changpingcang, “long-level(ed) storehouse,” borrowed by the United States as the “ever-normal granary” in the 1930s—rather a long lag for a desirable cultural borrowing.

            High-tech wheat milling came to China in Han, allowing the production of dumplings, noodles, fermented wheat sauces, and the like. Wheat noodles appear around 100 (Huang 2000).

            Some “mispronunciations” turn out to be more interesting than they seem.  Sharp-eared foodies may have noticed that wolfthorn berries, now so popular in the western world as an antioxidant “nutraceutical,” are called either goujizi or gouqizi (American markets sell them as “goji berries”).  This is reflected in, and may in fact come from, the fact that the phonetic element of the character for ji is actually pronounced qi, even though the full character (the phonetic plus the “tree” radical) is pronounced ji.  The linguist David Prager Branner discusses these cases and others (Branner 2011:107).  The same misreading, or perhaps simply a dialect variant that is reflected in the character, affects some other food plants:  qianma “nettle” gets read as xunma, jicai “shepherd’s purse” (a very good cress-like vegetable) as qicai, and pielan  or piela “kohlrabi” as pilan—in all cases the variant pronunciation following the phonetic without the “plant” radicals.

            Speaking of goji berries, they now come from the desert species Lycium barbarum and are produced largely in Ningxia, with rapid expansion, spreading into other dry areas.  There is now even a ceremony for them in Ningxia (Newman 2017b).  L. chinense, the common garden plant of the rest of China,is now grown mostly for leaves.  Goji berries are literal vitamin pills; they have among the highest vitamin and mineral values of any plant material, as well as being high in antioxidants.  They are therefore thrown in handfuls into traditional Chinese strengthening and healing foods.  They expanded worldwide as a major “functional food” in the early 21st century, thoiugh this has leveled off now.  Lycium species with superb berries—some as flavorful as raspberries—abound in the United States, and could easily be domesticated; they grow easily in gardens (personal observation).  They are said to have less vitamin content, however (reference lost).

            Alcoholic drinks were very well known and widely used (Elias 2020), though drinking was not as fashionable as it later became.

            More old tea has just been identified in the tomb of Han Jing Di, 141 BCE (Keys 2016).  It was buried with him, along with some rice, millet, and, oddly, chenopod seeds (not known as a food at that time). Victor Mair (email of Jan. 11, 2016) thinks the tea was there as a medicine.

In Han, a large maritime trade developed, extending to India and thus indirectly to Rome via the India/Rome shipping pathways.  A major terminus was Hepu, on the Guangxi coast, near the Vietnamese border.  It is a good deal closer to the Nanyang than Guangzhou.  But Guangzhou had access to the hinterlands via the Pearl River system, and soon ecliped Hepu.  A number of fine trade beads made from Indian and other foreign stones are found at Hepu (Xiong 2014).  Foods must have been exchanged too.  The Indian Ocean was a very busy thoroughfare by then (Beaujard 2009, 2012).  Boivin et al. (2013) report on a huge range of domestic and wild animals—including pests stowing away on ships—that spread at this time or soon after it all round the Indian Ocean.

A fine collection of papers edited by Isaac Yue and Siufu Tang (2013) is especially good and complete on “wine” (jiu, actually ale, as the writers know, but they follow the common translation that pays more attention to its cultural status—more comparable to “wine” in Europe than to “ale”).  Several papers focus on the rise of drunkenness as an ideal state for the proper sage.  Laozi and Zhuangzi did not have this idea, except for brief references to people whose basic nature was to drink and thus did it in spite of social conventions.  After 250, the conventions changed, and drunkenness was the expected and idealized behavior of poets; the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove, Tao Qian, and other poets of the early interregnum started this, and Li Bai perfected it and modeled the sublime drunkard for all time.  Few went as far, even when imitating him—he seems to have been a genuine alcoholic—but later writers from Su Shi to the Korean and Japanese imitators of Chinese verse all immortalized their muzzy states.  One hopes for further work on the social aspects of this; Yue and Tang provide much excellent social history of it. Charles Kwong’s paper in their book (2013) is particularly noteworthy not only for its history but for Dr. Kwong’s translations of drinking poems; he gives us a whole anthology of them, genuinely well translated (Chinese poetry is notoriously difficult to turn into readable English).

            Yue and Tang also draw attention to a fantastic legend about the origin of the word mantou for dumplings.  According to the Three Kingdoms Romance (uncertain Ming date—long after the episodes it describes, or invents), Zhuge Liang intended to sacrifice 49 people to calm a storm.  He was too humane, and made heads of dough instead (Tang and Yue 2013:6-7 quote the whole story; H. T. Huang 2000 also relates it).  Of course the real origin of the word is from Turkic manty, and steamed cakes were well known long before, but a good story is still a good story.  Apparently this particular story arose after mantou had become large and unfilled doughballs; in Tang they were the small, meat-filled ones we now call baozi (large, raised buns) or jiaozi (small dumplings).  Mantou still refers to stuffeded buns in Japan, Korea, and some parts of North China. These filled dumplings became baozi in the center and south. (Katy Hui-Wen Hung, Facebook posts, Jan. 4 and Feb. 2, 2021).

Three Kingdoms and Northern and Southern Dynasties

            To begin on a light note: “When the first emperor of Eastern Jin set up his government in Jiankang, there were no luxuries; when a pig was slaughtered, the neck meat was reserved for the emperor, the ‘forbidden fillet.’” (Stephen Owen, in footnote on Du Fu’s collected poetry, Du 2016, vol. 5, p. 391).  So the emperor was happy with pork neck bones—the stereotypic black poverty dish (along with chitlins) in my childhood!  I love them, whether Chinese-style or African-American-style.

            Another light note: early in the period, Ge Hong wrote: “It is not that the Dao is located [exclusively] in mountains and forests, but one who would seek the Dao must enter the mountains and forests, drawing near to their clarity and purity, in his earnest desire to distance himself from the rottenness” (Campany 2001:130-131). Strange stories of the period record immortals feeding humans on moutain-goat jerky, sesame seeds, and the like, and note thoroughly shamanistic visions, soul-travels, and transformations (Campany 2015).

            We know domestic ducks were common from the fate of Wang Sengda (423-458), who was fired for shamming sick so that he could go to watch a duck fight (Wallace 2017). Duck fighting was not uncommon at the time.

            More serious was drying up of some west Chinese oases in the 500s (possibly after 536, when volcanic eruptions massively affected the whole Northern Hemisphere) and were not reoccupied till wetter times in the Medieval Warm Period (K. Li, X. Qin and L. Zhang 2018).

Albert Dien’s work Six Dynasties Civilization (2007) discusses tomb finds, including some notes on food (pp. 359-363). As usual, millet, millet ale, greens, and pork dominated. Bread like Persian nan and dumplings similar to mantou were found in a tomb.

The first Turkic record in China is a single sentence of the otherwise lost Kir language, from the fourth century CE (Shimunek et al. 2015). The authors of the study that reports this find suspect that Turkic peoples, not the Xiongnu, were the “Huns” of early medieval Sogdian record, though the word “Hun” (Hunnu) is almost certainly derived from the word now written as “Xiongnu” (with characters giving it an unsavory meaning, as “slaves”) in Chinese.

            A stunning new anthology edited by Wendy Swartz et al. (2014) introduces a great deal of newly-discovered and newly-analyzed texts.  One new analysis consists the famous fu—long, rhetorical poem—on bing, by Shu Xi (263-302).  Bing today means “cakes,” but David Knechtges in his new study and translation (2014) finds it covered all kinds of flour foods in Shu Xi’s time.  Thus Arthur Waley’s famous translation of this poem as “Hot Cake” is too narrow.  Shu Xi walks us through the seasons, with filled dumplings, bread, boiled noodles, flour cakes, and all, and then climaxes with a mouth-watering recipe for making the filling and stuffing the filled dumplings—what were mantou then but would now be called jiaozi.  Shu notes that bing are of recent origin.  Knechtges (2014:449) finds the first reference in the Mozi, but of course the Mozi has had various bits and pieces inserted in it over time, so this could be as late as a Han reference.  Shu lists a great number of obscure flour-cake terms, in obvious parody of the arcane and obscure language of more formal fu.  (He was criticized for his “vulgar” fu, for which he established a style.)  As he says,

            “some of these names originate in the villages and lanes,

            and some of the methods for making them come from alien lands.”  (Knechtges 2014:453.)

            He reports sifting the flour twice (as my mother used to do), and then describes making filled dumplings by chopping mutton with ginger and onions, spicing with cassia and Chinese brown pepper, adding salt and black beans (presumably fermented soybeans), and stuffing this mix into skins.  I have corrected David Knechtges’ botany, but I could not figure out what he meant by “thoroughwort” (coming after brown pepper in the spicing); thoroughwort (Eupatorium)barely occurs in China. A species of the genus occurs, but, like thoroughwort elsewhere, is used as medicine rather than food. Thoroughwort is useless as a spice.  Possibly artemisia was meant; it is still used to stuff dumplings in Korea, and it vaguely resembles thoroughwort. Less likely, but a known spice of the time, is smartweed, Polygonum odoratum.

            Knechtges notes that many varieties of bing were already described in Han, as well as ci, dumplings of rice or millet flour. Shu introduces more of the wheat dumplings and cakes. He notes some come from foreign lands, and a couple have strange names, angan and butou (small dumplings like spaetzle pressed out into strips), that may be loanwords from some unknown source (Knechtges 2014:450). Shu describes seasonally eaten cakes, including what may be pancakes for summer and leavened bread for autumn. Spring is for mantou (then filled, like modern bao). This is actually the first certain mention of mantou. Coming at a time when western influence was strengthening, in a poem with foreign influence acknowledged, this Turkic loanword (Turkic mantu, manti) is not a surprise. Winter brought tang bing, noodles. Shu waxes ecstatic over laowan, meat-stuffed dumplings. These have the spices noted above, and their wrappings were made with meat stock instead of water. They were eaten with hai, fermented meat sauce. Bing were also made in the shape of pigs’ ears and dogs’ tongues, like the “cow ear” cookies of today.

            Another treasure in the book is a festival and ritual calendar (Chapman 2014) from around 550.  It describes all the seasonal festivals, often with the foods traditional at that time.  New Year began with sacrificing chickens, then progfressed to drinking peppered wine, eating eggs, drinking peach soup, and eating teeth-gluing toffee—teeth knocking together might bring trouble (p. 475).  Others prepared the five pungent vegetables: garlic, leek, garlic chives, mustard, and cilantro—Zhuangzi said these opened the viscera, and they apparently protect against bad air.  But Buddhists ban them (p. 476).  Cold Food Day was then two days before the spring festival of Qing Ming (it is now two weeks after new year).  People ate things like malt syrup, sticky rice and barley pastries, and apricot-kernel gruel (477).  On the ninth day of the ninth month, people ate pastries and drank chrysanthemum-flavored wine (481). 

Another area receiving attention has been the mutual mockery of southerners and northerners that I commented on in The Food of China.  Lu Sidao, in the 6th century, was mocked as a northerner; a southern poet taunted him that in the north “Elm trees thrive with the desire to feed men; Grass grows tall so as to fatten donkeys.”  Elm leaves and fruits were and are a famine food in the north.  The south lacked donkeys and apparently found them derisory.  Lu Sidao immediately shot back his own couplet, mocking southern stinginess:  “Sharing the rice steamer but not the rice; Using the same frying pan, each cooks his or her fish”—images of selfishness quite similar to mocking lines I have heard myself in south China.  (The quotes are from Choo 2014:72.)

The Qimin Yaoshu continues to attract attention, but amazingly little considering its importance.  Bray (1984) drew heavily on it for her history of Chinese agriculture. Huang (2000) and Sabban (1988) have examined its fermentation technology.

I have described the cooking of the period, including the Qimin Yaoshu and the Tang dynasty, in a recent article (Anderson ms), and need not redo it here. The Qimin Yaoshu is an enormous agricultural encyclopedia, compiled by one Jia Sixie around 544. The book’s name literally translates as “ordinary people’s needed skills.” It has been variously translated and mistranslated; some translations are so far from the actual meaning as to be surrealistic. The book’s accounts of agriculture are detailed and intelligent. They reveal an incredible amount of highly sophisticated, technical, accurate knowledge, comparable to but rather more advanced than such Latin counterparts as Columella. The book describes making all sorts of pickles and fermented foods, making soy sauce and vinegars, andprovides us with the first account of oil pressing in China (Bray 1984:519), but obviously it was well known long before, since oil is repeatedly mentioned in earlier works. Rapeseed and less often hemp, and perhaps sesame, were the feedstocks.

Francesca Bray’s superb accounts of the Qimin Yaoshu (1984, 2019a) are among the very best studies of Chinese food. She translates a recipe for stir-fried eggs: “To stir-fry (chao) hens’ eggs: break into a copper bowl and stir till white and yolk are mixed together. Finely shred the white bulb of an onion, add a pinch of salt and stir-fry in a mixture of soy sauce and help [sesame?] oil. It smells and tastes delicious” (Bray 2019a:366). This is still an extremely common Chinese recipe. Green onions (scallions) are normally understood. Sesame is “Persian hemp” in Chinese, hence the question about it; it produces a much better oil than hempseed.

The work also tells us a great deal about dairying and various ways of processing milk. At this time, the north Chinese were heavy dairy consumers. Jia lived under the Northern Wei dynasty, ruled by the Tuoba (Tabghach, Taghbach), a central Asian people speaking Särbi, a language in the Mongolian family. They popularized all manner of central Asian cultural forms, including dairy. He gives recipes for brewing ale, including use of 180 bushels of grain for one batch of “spring ale,” making it clear he was writing for large estates. He lived in a world where slaves, serfs, and peasants (low-status, unfree small farmers) abounded. However, there were very large numbers of free yeoman farmers too, and the popularity of his book shows that many of them could read. (The old image of traditional China as a handful of Confucian literati in a vast mass of illiterate people is a cartoon. Already in the Han dynasty, common soldiers were writing and receiving letters on the frontier. Literacy in Wei times was not close to 21st century levels, but was very appreciable.)

Huang (2000) draws heavily on the book for his history of fermentation in China. It describes bean curd, and several types of jiang (fermented pastes), made from beans, wheat, elm seeds (edible and good, from Ulmus sinensis), and meat. Zha, fermented meat or fish ancestral to Japan’s original sushi, is described. Soymilk was known. Artemisia was used then as before to preserve ale and other foods, since its strong alkaloids kill bacteria and insects. (It was also used to line granaries.)


            Those who write about Chinese environmental policy love to quote a poem by Liu Zongyuan (773-819) about deforestation; various translatons are cited in the Needham series, Elvin’s magnum opus (2004), and my own work. A notably better translation has appeared, done by Bill Porter (Red Pine, 2019:45-46) and is too good to miss:

“The court sends woodsmen into a thousand mountains

with orders to choose pillars and beams

in ancient groves they cut ten and keep one

shattering the axles of hundred-oxen teams

blocking roadways with piles of logs

leaving hills in ruins and mountains in flames

and nothing that remains intact

no creek or gorge survives the trampling

and most of the lumber isn’t used

Slopes are stripped and ridges left barren

then there’s an armory or a palace fire

and builders look nervous expecting to be blames

don’t you see

the great trees of South Mountain becoming scarce

and those who care even scarcer”

            The fact that this is a general comment on late Tang governance, not just on forestry, is particularly obvious from this notably literal translation. Tang readers would instantly remember Mencius’ story of Ox Mountain, deforested and ruined, used as a parable of how poor upbringing ruins humans. The ganying (resonance) between forests and people goes beyond simple analogy into a whole philosophy of governance. Indeed, it is from this time that the mixed deciduous and evergreen forests of central China begin to be rapidly degraded (F. Lu et al. 2019, and see Campbell’s account below in Ming).

The indefatigable Tang and Yue quote a strange but very Tang poem I can’t miss here, a description of a pig dish, supposedly written by a monk dressed in purple (presumably a Daoist):

Its snout is long and its coat is short,

With a bit of fat it is raised on mountainous herbs;

It is wrapped in a layer of banana leaf and steamed,

When cooked it is eaten with an apricot sauce;

Its colour is red and it is served on a golden plate,

Its texture is soft enough to be picked apart by jade chopsticks;

To compare it to a dish of lamb,

The lamb is as fitting as the rattan.”

            (Tang and Yue 2013:8.)

I have no idea what the rattan is about.

            One Huangfu Shi (777-835) was highly aware of varieties of jiu. He noted occasions (snow-viewing to flowers etc), colors, and tastes. These, following tradition, were gan (sweet), chun (mellow), ku (bitter), lie (refreshing), bo (light), and hou (heavy). He wrote:

            “As to [the taste of] drinks, those having rich but refreshing flavors and a sweet aftertaste can be compared to the sages; mellow but bitter and with a golden color can be compared to the worthies; sour and light with dark color can be compared to simpletons. [Furthermore], the hosts who intoxicate guests with glutinous rice-based homemade drinks are gentlemen; with millet-based homemade drinks are middlemen; and with unclean ashed drinks bought from the market are villains” (Guo 2021). In modern terms, we might think of Belgian ale, microbrewery IPA, and Coors.

            Perhaps the greatest insight into Chinese food, and everything else Chinese, is provided by a story from the Jiu Tang Shu (Older Tang History) by Liu Xu (887-946). The emperor found that a man named Zhang Gongyi was patriarch of a family with dozens of people, some connected by ancestors nine generations back, living happily and peacefully together in one great house compound. “When asked how his family managed to reside together for nine generations, Zhang Gongyi (fl. 665) wrote on a piece of paper the character ren…more than a hundred times” (Knapp 2003:17). Ren means “humaneness”; like the English word, it is derived from the word for “person” (ren; originally it used the same character, but was early differentiated by adding the character for “two,” to indicate it is how two or more people should act toward each other). Zhang was only more dramatic about it than millions of other Chinese. The value is, by widespread agreement over millennia, the core of Chinese moral culture. Without it, China, including its food system, would have been very different.

            Tang did better than Han in grain production and transport (Z. Wei et al. 2018). This was apparently due to better governance, since the climate was similar.

            Charles Benn, in China’s Golden Age (2002), has provided a thorough account of Tang food. It was simple and bland by modern standards. Millet continued to be the staple of ordinary people, but wheat rose spectacularly in importance, as central and west Asian foodways flooded in over the vast complex of channels rather vaguely lumped as the “Silk Road.” Jiu also diversified, with grape wine imported and occasionally made within China, and distillation beginning to enter the picture. The height of gastronomic delight, judging from the poetry of Du Fu and others, was raw fish, sliced and variously seasoned. Freshwater fish was the usual source, at least for the poets, living along rivers and lakes (Anderson ms).

            What Tang and Yue and Charles Kwong (2013) do for alcohol, Ronald Egan (2013) does for tea in the same volume; he focuses on the Song Dynasty, when tea was particularly favored as a subject for song.  His translations too are fine and readable, often being the best available, and should be duly quoted in any work on tea or on medieval Chinese food (I wish they had been available when I wrote my 2014 book, which was actually completed in 2013).

            On a different note, Han Shan wrote of luxurious recipes in terms that seem quite familiar now—as is his militantly vegetarian condemnation of them for taking life:

            “The unfortunate human disorder

            A palate that never wearies

            Of steamed baby pig in garlic

            Of roast duck with pepper and salt

            Of deboned raw fish mince

            Of unskinned fried pork cheek

            Unaware of the bitterness of others’ lives

            As long as their own are sweet”

                        (Han Shan 2000:173)

            And to continue with poetry: Pi Ri-Xiu, who had been a farmer, wrote a sympathetic piece about a poor woman whose grain had been taken by tax collectors, forcing her to live on acorns:“Deep into autumn the acorns ripen, / Scattering as they fall into the scrub on the hill. / Hunched over, a hoary-haired crone/ Gathers them, treading the morning frost. / After a long time she’s got only a handful, /An entire day just fills her basket.”  The translator, William Nienhauser, notes that the pilgrim traveler Ennin also noted living on acorns (Nienhauser 1979:79-80). 

            A Shiliao Bencao “Basic Herbal of Food Cures,” was written by by one Meng Shen, 621-713. Only fragments exist. Ute Engelhardt (2001) reviewed in an outstanding article what we know of Tang dietary medicine. Nutrition was important and widely studied, but knowledge of it was young and not deep. It was to increase over time.

            An Arab source from 851-852 notes foods that voyagers encountered in China.  The Arabs knew mainly Guangzhou (known to them as Khanfu):  “Their food is rice.  They often cook a sauce to go with it, which they pour on the rice before eating it.  Their ruling classes, however, eat wheat bread and the flesh of all sorts of animals, including pigs and other such creatures [i.e., unclean in Islam].  They have various kinds of fruit—apples, peaches, citrons, pomegranates, quinces, pears, bananas, sugarcane, watermelons, figs, grapes, serpent melons, cucumbers, jujubes, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, plums, apricots, serviceberries [hawthorns], and coconuts….  Their drink is a wine made from rice…. Grape wine is not to be found….” (Abü Zayd al-Sīrafī 2014:37).  It would appear that the ancestral form of the modern Cantonese contrast of fan “cooked rice” and sung “sauce for cooked rice” already existed.  The almonds, hazelnuts and pistachios would have come from the Near East, traded by the seafaring merchants who supplied the information.  Evidently they were common enough in late Tang to seem regular foods in the port cities.  Weirdly, this source says the Chinese for tea is sākh (p. 49). 

            Tang history relates that the Gopi kingdom in India presented “yu gold aromatic” to the Tang court in 647—the first mention of saffron in China (Yan Liu 2018).  Buddhists then took to using it for scenting and purifying. 


Song saw the development of the Chinese agriculture familiar since: intensive wet-rice agriculture with improved varieties; multicropping everywhere; more use of manure; better water control (Feuerwerker 1995:54); more rationalized integration of silk with food production; rationalized, market-oriented production of such local specialty crops as sugar; and intensive urban marketing.  This all led to the development of a middle class with bourgeois culture, and the famous “sprouts of capitalism” (zibenzhuyi mengya) that never grew into capitalism but did grow into a state-mercantile type of economy. Banqueting in this period and later is notably shown in art (Kwok 2019).

A detailed study of agriculture in Fujian, from Song through Yuan, is provided by Billy So (2000). The fast-growing rice from Champa came, but yielded less well than local rices, and thus did not catch on until later. Population was dense, causing people to turn increasingly to the ocean, starting Fujian’s career as a major trading center and a major exporter of people to the Nanyang (Southeast Asia) and later the world.

China fought the Xixia (Tangut) state, with no success until the great statesman, thinker, and outspoken reformer Fan Chengda was put in charge. He quickly forced the government to provide decent armor and resources. He went on to mentor the major political reformers of the following period. He also wrote important texts on statecraft, including agricultural policy, the importance of which he stressed (P. J. Smith 2017).

Joseph McDermott and veteran Japanese Sinologist Shiba Yoshinobu contributed a book-length chapter on Song economy to the Cambridge History of China (2015). They report that this was the time when China truly became a yeoman nation. Serfdom was declining. Bondservants could now own property. Slavery was about gone. Small-scale private landholding was the rule. From this point on, it is even less correct than before to refer to China’s farmers as “peasants.” They were free farmers, not entailed cultivators with limited rights (p. 350f.). 

The shift to the south continued, with some areas registering 1200% increases in population while parts of the north declined up to 10% (p. 330-332). “In 609 the four key northern provinces of Sui dynasty China had held 73 percent of the empire’s populace…in 1290 it was 20 percent” (p. 434).

Population of northern Song reached about 100 million, and the total of southern Song and Jin regained that level after conflict, reaching 110-120 by 1215 (Mote 1994).

Terrible famines occurred widely in north China in 1075 and the 1100s (see also Zhang 2016), often resulting from flooding perhaps associated with northward movement of the monsoon in the Medieval Warm Period. Infanticide is mentioned as a problem for the first time in Chinese history (p. 411). Part of the problem was the famous deforestation for ironmaking and other industrial uses requiring firewood. Tools improved; the modern Chinese plow developed, and harrows, rollers, and other farm implements were widespread (p. 353-355). The fast-growing, high-yielding rice from Champa (central Vietnam) spread rapidly and was an important crop; earlier claims to the contrary turn out to be wrong (p. 394-402).

Some degree of the awfulness of the times can be gauged from the fate of the Imperial family. Of the 183 recorded children of Song emperors, two died in war, 83 died young, 99 survived childhood, and one is lost to the record—an infant mortality rate around 48% (Zhang 2017a). This is probably typical for imperial families, given the number of child emperors and of emperors who died without children. The most prolific Song emperor, Huizi, had over sixty children, none of whom survived. (See Anderson 2019. Modern China’s rate is 1%. The United States is half that.)

One relief came from forestry. Song created enormous needs for timber, because of construction, iron-smelting, and even writing—ink was made by low-oxygen burning of pines (it later was made from vegetable oil). Creative forest communities took to tree-farming, and developed a genuinely scientific forestry, almost exactly like that which Germany developed in the 19th century (McDermott 2013). Cunninghamia lanceolata, China fir, wasthe most valued. It grew straight and clear to 50 mt. A later book, the Nongzheng quanshu (Complete Book on Agriculture), by Xu Guangqi, 1630, tells how to plant and care for them (McDermott 2013:384). This stands as one of the more amazing cases of China long preceding the west in technical achievements. The forests also produced other commodities, including chestnuts and other nuts, medicinal herbs, orchids, wild fruit, wild vegetables, and mineral resources (McDermott 2013:278-279). Second only to timber was tea, rapidly becoming a major crop in Song.

Ian Miller takes up the story in his book Fir and Empire (2020). Tree farming continued, and does so still. This story will be picked up again in the Qing section.

Patricia Ebrey’s detailed biography of Emperor Huizong of Song (2014) has some notes on food.  “1,069 cooks and cooks’ helpers working in the palace.  Feeding everyone in the palace require several thousand pounds of flour a day, and each year tens of thousands of sheep and thirty-two tons of sugar” (pp. 7-8). “One dumpling restaurant had more than fifty ovens and dozens of workers….  Large restaurants might specialize in regional cuisine, such as the Sichuan restaurant that served ‘noodles with meat, noodles with preserved meat; noodles with various forms of meat or vegetable topping, stewed meat, fried giblets of fowl, and rice served with toppings both raw and cooked’” (p. 23; the quote is from S. West in the Hawai’i Reader).           

            In Song, one Zhu Yijong was took on a hermit persona, calling himself dayin weng (great graybeard hermit), and wrote a lot on booze. His instructions for brewing are interesting. Tumi was boiled and mashed rice or similar grain; qu and maybe some wheat malt were added to it; then a sweet rice paste made; then the whole refermented (touru) together. Cocklebur (canger), spicy knotweed (laliao), or golden hop (shema) could be added [presum to keep from spoiling, though the knotweed would flavor it]. He noted that dianle meant failed fermentation (Guo 2021).

In late Southern Song times, Wu Zimu listed the absolute necessities: “the things that people cannot do without every day are firewood, rice, oil, salt, soybean sauce, vinegar, and tea.  Those that are just slightly better off cannot do without hsia-fan [‘food to help get the rice down’] and soup.” (Freeman 1977:151).  Another list says “oil, salt, soy sauce paste, salted fermented beans, ginger, wild peppoer and tea” (Wang 2016:83). Tea may have been “essential” only to well-to-do people in tea-growing areas, but the text does not say that, and clearly tea was widespread and popular.  The phrase hsia-fan, xiafan in Pinyin transcription, is interesting; it was later replaced by cai in Mandarin, sung in Cantonese.  It reminds one of similar phrases worldwide, as in the American “potatoes and with-it,” the Latin cumpanagium (modern Italian companaggio), the Malay lauk, and the modest sentence that a rural cook used when he taught a particularly fine sauce to Escoffier, “it helps the bread go down.” 

Ling Zhang (2016) has examined in detail the problems caused by the Yellow River to Northern Song.  She sees the river as a major actor in a drama; the government frantically tried to control the river, but it proved uncontrollable, constantly flooding and changing its course.  Centuries of deforestation and intensive farming had allowed massive erosion, which led to silt aggradation of the riverbed, filling in and overwhelming of wetlands, and flash floods from the mountains and hills.  At this time, winter wheat was becoming an important crop, but need for irrigation limited its extent in most of northeast China.  Famines were regular and population declined.  The book is a brilliant tour-de-force of analyzing the role of rivers and of human failure in the wake of human irresponsibility.  The Yellow River remains a problem today. Research by Guodong Li and associates (2019) has confirmed her story: the climate in Northern Song was slightly warmer than now, but erratic, with cold periods and erratic flooding.

Wang Zengyu (2016 [1998]) has given a wonderful and thorough account of food in Song times, based largely on literary sources: poetry, literary records, miscellaneous discourses, and similar source materials.  (I would love to know more about one called “Chicken Rib Discourses.”)  The essay is ornamented with copious quotes from these sources, reminding the reader that Song writers were second to none in their ability to report sharp obseravation with literary skill.  One major recorder was the intrepid Fan Chengda, one of the more sympathetic characters in Song history: a far-traveled diplomat and scholar with superb literary talent and a brilliant mind.

Wang finds that millets were still staple foods in north and northwest China, though wheat was widespread.  Rice was the unquestioned staple in the south.  Meat, vegetables, and fruit were as now, except for the lack of New World foods.  (The English version mentions “papaya,” but that is a translator’s error for quince.)  Vegetables included many varieties of Chinese cabbage, as well as lettuce, spinach, ginger, scallion, shallot, chives garlic, eggplant, the usual gourds, taro, yam, burdock root, radish, wild-rice stalk, alfalfa, perilla, seaweed, wormwood shoots, fern, celery, arrowhead, arrowroot, lotus rhizome, and various mushrooms.  Several wild greens were used, and were painstakingly and commendably identified in text (Wang 2016:67).  Pickling preserved most of these, especially the greens and radishes.  Pickles were eaten widely, and were evidently a major part of diet.

Fruit included many forms of apricot and peach, a huge variety of pears (including very large ones), apples, cherries, pomegranates, mei, lotus, loquat, tangerine, kumquat, orange, pomelo, wolfthorn berries, grape, chestnut, hazel, ginkgo nuts, jujubes, carambolas, melons, quinces, torreya nuts, water caltrop, water chestnuts, and the like (Wang 2016:74).  There was a modern-sounding gourmetship of tea and alcohol.  Distilled alcoholic drinks were known (Wang 2016:80; the “not” is a mistake) and included some known today, such as “rose dew” (rose-flavored vodka).  The usual ales were made, but true wine was made from grapes and several other fruits.  Tonics included alcohol infusions of rose, chrysanthemum prickly ash, foxglove, wolfthorn berries, and even vipers (Wang 2016:80); these survive today.  Malt sugar and cane sugar were both widely used and sometimes mixed.  Varied and wonderful sweets were produced. 

Cooking methods were as today.  Court cuisine was famous, and famously expensive.  Restaurants and catering flourished.  Holidays were celebrated with fine foods, as usual. Many have noted that China’s elaborate, meticulous, diverse cuisine began in Song. Tang records show no trace of it; from Song onward it is everywhere. In fact, a self-conscious counter-tradition arose, influenced by Buddhism as well as Chinese thought, that idealized elegant simplicity. Andrea Montanari (2020) has recently written a superb study of simple soups from Su Shi onward in Song thought and ideal. She quotes many poets of the time on the virtues of a simple soup of shepherd’s purse (a tasty but minor roadside herb) and the like.

Wheat foods were important everywhere.  Baked cakes were shaobing, boiled ones (similar to modern year-cakes) were tangbing, steamed ones zhengbing (Wang 2016:60).  Dumplings were already as important and almost as varied as they are today.  Stuffed buns, mantou-like solid breads, wontons, and baozi abounded (Wang 2016:62).  Noodles were particularly creative: wthere were noodle soups with pork, lamb, chicken, bamboo shoots, and others.  Shaobing (a.k.a. hubing, “Iranian cakes,” removing all doubt of their Iranic origin) could be stuffed with anything from pig pancreas to seasame to marrow (Wang 2016:61). 

The custom of feeding sweets to the kitchen god two weeks before New Year, so he would say only sweet things when he went to Heaven to report on the family for the year, was already established; it is recorded by Fan Chengta, the great statesman and writer (Wang 2016:418-419). Duck fighting was common at the time. Somewhat outside the range of food, but important, is the note that, while constructing the town of Pingxia, “residents saw three lizards there and built a shrine for them.” The lizards eventually became the “Marquis of Favourable Resonance, Marquis of Favourable Bestowal, and Marquis of Favourable Protection….. It is certainly beyond modern people’s imagination that three lizards could be apotheosized and given noble titles” (Wang 2016:423).

Pregnancy involved a whole realm of avoidances, to prevent marking the child.  If the mother ate rabbit meat, the baby would have a harelip (a common belief in the west, even within my memory).  If she ate lamb, the baby might be weak.  If she ate turtle, the baby would have a short neck.  If she ate donkey meat, the pregnancy would go on too long (donkeys carry their foals for about 11 months).  And so on (Zhang 2017a:266). After a death, people were supposed to fast for three days, then avoid meat and alcoholic drinks for 25 months—into the third year (Zhang 2017b; he relates a non-ghost story of a skeptical monk who was detailed to guard a house against ghosts, and saw none until a strange creature appeared out of the dark, moaning, and capped by a pottery jar; he soon discovered it was the house dog, who had got his head stuck while foraging in a food jar).

Minorities in the south ate what they could get, especially the usual grains and root crops, and fish along rivers and coasts.  There were already boat people in the far southeast, living on their watercraft and subsisting largely on fish and seafoods, often eating the fish raw (Wang 2016:91). 

The custom of “buying water” from the river, to wash the corpse of a parent, was already established, among the Zhuang (Zhang 2017c:348).  This recalls an experience from my field work in 1965.  We had to purchase water from a nearby pumped well.  When asked the standard Cantonese greeting “where are you going?” I at first said “to buy water.”  I got very strange looks.  Obviously, something was wrong, so I asked my field assistant.  I learned that one uses the phrase “buy water” (maai seui) only when one is obtaining water to wash one’s parent’s corpse!  This now turns out to be a Zhuang custom, carried right over into 20th-century Hong Kong; the Cantonese are basically Sinicized Zhuang, after all.

In Central Asia, the Turpan Depression (where temperatures range up to 49 C and rainfall is less than 2 cm./year) in Tang and Song was consuming wheat, barley, millet, grapes, walnuts, and desert plants and animals. It now raises cotton, melons, sorghum, and jujubes as well, most of those appearing and developing as crops during or soon after Song (Li-Feng Yao et al. 2020).

The Khitan, Jurchen and Tangut (of Liao, Jin and Xixia respectively) ate wheat products and meat, and especially reveled in dairy products. (See Franke and Twitchett 1994.) They did a great deal of hunting and fishing.  The Khitan first-fish rite was famous—a vitally important state ritual.  The fish was a huge sturgeon caught by ice-fishing (Wang 2016:95).  Game meats included deer, raccoon dog, bear, marmot or ground squirrel, and game birds.  Wild fruits and nuts included hazelnuts, chestnuts, poine nuts, cornels, pears, and the like; salt could be used to preserve foods (Wang 2016:97).  Surprising detail exists on Liao and Jin foods and feasting, since Song courtiers often traveled to and from their courts, recording useful or interesting lore.

Crabs were the subject of two foodie works, Monograph on Crabs in 1060, Discourse on Crabs in 1080; neither has recipes, alas, but Jacqueline Newman has made up for it by providing a huge number of wonderful ones in her article noting those books.  She also notes a Song work, Records of Home Cooking by Mrs. Wu of Pujian in Zhejiang, as the first cookbook by a woman (probably in the world); it does have crab recipes (Newman 2016a). 

Soy sauce begins to appear, remaining a specialized product, most popular in the lower Yangzi, till modern times (Leung 2021).

            Lu You has a poem about eating sheep yogurt with cherries in Hangzhou (Miranda Brown, Facebook posting, Aug. 28, 2021).

            The Nongsang Qiyao, “Needed Knowledge of Agriculture and Sericulture,” was a government manual from 1273, but early editions are lost (Bray 1984:71).

            “Coarse tea and insipid rice” were snubbed by the elite, but praised by some devotees of simplicity and plainness, an aesthetic convention of the time, stimulated by Daoism and Buddhism (Yue 2017).

            Scallops were popular enough to inspire one writer to create a fictional discourse on the world as seen by a scallop. Such perspective-taking is not unusual in Chinese fiction (Mai 2020).


            Population dropped to 60 million by 1290 (Mote 1994), and did not recover unitl well into Ming (Mote 1994:661).

            Stephen Haw (2006) has written a notably well-researched study of Marco Polo. Among other things, it ends forever any serious argument that Polo never got there. Haw notes many details that Marco could not possibly have known without seeing them. I might add that Polo’s descriptions of cranes are perfectly identifiable to species, which would be impossible unless he was speaking from direct observation. The types of “mice” eaten by the Mongols are also described in the travel literature, and I have identified them (Buell and Anderson 2020).

            A social change involved considerable restriction of women, tracking Neo-Confucian thinking in late Song and then Mongol introduction of west and central Asian policies, influenced by Islam and more restrictive. Women lost rights to property, among other things, with ramifying bad effects on food in the coming dynasties; they followed the Yuan code (Birge 2002).

            Yuan loved to compile food and agricultural books. Wang Zhen’s enormous Nung Shu (“Agriculture Book”) of 1313 summarized farming knowledge of China, but has been little studied (see Bray 1984:59-61 for an easily-available account in English). Other works followed.

            Sources on Mongol food have been enormously expanded by Christopher Atwood’s book The Rise of the Mongols: Five Chinese Sources (2021).  Zhao Gong, in “A Memorandum on the Mong-Tatars” (pp. 71-92), describes their staple foods: “They live only by drinking mare’s milk to slake their hunger and thirst. The milk of a single mare can satisfy three people. Whether going out or staying home, they only drink mare’s milk or slaughter sheep for food. [This is flagrant exaggeration; horses foal in spring, the milk must be saved for the foal till it can graze, and then dries up in fall, so mare’s milk is only available in summer.] [T]hey shoot rabbits, deer, and wild boar for food…they have seized as slaves people from China who must eat grain to feel full, and therefore they seize rice and wheat as plunder…Their country also has one or two places where black broomcorn millet grows, and they also boil this to make gruel.” (More exaggeration. The Mongols grew a good deal of it, and had other sources; they always ate a good deal of grain. P. 83.) Zhao also noted that they rarely wash, wiping their greasy hands on their robes. Like the Europeans, he maintains they wear clothes till the cloth falls apart (p. 87). They foretell the future by scapulimancy (p. 90). When he left Mongolia, he and his companions were told by the Prince of State: “Whenever you come to a good walled town, stay a few days longer. If there is good wine, drink it, or good tea and food, eat it, or a good flute of a good drum, blow it or bang it” (92).

            Peng Daya and Xu Ting provided a particularly detailed account as early as 1233, “A Sketch of the Black Tatars,” pp. 93-130. They noted the stock, including the camels, and the dependence on milk—but they are not so ignorant of the variety and processing methods of milks. They provide detailed descriptions of the ger. They did not kill their cattle, saving them for milk (100). They used dried dung for fuel, referring to it as “steppe charcoal” (100). They even used it for lamps, adding sheep fat to make it burn well (101). They called scapulimancy “burning the lute” (108). Those who illegally broke grazing land for cultivation, or allowed fires to escape, were executed (113).
“Those who, when pouring out milk or kefir, empty the vessel completely are said to be cutting off their descendants” (113). They begin to ride at three years of age, a fact still observable in modern Mongolia. Their arrows can pierce armor (114). Ting observed a Mongol woman give birth, wipe off the infant, wrap it in a sheepskin, sling it in a cradle, and go riding off with it (115). For mountain or stony ground, their horses were shod with iron or wood (115).  Stirrups were made carefully to allow full range of motion in the saddle (117). Provisioning the army involved being very sure there would be enough milk; a great deal of detail is supplied on mare’s milk (118-119), with clarified milk for the elite. (From other sources, we know that Mongols traveled to war with a string of milk mares when possible, thereby tending to restrict campaigns to the summer.) They had some grape wine from central Asia (119). Ting describes melons “two men’s arm spans in circumference” (127), which must be a misunderstanding or exaggeration, though watermelons were coming in at the time,  and were strange to north Chinese, who never saw such gigantic melons in the homeland.

            Related is a study of Mongol-era distilling, including of kumys (Luo 2012).

            As was true throughout Chinese history, food was used as medicine. Thus, studies of medicine in the day, including Reiko Shinno’s excellent The Politics of Chinese Medicine under Mongol Rule (2016) as well as Paul Buell’s and my work (Buell and Anderson 2010, Buell et al. 2020), discuss food at great length. In particular, our work Arabic Medicine in China (2021) provides a translation of the Huihui Yaofang, a Mongol-era encyclopedia of western medicine translated into Chinese for Chinese use. (The Chinese text and good annotations are given in Kong 1996.) It did not catch on; almost no influence from it is traceable in Chinese medicine.


            Brook (2005, 2010) has chronicled the development of rice in Ming, including vast construction of polders, even in inhospitable north China. He also provides a thorough account of the disastrous climate events associated with the Little Ice Age that terribly stressed the dynasty (Brook 2010, 2016). The worst was in 1645-1715, the Maunder sunspot minimum that produced probably the coldest weather since the Ice Age. Extreme famines occurred with droughts in 1450 and 1625-50 (Lee and Yue 2020). A final fatal blow was a huge volcanic explosion in the Philippines, which darkened the skies and caused the worst drought in recorded Chinese history, 1641-43 (Chen et al. 2020). Poyang Lake fluctuated wildly in extent, more than at other times, with all these dynamics of precipitation (He et al. 2022). The treeline in Tibet dropped by a huge amount in the Little Ice Age, and has not recovered even now in places (K. Li et al. 2019).

            The timing of the horrible droughts and famines from 1625-50 spans the fall of Ming and rise of Qing, a point whose obvious significance is remarked on by Brook, Lee and Yue (2020), and many others (Anderson 2019). This is one time when weather did have a share in bringing down a dynasty, though Ming was rotting and giving way already, and famine was probably more a last straw than a full cause (Anderson 2019).

            Wars, rebellions, and civil uprisings followed floods, and in wheat areas also droughts (Lee et al. 2017). This is a good time to introduce the team of Harry Lee and David Zhang, who with their students, notably Qing Pei, have rewritten the history of China in the last dozen years, from the point of view of climate and its effects. They have produced an incredible number of brilliant articles and books, showing correlations of climate with famines, wars, and epidemics (see Pei 2021; I drew on them heavily for my book on dynamics of Chinese history, Anderson 2019).

            Beginning in Ming and continuing to the present, the vast Dongting Lake in the lower Yangtse area has suffered increasing loss of area and wetlands, through reclamation for agriculture. Only 5.7% of it was lost by the end of Ming, but now three-quarters of the wetlands are gone, and the lake is reduced to a narrow, dyke-circumscribed shadow of its former self (Y. Li et al. 2020).

            In Ming and Qing, epidemics were frequent, and correlated with famines, locusts, and droughts; all these were notably more common in cool dry times, of which there were many in this Little Ice Age period (H. Tian et al. 2017).

            Li Bozhong has argued (e.g. 2003) that the coming of the famous Champa rice and other new varieties of crops only slowly made a difference. New technology, including better pumps to dry out paddies quickly for crop rotation, had to come in. Yields 2/3 to 1 shi of rice per mu, occasionally up to 2; they rose during Ming from an average of 1 to 1.6 in the Jiangnan region. Population grew after the disastrous Song-Yuan-Ming transitions.

            The Xuande Emperor (r. 1426-1436) imported from Korea many “female cooks to satisfy the emperor’s appetite for Korean delicacies” (Chan 1988:301). 

            Pig-raising and pork-eating in Ming and Qing have been studied and monographed by Chung-Hao Kuo in a meticulous study (2013). Then as now, most of the world’s pigs were probably in China. He notes, though, that pigs rose greatly in abundance, and lamb relatively declined, with the progressive southernization of China after Han.

            The first mention of chiles in China is in the encyclopedic Eight Treatises on Following the Principles of Life, 1591, according to Wee Kek Koon (2019) writing in the South China Morning Post. It is described in that work as having “white flowers and a fruit that resembles the blunt tip of a writing brush.  It is spicy in taste and red in color. It looks very attractive.”   He notes that it was well established in Sichuan and Hunan by the late 19th century.  Little seems know of it otherwise. 

            Yuan Mei’s famous work Recipes from the Garden of Contentment (Suiyuan Shidian) has finally been translated, by Sean Chen (2019).

            See also Gao Lian (tr. by Sumei Yi; 2011) on my website ( His detailed work on medicinal uses of foods includes a long section of Central Asian sweets, including halwa under that name (transliterated hai luo, lit. “sea radish”). Paul Buell and I have used this material, quoting the main sweets recipes, in Crossroads of Cuisine (2020). Diverse and contested attitudes existed toward alcoholic drinks in late Ming and early Qing, ranging from Gao Lian’s purity to Yuan Mei’s more hedonistic take to outright banqueters and revelers.

            Gao Lian called himself a shanren, but one Li Zhi (1527-1602) said the shanren were a bunch of hypocrites. He was not alone. Gao’s Zunshen bajian was thus rather lowly regarded.

            There is a Shiwu Bencao (“Food Things Basic Herbal”) from 1550, with many later editions. A huge work, Nongzheng Quanshu (“Agricultural Complete Book”) by Xu Guangqi (1562-1633), surpassed even Wang Zhen’s earlier work, and includes some new lore from the west; it describes sweet potatoes, on which he wrote a short separate work, now lost (Bray 1984:64-70).

            Of course, the greatest of all herbals was the Bencao Gangmu, by Li Shizhen (2003; Chinese original, 1593-96). In addition to a workmanlike translation by a Chinese team, a more scholarly translation by Paul Unschuld and his group is ongoing. They began with Vol. 9, Fowls, Domestic and Wild Animals, Human Substances (2021, P. Unschuld, tr.) More volumes are appearing. Zhang and Unschuld (2015-18) have produced a dictionary of the work, with their considered translations of Chinese medical and biological terminology.

Portuguese observers added greatly to our knowledge, as recorded by C. R. Boxer (2004, orig. 1953). He quotes Galeote Pereira as writing (in translation from his time)  “the Chins are the greatest eaters in all the world, they do feed upon all things, specially on pork, the fatter that is, unto them the less loathesome” (p. 9).

Deforestation continued, and Aurelia Campbell (2020), in What the Emperor Built, a rather amazing monograph on Ming megalomaniacal building, showed that taking huge nanmu trees (Phoebe nanmu) for the capital opened up the forests, established logging infrastructure and finance, and led to massive deforestation of all sorts in the wake of the imperial despoilers. The conventional wisdom on China’s deforestation is that it was done for agriculture to feed the starving masses, but in fact a great deal of it was done for imperial construction, for ironworking, for ceramics firing, and even for ink (formerly made by closed-in combustion of pines for soot—fortunately rapeseed oil replaced this).

            Drinking was rampant. The following is summarized from Jackson Guo’s superb 2021 article.

                        Later, one Gu Qiyuan (1565-1628) chronicled a whole range of drinks: yellow millet drink (huangjiu) from Beijing, Cangjiu from Cangzhou, yiyi jiu (pearl barley or possibly Job’s-tears liquor)from Jizhou, autumn dew white liquor (qiulu bai) from Jinan, lychee drink from Guangdong, lamb liquor (yanggao jiu) from Fenzhou, wujiapi jiu from Gaoyou, and snow drink (xue jiu) from Yangzhou (presumably white in color, not made from snow), sanbai jiu (three whites—made from wheat, rice, and clear water) from Suzhou, honeyed crabapple drink (milinqin jiu) from Yangzhou, and plain baijiu from Hangzhou. There were several more. By this time distilled spirits—shaojiu, baijiu, alaji (or halaji) were well known and widely appreciated.

            A mid-Ming story tells of a poet, Zhang Yuyuan, who was asked at a banquet to write poems for the peonies. He dashed off 50 and said he was running out of inspiration; the host gave him distilled liquor and he dashed off 50 more. Another mid-Ming drinker, Song Xu, made a cocktail with 40 catties of liquor (apparently distilled), 100 walnuts, 200 red jujubes, and four catties of cooked honey. One Xu Guangqi records making brandy from mulberries—apparently real brandy, not just flavoring baijiu with mulberries. Another record describes fermenting grain and lychees, then distilling.

            Drinking was connected with courtesans and sex, of course, such that globefish were compared to Xishi’s breasts, oysters to her tongue, and both consumed at singing-house drinking parties. This was usually at the opposite end of the spectrum from connoisseurs like Yuan Mei and reveling but elite banqueters like Zhang Yuyuan.

            Not directly connected with food, but too important an insight into Chinese culture to miss, is the journal of Huang Xiangjian (1609-1673). He was caught in Suzhou in the horrors of the Ming collapse. At the time his father was serving at a government post in remote Yunnan. Huang, a filial son beyond even Chinese norms, set off through the horrific chaos of dynastic transition, into an area so wild and remote that even locals barely dared to venture on its roads. A soft city aesthete, he endured travel hardships that would have killed almost any hardened fieldworker. Amazingly, he survived, found his father, and they returned together; his father, in fact, survived him by a few years (Kindall 2016). This is as amazing a record of sheer human toughness as anything I have read.


            Under Qing, China’s population grew spectacularly. It had risen during Ming to about 150,000,000. The fall of Ming came with appalling bloodshed and famine, leaving a population not much over 100,000,000. Under Qing, it rose to the famous 400,000,000 of American stereotype in those days. Readers may recall Carl Crow’s infamously titled book 400 Million Customers (Earnshaw 2008, orig. 1937), which is actually a quite knowledgeable and sympathetic work, but clearly aimed at American businesspeople!

            In late Qing, China became known in the west for its “teeming millions” and “population pressure.” Grave thinkers calculated that famine would simply worsen, as the dense population rose more. They theorized that democracy could never come, or endure, in such a mass society. Today the United States has almost exactly the same population density as late Qing, and indeed its democracy is in desperate shape. Meanwhile, China’s population has more than tripled, and almost everyone is eating well. Democracy, however, does not exist except in Taiwan.

            In any case, the appalling increase in population led to agricultural involution (Huang 1990), as more and more people tried to make a living off less and less land by working harder and harder. Average farms shrunk to the size of an American suburban lot [about 1/6 acre, roughly a Chinese mu) in the most densely populated areas. “Popular wisdom had it that it required 4 mu of land (about two-thirds of an acre) to feed one person. With rapid population growth, this ratio had worsened under Qianlong from 3.5 mu per person in 1766 to 3.33 mu [half an acre]per person in 1790” (Elliott 2009:148). Of course it was even smaller in the 19th century. This forced people to focus on silkmaking and also to export workers to cities (Bell 1997). Mulberry trees to feed the silkworms grew on the levees between rice paddies.

            Desperate hardship ensued, leading to rebellions in the 19th century, and also to emigration from southeast China to southeast Asia and then in the 20th century to the entire world. North China suffered less crowding, but had major famines, partly due to rain-based agriculture (Huang 1985). Lillian Li’s Fighting Famine in North China (2007) is a definitive history. Mallory’s classic China, Land of Famine (1926) remains indispensable. Even difficult climate, including the Little Ice Age in the 1600s and 1700s, did not slow this growth, “owing to the tremendous increase of subsistence brought about by land reclamation policy and the introduction of foreign food crops” (Lee et al. 2016), as well as excellent famine relief provisions, among the best in the world for that time (Will 1990; Will and Wong 1991).

            Lee and Campbell (1997) traced the microdynamics of life, death, and reproduction in northeast China, finding an incredible amount of complexity and resourcefulness instead of the grim tale of inexorable famine and rampant overpopulation beloved of western colonialist observers in the 19th century. Chinese controlled their births, planned for the children they had, coped by diverse and rational methods when famine struck, and lived their lives successfully in spite of all. The Chinese saying “Freezing to death, stand straight and face the wind; starving to death, never bend” (Rohsenow 2002:#D183) sums up their lives.

            At the other end of the socioeconomic scale, the same team researched the demography of the Imperial family (Lee et al. 1993). They found a depressing, even appalling, fact: the infant mortality rate was as high as in the general population, which in old China was extremely high. Even the Emperor was not isolated from epidemics; in fact, the Emperor was at high risk because of the thousands of people that circulated through the court. The Imperial diet may have been luxurious, but it was not well-balanced nutritionally, and if there was any problem with breastfeeding, the baby was apt to be fed on rice congee, a fairly good predictor of quick demise. Also, most of the Imperial children were the offspring of concubines, who got rather cursory care and attention. The tough farmers of the remote northeast could thank their lucky stars that they were better equipped to raise strong children.

            The same group summarized their early findings in One Quarter of Humanity:  Malthusian Mythology and Chinese Realities, 1700-2000 (Lee and Feng 1999, jumping the gun a bit). The key finding is that Chinese controlled their population fairly well and were proactive about food management, famine relief, and expanding food producting, contra the early Malthus and his grim idea of population inevitably outrunning food supply. China was well fed for an agrarian empire in 1700 and a great deal better fed in 2000, in spite of population increase—which itself was under control by then.

            The cause of this huge population growth is under some debate. China had 60 million people by 2 CE, but that was when it controlled much less of the region than now; the total population in what is now China would have been 70-80 million. There were only about 100 million at the start of Ming. The huge increase in Qing seems largely due to peace and order, allowing longer lifespans and more trade and commerce. New World food crops, however, also had a huge role. They may have been the major cause (see e.g. Mazumdar 1999). Maize, sweet potatoes, and white potatoes allowed great expansion of cultivation into previously low-production landscapes. Peanuts, chiles, and various fruits and vegetables added critically important nutrients that had been scarce in many diets.

            Agriculture and agricultural production has been studied in detail by Zhohong Shi in Agricultural Development in Qing (2017).

            Matthew Sommer (2015:160) reveals that in late Qing “a shi [133 lb.]of unhusked rice…cost about 1100 cash,” with an exchange rate of about 750 cash per tael (1.3 oz) of silver.  Silver today (Jan. 2016) costs $14/oz., so a tael would be worth $18.50.  1100 cash would thus be about $28, enough to buy 56 pounds of white rice at today’s bulk-retail prices, and thus several times that much unhusked raw rice, wholesale.  Thus, prices are roughly comparable then to those today.  Sommer notes that a day laborer could work for as little as 50 cash per day (p. 161).  A man would need at least 1 1/3 lb./day to survive, and more than that to do any work.  He would thus need to spend 11 cash for minimal food, plus whatever surcharge there was for husking and milling the rice.  We also learn that a wife (bought from another man, usually in desperate straits) would cost an average of 24 taels, or $442, a low enough price.  A magistrate might get 30,000 taels, a governor six times that (162), but these huge sums were more in the nature of budgets than of salaries, for these officials had to pay many expenses—including paying lower-level staff—out of the sums.

            A huge literature, with many debates, has emerged on the rise of Qing economy, which rivaled Europe’s by 1700, but then fell behind (Anderson 2016; Pomeranz 2000; Wong 1997). Kenneth Pomeranz (2000) held that China still had about the same per capita income as Europe at that period, a claim challenged by others (see Huang 2002) and hard to resolve. Some think China fell behind as early as late Song (which seems extremely unlikely, given all other sources), or in Ming (The Economist 2017). The proper comparison is also debatable, since Holland and England, certainly far ahead of China by late Ming, are much more comparable with the lower Yangzi than with all China: “In Qianlong’s day, Jiangnan accounted for 16 percent of the total agricultural land in the empire, but provided 29 percent of the governments land tax revenue in cash (paid in silver) and 38 percent of its revenue in kind (paid in grain), as well as 64 percent of the tribute grain sent to feed the capital” (Elliott 2009:78-79). A Europe that includes Russia seems much more comparable with Ming or Qing.

            Qing economic thinking also paralleled Europe’s, as shown by Margaret Zanasi in a landmark book, Economic Thought in Modern China (2020). Sophisticated ideas about the free market were close to those of Adam Smith. Economists were aware that consumer spending drove the market, and advocated liberalism at first, but the population increase without much chance of increasing cultivated land led to need for more and more government intervention to deal with famine. Chinese were well aware of the Song historian Sima Guang’s line: “The wealth of heaven and Earth is fixed in amount” (quoted p. 18). Chinese are relatively free of the “limited good” or “zero-sum” view of the world so common in other traditional and modern societies, but they certainly are not unaware of it. A tension between free markets and government planning and aid was always there, intensifying with population growth in Ming, Qing, and after.

            China began to fall behind as Europe conquered and exploited much of the rest of the world. This not only brought riches to Europe, but, more importantly in the eyes of many, stimulated science, learning, and progressive thinking there. It brought little but misery and suffering to the conquered peoples. China certainly fell behind once the Industrial Revolution really set in, but it did not start improving livelihoods till after 1800. James Lee and collaborators (2004) also found welfare often comparable to Europe as late as 1700, but a great deal of desperate poverty, often among widows, who could not normally remarry. Larger farms did not make much difference, since farm size was by this time generally set to keep a small family alive; bigger farms were in poorer areas.

            The Qing did embark on a colonialist program, occupying Tibet, southern Siberia, Mongolia, and above all the area that had been known as “eastern Turkistan” in most of the world. Qing conquered as far as Tang had done, but took over and occupied the whole vast region, rather than controlling only the strategic Silk Road routes and oases. This became Xinjiang, “New Borders.” Qing conquest involved genocide of the Dzungar Mongols, a radical (though not wholly unprecedented) departure from China’s usual policy of subduing and assimilating minorities without exterminating them. The new lands produced vast amounts of fruit and vegetables, from the riverine oases, as well as grain and livestock. The whole story has been told in Peter Perdue’s China Marches West (2005), a classic in Qing studies.

            Zuo Zongtang, the general and statesman for whom “General Tso’s Chicken” was named, was active in Xinjiang in the late 19th century, stimulating agriculture and sericulture (Lavelle 2020). Among many interesting features that now became part of the Chinese food-producing world, we may mention karez, the qanats of the Arab and Persian worlds. These water tunnels were dug back into river outwash fans, where flowing rivers from the mountains disappear into the vast deltas of dirt, rocks, and sand that they develop when they debouch into the valleys. The water is still there, flowing underground, and the near-horizontal wells tap it. Qanats are difficult to make, requiring expertise—one reason they are dying out, now that anyone that expert in engineering can get a good urban job instead of working in the dangerous, uncomfortable qanats. In China, they are especially common in the Turpan (Turfan) Depression. On Google Maps one can easily find the long, straight or sinuous lines of doughnut-shaped holes ringed with guard mounds that provide access to the underground tunnels. Zuo Zongtang, the general and statesman for whom “General Tso’s Chicken” was named, led the reconstruction of many karez in the Turpan area. Attempts to spread the technology more widely failed, because soils in much of the area are crumbly, not strong enough to hold up when tunneled (Lavelle 2020:126-140).

            Qanats used to abound in Iran, central Asia, much of the Arab world, and even (thanks to Moorish occupation) Spain. Converted Moors carried them to Mexico, where they possibly still exist in the Tehuacan Valley. Thanks to immigrants from there, “water tunnels” even made a brief appearance in San Bernardino, California, according to old-timers I have known.

            Relatively good times could be found in the far northeast (Feng et al. 2010), because the former Manchu grazing and hunting lands were opened to cultivation. People had sizable families and populated the realm rapidly.

            Meng Zhang has produced extremely careful, thorough, and interesting studies of the timber industry in Qing China (M. Zhang 2017, 2021). Once again we see Karen Thornber’s “ecoambiguity” at work, with the Qing government trying to save forests while encouraging logging. Some selective logging and silviculture saved small areas. Timber was especially easy to get in the Yangtze River areas, such as up-country Sichuan, Hubei, Hunan, and Anhui. Often it was rafted down the rivers. Huge rafts could be assembled, and floated down to lower Yangtze markets. These could be “more than 100 feet wide, hundreds of feet long, with a draft depth of 7 feet” (M. Zhang 2021:116). The raftsmen would live for months on these, raising chickens and even taking some soil on board to grow vegetables. (Parenthetically, I might add that this was done in the early 19th century in the Ohio-Mississippi drainage, chickens and all.) One raftsman even wrote a book about his life (M. Zhang 2021:125). Private plantations and silviculture were ahead of the west until the late 19th century. Collectivization and rampant exploitation under Communism finished the destruction of the forests. However, reforestation has substantially restored them in recent times.

            Tree farming continued, and we pick up again Ian Miller’s story in Fir and Empire. The business by Qing was a multi-million-dollar enterprise.Speculation in tree futures, litigation over rights, feudal-type family holdings, temple and fengshui groves, and other complications entered the picture. This attracted a wave of petty lawyers and sharks, nicknamed “hairpin-brushes” because they held their hair up with their writing brushes. One writer on tree matters called himself (literally translated) “small peach-stream revealer-of-lies mountain-man,” or as Miller translates it “the falsehood-revealing hermit of a small utopia” (p 94). He concludes: “Ultimately, the institutions that emerged were not inevitable, nor were they the simple products of high-level decisions; they were compromises, conditioned by the communities they governed and the repeated attempts of rulers to graft and prune these local forms into a coherent whole” (p. 170). Food enters the picture via tea plantations and other agroforestry.

            Huge rebellions—the Taiping, Nian, and Hui rebellions—devastated China in the 1840s and after.  The Taiping Rebellion devastated central China, leading to tens of millions of deaths, largely from famine due to scorched-earth warfare and destruction of supply lines. The ground was said to be white with bones in many areas, and greatly exaggerated reports of packs of “thousands” of wolves circulated (Lavelle 2020:67-80). An illustration of the time shows not only dogs and pigs, but also rabbits, eating unburied corpses, while gravediggers work to keep up (Lavelle 2020:70). The rabbits not only show that the illustrator had no idea of animal fooways but also give a surrealist, macabre touch to the scene.

            An unprecedently devastating famine in 1876-79 followed, pursuant to the famine-ruined landscapes and a sharp drought (Janku 2018). International attention followed, leading to stereotypes of China as desperately poor, famine-ridden, overpopulated, and ruined by environmental overdraft.

            Common lands still existed, and caused conflict over different use and management strategies. A superb study by Wesley Chaney (2020) records fighting due to different ideas of rights to common lands in the far northwest.

China’s cities were quite “modern,” having active trade and commerce that naturally led to food imports and a wealth of teashops, restaurants, and attendant food-related amenities (see e.g. Rowe 1984; 1989, esp. p. 86; 2002). 

Among the first New World foods to become popular was the chile pepper, whose record has been immortalized by Brian Dott in The Chile Pepper in China (2020). Gao Lian, the Ming health-food writer, was the first to mention and describe it. By 1621 it was in the Shiwu Bencao. It is first mentioned in Hunan in the 18th century, but was surely there earlier. It fit into an already-spicy cuisine, and found a true home; Hunan food makes Mexican seem bland. The Hunanese general Zuo Zongtang (1812-1885) surely deserved the honor bestowed on him when a Hunanese chef in Taiwan named a blazing-hot dish in his honor in the 1950s (Dott 2020:170). “General Tso’s Chicken” is now worldwide, with countless blander variants given imaginative parodies of the name to avoid infringement of rights.

Many varieties soon appeared, but our record of its spread and early use is poor.  Chiles normally get called by some variant of la jiao (hot brown-pepper), but the vernacular name in Taiwanese is huana kiun, “barbarian kids’ ginger.” Katy Hung, the expert on Taiwanese food, assures us that the term huana is not derogatory on that island, but it certainly is in Malaysian Hokkien! In any case, an entertaining name.

Allspice, another newcomer from America, became known as gan jiao, “sweet pepper.”

A debate between free-marketeers and statists developed in the 18th century (Dunstan 1996, 2006), with the statists having the better case and ultimately winning, but not until many modern-sounding free-market arguments had been made, and had had some effect.  The ever-normal granaries (changping cang, lit. “long-leveling storehouses,” i.e. leveling prices over the indefinitely long term) were somewhat scaled down and freer markets locally allowed to flourish in grain and in copper/silver conversion in money.  Hoarding was discouraged by any and every means possible.  Debates also dealt with the quality of rice for salaries: low-level functionaries had to make do with shaky-quality rice (chengse mi) or even “old and suo [low-grade] rice” (Dunstan 2006:65). 

            Business, trade and commerce enormously expanded through the 18th century (Rowe 2009:132ff.).  The old idea of international trade as “tribute”  and internal trade as minor and repressed is largely wrong.  Trade continued to expand after 1800, but, especially after 1840, trade with the west incurred increasing disadvantage.

This was in large measure because of opium, long known but explosively expanding its tentacles in the 19th century.  It was used moderately and reasonably before the 19th century, but then the British began “dumping” it on China in order to get silver and to get a local foothold on trade.  David Bello has recently updated the history of this drug (Bello 2003 and references therein—a comprehensive bibliography).  The Qing Dynasty tried, not without success, to prohibit it, but the western powers—finding little else they could sell at a profit—forced it on China.  By the end of China’s last dynasty, in 1911, millions of Chinese were addicted to this debilitating curse.  The result of the British pressure was a rise in demand and in addiction, and eventually a serious problem, as I had plenty of opportunity to observe in Hong Kong in the 1960s.   The effect on food production was serious, as more and more laborers succumbed.  Attempts to eradicate opium in the early Communist years were quite successful, but, with the opening of the market after the 1970s, heroin and other hard drugs flooded in (Dikötter et al 2002).

            Tea has its own stories.  Robert Gardella (1994) compared China’s smallholder production with the rise of plantations in the colonial world; Qin Shao (1998), in a fascinating article, showed that China vilified teahouses as dens of freethinking and other iniquities—just as Turkey and later Europe attacked coffeehouses, and just as “espresso joints” were attacked as hotbeds of “beatnikism” within my own memory.  Exports of tea to England “grew exponentially, from around 200 pounds eper year in the late seventeenth century…to over 28,000,000 pounds in the early nineteenth century” (Rowe 2009:166; see also Mair and Hoh 2009), with the average English household by then spending as much as 5% of its income on tea.  England at first paid in New World silver, but eventually only opium was valuable enough to trade to offset the buying of tea, porcelain, cloth, and so on.  So opium spawned the famous colonialist wars, which had much to do with “underdeveloping” China.

China kept developing more and more elaborate dishes, and became more and more committed to what we now recognize as “Chinese cuisine”—no more Central Asian and Near Eastern borrowings (Anderson 2005b). 

The great Chinese gourmet Yuan Mei (1716-1798) flourished in Qing (Anderson 1988; So 35-43; Waley  1956).  His birthday, set at March 25 in the western calendar, has recently been declared International Chinese Food Day.  It could be an arbor day, too; he planted a tree on his 70th birthday, saying:

“Seventy, and still planting trees….

Don’t laugh at me, my friends.

I know I’m going to die. 

I also know I’m not dead yet.”   (Tr. J. P. Seaton, 1997:92.)

His cookbook is thoroughly Chinese (Schmidt 2003; So 1986; Waley 1956).  No central Asian or western influences here.  It has finally been translated, in a superb bilingual edition by Sean Chen (Yuan 2019)—a major and long overdue event in Chinese food history. 

Food receives attention in A World Trimmed with Fur: Wild Things, Pristine Places, and the Natural Fringes of Qing Rule, by Jonathan Schlesinger (2017).  Qing vastly expanded the size the Chinese empire, especially into Siberia—only to lose most of that expansion to the Russians in a series of unequal treaties.  Especially before the loss, the Manchus, Mongols, and Han Chinese mined the Siberian and Mongolian frontiers for steppe mushrooms (Tricholoma mongolicum, Agaricus bisporus, and possibly others), furs of all sorts, game, fish, and other wildland goods.  The Manchus tried to keep much of this realm wild.  Many of their nature reserves and hunting parks are now national parks in China and Mongolia.  Unfortunately, they could not keep from depleting the resources drastically.  They almost eliminated the larger fur-bearers and the pearlshell freshwater mussels.  They almost elminated wild ginseng, to the point of being forced to farm it, producing what was (and still is) thought to be an inferior product. 

While the exploitation was good, they had a fine time.  Before conquering China, Manchu rulers ate “tiger, bear, roe deer, elk, montain goat, boar, wild duck, and pheasant; recipe books record how palace staff cleaned a cut the meat into ig hunks, then prepared it in stews of sea salt, soy sauce, green onhion, ginger, Sichuan peppers, and star anise (Schlesinger 2017:22).  After conquering China, they tried to keep up their habits.  The Kangxi emperor advocated that, and wrote that older Manchu people should eat “’unrefined milk, pickled deer tongues and tails, dried applies, and cream cheese cakes’”; deer were almost totally used, from antlers (for medicine, when in velvet) to tail (Schlesinger 2017:23). A recipe for steppe mushrooms with deer tendons includes, also, soy, salt, hot bean oil, white sugar, distilled alcohol, flavor powder (a spice mix), onion tips, ginger, and starch, the whole to be sprinkled with fragrant oil for serving.  The recipe reads quite like a Yinshan Zhengyao recipe, and shows that Central Asian foodways were still alive (Schlesinger 2017:25).

Game abounded in the 18th century.  Matteo Ripa, one of the Jesuit missionaries, wrote in the early years of the century of the vast amounts of incredible cheapness of stags, boars, pheasants, and fish.  Others added similar accounts, including an incredibly precocious eleven-year-old Manchu boy who recorded masses of deer, boar, pheasants, hares, geese, and ducks, and notes his own fondness for sturgeon and crane (Schlesinger 2017:40-41; the boy’s journal also has insightful comments on the politics and culture of the time; see Schlesinger 2018).  Of course it was all too good to last, and China’s expanding ring of destruction—which has now encompassed Africa—eliminated the cheap game long before 1900.

Fish suffered also. Muscolino (2009) tells the story of declining fisheries. On the other hand, China and its seas still had plenty of fish by 1900. These were devastated by overfishing and pollution by 2000. China now depends on sending fleets around the world, where they are decimating local stocks, leaving nothing for local people.

The great novels, notably The Story of the Stone (Cao and Gao 1973-1986) and The Scholars (Wu 1957), are full of food images (Anderson 1988).  Classical cookbooks appeared, to be mined in our time (e.g. So 1992).  The Qianlong Emperor loved birds’ nests, though, oddly, Li Shizhen did not refer to them (Rosner 1999:7).

Many Qing scholars developed a surprisingly strong feminist streak in its early popular culture (see esp. Idema and Grant 2004).  Male writers like Cao Xueqin, Zheng Xie and Yuan Mei extolled the value of women, their intellectual equality with men, and their potential.  Yuan Mei not only advocated educating women along with men, but actually educated many of them himself, serving as tutor and mentor to over fifty women—a whole generation of brilliant female writers (Waley 1986).  Cao Xueqin’s great novel The Story of the Stone (Cao and Gao 1973-1986) portrays elite women who had the benefit of such education and turned out to be brighter and nobler than the men in their lives. (On these matters see Idema and Grant 2004; Widmer 2006.) Obviously this all had significance to food, since such men were not only gourmets themselves but fully conscious of the trials and triumphs of women as cooks and food providers. This informed their writings.

There were various motives involved.  Cao and Zheng were intensely moral men, were concerned with fairness and ending abuses, but Yuan, who had the mores of a tomcat, made no secret of wanting lovers he could talk to.  Women themselves wrote countless poems, stories, and especially tanci, prose-poetic works thought to be largely a female medium; not surprisingly, tanci routinely portray women as “smart, learned, physically active, and the equal of any man in the examination field, imperial court, and sometimes even in physical combat” (Epstein 2011:7). They also pulled no punches on the cruelty to women that occurred in China as elsewhere. One tanci, Tianyuhua, has a familiar plot: a father who is well-meaning but excessively moral to point of cluelessness and a daughter who is brilliant, beautiful, and winds him around her finger (Epstein 2011).  It will be recalled that women did not get this kind of fair shake in western literature until the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  (Sappho anticipated the trend by a few millennia, but one swallow does not make a summer.)  One wonders, as so often, why China did not go on to parallel the west.  Neo-Confucian morality reasserted itself.

A significant insight into both Qing tolerance for minorities and Qing acceptance of women:  A Muslim Uighur concubine in the court of the Emperor Qianlong in the 1760s and 1770s managed to avoid pork, eating mutton instead, and to eat sweets—probably with a Central Asian flavor (Millward 1994:435). 

Qing toyed with many versions of the “free market” philosophy, including testiness toward welfare recipients and expressions of cold free-market morality (Dunstan 1996).  Old-fashioned Confucian caretaking of the poor prevailed, but was never enough, given the corruption and pigheadedness of much Qing government.  Local officials could be incredibly hard-working at Confucian causes, however, such as Yang Tingwang, who rearranged several rivers to help his district.  In his few spare minutes from flood and irrigation control, he repaired the local hall of learning, so that “the wine jugs, the vessels, round and square, for holding sacrificial rice or millet, the serving dishes for the salted vegetables and meat, and for the pure meat broth..and fresh meat” were all pure and properly arranged (Dunstan 1996:39).  Other officials provided famine relief and memorialized about it to the emperors. (The subject of famine relief in late imperial China is complex and specialized; see Y. Deng 2020. Suffice it to say there was a huge effort, not at all unsuccessful but eventually overwhelmed by the levels of population and catastrophe in the 19th century.)

A fascinating insight into early Qing environmentalism is provided by Wang Hongdu, in “A Record of Comprehending the Essentials of the Yellow Mountains,” translated by Jonathan Chaves in Every Rock a Universe (2013). The mountains in question are in central Anhui, and are among the peaks that are famous through Chinese landscape paintings.  The larger, older pines were so revered that they had traditional names.  Wang lovingly described every step of every trail, every peak, every spring, all with full attention to the spiritual and religious dimensions, from Zen temples and monks to visionary dragons and Immortals seen in the swirling mists. 

Unfortunately, “ignorant woodcutters cut the pines down for firewood or charcoal…. Yes, the unfortunateness of the pines’ fate has reached such a point!  Would one not rather that before the mountains had been opened up, their light could have been sheathed in the primordial beginnings…even if the pines had never come to be known at all” (p. 108).  In other words, better have the pines unknown to the world than to have them cut.  This level of preservationist sentiment is almost unknown anywhere in the world before Thoreau and Emerson, and is certainly rare in China.  Wang also laments the travelers who miss the Yellow Mountains, or who go there but merely gawk without deeply entering into the spirit of the place.  “For human life is like that of a louse living in somebody’s pants.  Few are the good aspects of it.”  We should therefore fully experience the beauty we can find.  “Sirs, if you do not love the place, then either simply cover your mouths and mock, or, if not, hang your heads in shame and depart!  Ah, one wishes they could put aside their petty-mindedness…. What difference, indeed, is there between what they do and exchanging the Black Dragon’s Precious Pearl for a dung-beetle’s dung-pellet!” (p. 130).  This view of the mountains, rooted explicitly in Daoism and Zen, corresponds surprisingly closely to the Romantic view that was to develop in Europe in the early 19th century. Daoism has been described as “China’s green religion” (Miller 2016; see also Miller et al. 2014 for major considerations of religion and ecology in China).

David Bello, in Across Forest, Steppe, and Mountain, chronicles the westward expansion of Qing and its many contacts with central Asians. The Manchus felt kinship with the Altaic and even Tibetan peoples, though this did not stop them from colonialism including the ruthless genocide of the Dzungar Mongols. The Manchu emperors kept huge hunting grounds in northeast China, and had hunting parks in north China too. Ecoambiguity continued; criticism of these parks and liberating them to farming went on (p. 70). Game continued to decrease. Pine trees were being cut down to harvest pine nuts, a behavior condemned then as now, with the Jiaqing Emperor himself intervening in 1796 (104). Expansion of pioneers into the southern mountains, typically poor Han Chinese referred to as “shack people,” greatly spread maize agriculture (185-244). A group of Torghut Mongols fleeing Kazakh attacks settled in Xinjiang in 1771, were directed to farm, and settled into poverty and hunger, not being familiar with the trade (Bello 2018).

Eric Schluessel’s work Land of Strangers (2020) covers some similar ground. The government tried to “civilize” the Xinjiang people, i.e. make them like Han Chinese, without much success; they rebelled instead. The project goes on, brutally.

An odd sidelight into food in remote Taiwan comes from the career of He Bin, an outrageous rogue in the grand tradition of scoundrels (Andrade 2007).  Among other things, he misappropriated the taxes on mullet, very popular common fish that could be caught wild or farmed.  Working for (and simultaneously against) the Dutch, who occupied Taiwan in the 17th century, he managed, among other things, to channel a great deal of the mullet tax into his pockets.  A tax of 10% on mullet and their roe, during the season for fishing them, was charged, and little of it got past He Bin. 

            Wikipedia says the rice polisher was invented by Sampson Moore in 1861 (British). Earlier, polishing had to be done by hand, laboriously, with grinding substances. Moore’s machine and later ones used talc to grind and whiten the rice, hence need in old days to wash rice very carefully. We careful souls still wash it, to get loose starch off, and because in the old days rice often came with a good deal of dirt and insects in it. I still cautiously freeze imported rice to kill meal moth eggs, though modern processing has generally eliminated such passengers.


            Among other things, soymilk was promoted in the 20th century, from the Republic on into Communist decades (Fu 2018).  It remains popular, but cows’ milk is now common and widespread, and sometimes contaminated with melamine and other dangerous adulterants.

            A story that spans Qing and the Republic, and especially the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, is told by Sakura Christmas (2019).  In one of those amazing articles that starts with a tiny subject and expands to comment brilliantly on the world, she describes the fate of Chinese farmers who displaced Oirat Mongols in the 19C.  “The reclamation that had started with Bagmedorje led to a sinking spiral of renting and selling Mongol lands in order to rescue banner finances, but these pastures had been the very source of economic wealth for the area.  Less land meant fewer herds and a diminished income; as debts mounted, so too did the pressure to rent or sell property, and this cycle would begin anew” (p. 820).  The Chinese turned range into soy fields, but the soil was selenium-deficient, and human deficiency problems started showing up.  Then the Japanese took the area and greatlyly intensified the soy farming, almost entirely for export, so the Selenium was lost to the entire system.  Disease then flared up, especially tuhuangshui (“vomiting yellow-water”) disease, an extreme selenium deficiency that leads to death, especially of women and children.  The sex ratio got as bad as 5:1.  People were misshapen and dwarfed from bone non-growth and pathology.  The Japanese tended to see this as mere proof of the degeneracy of the Chinese, and treated people as animals—taking photos including topless photographs of women to show breast pathologies.  Nothing was done; the deficiency was not understood or investigated.  The author makes this a parable of dispossession followed by ecological overdrive, and then colonialism at its worst leading to real system collapse.  The details and ecological awareness in this article are stunning.

            Fei Xiaotong’s great classic work on Chinese farming in the Republic and since deserves quick mention, though I have treated it in detail elsewhere (Anderson 1988) and need not do more than mention it here (see Fei 1992). The great scholar of agrarian times, Li Bozhong, has updated the analysis (B. Li 2020).

            William Skinner’s notes from Sichuan in the late 1940s are now available (Skinner, ed. Stevan Harrell and William Lavely, 2017). He had a terrible time dealing with warring Nationalist and Communist forces; his field work was increasingly hampered and eventually shut down. However, he got much detail on agriculture, and also lists of foods available in local shops, from noodles and dumplings to swan eggs (“heavenly goose eggs,” p. 187).

Traditional Agriculture in the Mid-Twentieth Century.

            I have described in some detail the success of the old south Chinese wet-rice ecosystem at producing incredible amounts of food in a broadly sustainable way. This system lies behind Permaculture and many other modern systems of more or less sustainable. scientific agriculture. (Of course, nothing in sustainable forever—the sun will explode in about two billion years and vaporize the earth—but meanwhile anything that helps prolong feeding people is a good idea.) The traditional system was best at conserving nutrients, especially nitrogen. My friend Hugh Baker, who did superb studies of social structure in old Hong Kong, in a review of my book The Food of China (1988), commented that south Chinese agriculture “must make nitrogen atoms unfortunate enough to be in other parts of the world feel unloved” (Baker 1989). Indeed.

            In Hong Kong I used to visit Deep Bay to see the oyster beds, observe the culture, and eat oysters. Now the oyster industry has received a superb, comprehensive, wonderfully detailed historic study by James “Woody” Watson (2021), covering its development and practice as far as he could trace it along the Guangdong coast.

            Francesca Bray et al. (2015) have updated us on modern production and trade of rice.

            This may be the place for some rustic proverbs:

In a melon patch don’t tie your shoes; under a plum tree don’t adjust your hat (Rohsenow 2002:G167). The instruction here is to do nothing that will arouse suspicion.

Better one mouthful of heavenly peach than a whole basket of rotten apricots.  (N50)

When people hit bad luck, a mouthful of cool water will get stuck in their teeth. (R31)

If the country has no muddy legs, in the city starvation kills the oily mouths. (S35; no farmers, no eating rich food in the city.)

One day no work, one day no food.  (Y254; the classic Zen monastery commandment.)

Communist Period

            Mao initially bought the Marxist line about the innate backwardness and hopelessness of peasants, which Marx memorably compared to potatoes in a sack (Mitrany 1951). IN spite of his farming background, Mao called Chinese farmers “peasants” (which they are not), and initially dismissed them. Fortunately for them, he came to learn better, but still never developed very rational views about them or how to revolutionize them (Day 2013). Overly fast collectivization led to the disaster of the Great Leap Forward. More recent Chinese scholarship does not fully correct the mistakes of the past, in spite of due hostility to such western economic bad ideas as xin ziyouzhuyizhe (neoliberalism; Day 2013).

            Among many excellent new ethnographies of Communist China, we may mention Mayfair Yang’s Gifts, Favors, and Banquets (1994), for its description of the political uses and manipulations of those acts, and her more recent Re-enchanting Modernity (2020) as a stunning and very detailed description of how religion—including its feasting and foodways—survives despite irregular and erratic Communist persecution. The regime blows hot and cold on religion to keep it cowed and manipulable. Directly relevant is her editorship of a collection of papers, Chinese Environmental Ethics (2021), with many exceptionally good studies. Most go well beyond the trite “China’s concepts of nature are different from ours” and such pearls to discuss actual events in anthropological perspective. A paper by Jeffrey Nicolaisen (2021) notes that Han Chinese may have eaten parts of Taiwan Aboriginals in the old days, on the theory that they were not human. In any case, Taiwanese certainly sacrifice and eat pigs, even Buddhists who are otherwise vegetarian (pp. 48-49). Other papers discuss problems with trees and groves in today’s contentious world.

There is an important new history of the Great Leap Forward, Yang Jisheng’s Tombstone (2012).  He calculates 36 million died, a minimal figure (Dikötter 2010 calculated 45 million, a much more likely sum). Harrell (2020) has also weighed in on the mindless bureaucratism that shored up Mao’s wild ideas, and turned disaster into total catastrophe. Part of the problem was that Mao ordered families to stop cooking their own foods and to eat in canteens, in 1958. This led to theft, cheating, and other problems.

Worst problem for the whole nation was the constant overestimate of production, because Mao wanted to hear only high figures. Food fell more and more short. People resorted to bark and other famine foods. The canteens have been re-created in a perverse outbreak of nostalgia, or perhaps shuddery tourism (Wong and Thuras 2021:123). Science was not wholly banished, as shown in detail by Sigrid Schmalzer (2016), but it took a back seat.

The “struggle against nature” (Shapiro 2001) that almost succeeded in destroying China was fortunately stopped. (Nature has all the cards in that game.) Bryan et al. (2018) record in detail the reversal of Mao’s insane policies and the recovery of much of the country since. The article is too optimistic; there are still enormous problems with coal-burning, desertification, pollution and poisoning of soil and water, wetlands loss, and biodiversity loss (see R. Smith 2015, 2020).

At least the country is actively moving in a better direction. Reforestation is especially impressive (personal observation in China and on satellite images), but sadly balanced out by China’s plundering of Southeast Asian and African forests. They are outsourcing their deforestation. As of 2021, China uses 32% of the nitrogen fertilizer in the world, allowing a 44% increase in crop production between 2000 and 2018. Even so, China still imports a great deal of its food, notably 83% of its soybeans. These come largely from Brazil, and have led to massive deforestation there, including destruction of the unique and biologically super-important cerrado areas. China uses 13% of the agricultural water (i.e., basically irrigation) in the world, at 48% efficiency, far less than Europe’s (H. Zhao et al. 2021). China spares water in the north by bringing more and more rice and other food from the south, where water is abundant for growing it (X. Zhao et al. 2015).

China continues to try to be green yet affluent, but sorely underinvests in preserving natural capital (Ouyang et al. 2016). Sensible environmental measures, such as local recycling, conserving water, and keeping food safe, are common (Schmitt 2016), but still far from universal.

            An important collection of papers on the environment, including excellent studies of food production and land cover, was assembled by Abe and Nickum (2009). Robert Marks’ study of the formation of the Pearl River Delta is particularly valuable for food studies; he assembles meticulous detail on the vast extent of land extension by creating polders (sha tian, Cantonese sa tin, “sand fields”), shellfish farms (which slowly fill in), and other devices. A further study by Ma Jianxiong et al. (2016) adds much detail. Many of the polder creators were former boat-dwelling fisherfolk. These boat-dwellers were often the descendents of shoreline farmers who lost their land; from Qing on well into the 20th century, they began to get it back, or rather to create new land for themselves.

            Chinese counties and districts continue to exaggerate their agricultural production, sometimes up to 100% (G. Liu et al. 2020).

China’s water is depleting. Rampant withdrawal of groundwater goes on in the dry areas and is not being replaced. Dalin et al. (2015) recommend giving up irrigation entirely in areas where it depends on groundwater overdraft, notably around Beijing and in Inner Mongolia. China spares water by importing water-demanding products like beef from elsewhere, but its dryland areas are still facing collapse.

One lake, Dianchi in Yunnan, was totally ruined by mismanagement and pollution, but a monastery saved the golden barbel, a choice fish worth more than $100/kg, while other agents saved a few other items such as some mussels and the edible water plant Ottellia, making restoration possible (Stone 2008).

China surpassed the United States as the leading greenhouse gas producer in the wrold a few years ago, with dismal results, but, again, much is being done to change this (see excellent collection of articles in Fang 2018).

Like many other countries, China wastes about ¼ of its food (Nature 2021).

            Schneider, Lander and Brunson (2019) bring us up to date on pigs in China, with discussions of the pork factories of modern China, where American-style factory farming has unfortunately taken root. China’s wonderful, tough, flavorful landrace pigs are being replaced by western varieties that put on fat and meat fast but have low quality. Dairying is rationalized similarly: Mongolian milk is sealed in tetrapaks and sold as “green,” though current policy is destroying the grasslands and the Mongolian way of life (Tracey 2013).

Western pests have invaded China in vast numbers, just as Asia’s worst pests (such as the chestnut blight and the emerald ash borer) have devastated American trees. America’s pine bark beetles, for instance, are now working through forests there as they have destroyed millions of acres here (Qiu 2013).

Biodiversity continues to decline. The other freshwater dolphins are following the white-flag dolphin into extinction. The Yangtse giant softshell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) was down to three individuals, all male, in 2019, and is now extinct or doomed (H. Liu et al. 2019). Other riverine life forms are in similar danger (Jian Wang et al. 2021), including many other turtles (Jun Wu et al. 2020) and the Chinese alligator. Fishing was banned in the Yangzi River in 2020. The Chinese paddlefish is extinct and catches were down “from 420,000 tons in 1950s to less than 100,000 tons now” (Science 2020). The five species of giant salamanders, the world’s largest amphibian, are disappearing. They are apparently tasty, and thus depleted in the wild; an extremely ill-advised plan to collect wild individuals and farm them has failed (they grew but would not reproduce), leaving them in desperate shape (Yong 2018).

Even the Baer’s pochard duck, an ordinary, formerly common duck that has no exotic requirements, is down to a very few hundred birds, thanks to drainage or marshes and local hunting (Tong 2020). Many mammals, birds, and reptiles are about gone. Measures are worthy but inadequate.

Under Xi Jinping, moves toward liberalization were sharply reversed. Hong Kong was crushed—a leading democracy turned into a highly repressed and unhappy city. On the other hand, Xi has had the sense to realize that China was committing suicide, and not just in the long run, by destroying its environment, and he has done a great deal to reverse Mao’s insane policies (Esarry et al. 2020 and Glover et al. 2021 are collections of excellent, important accounts). The problem is that autocrats, so far, have usually fallen into a trap of believing they are infallible while also striving for short-term gains. Making enormous environmental mistakes is thus normal for such regimes, from Brazil to China and from Trump’s America to Stalin’s USSR. The future is thus dusty indeed.

The Qing genocide of the Dzungars is being reprised in the genocidal campaign against the Uighurs (Roberts 2020). Many killings have been reported, but worse is massive cultural suppression: destroying mosques and historical monuments, destroying whole neighborhoods of traditional houses, banning the language quite widely, and massive “re-education” campaigns to force Han Chinese culture on this Turkic Islamic minority. China is very quiet about it, but someone got access to the supply orders for the “re-education” camps, and discovered massive orders for spiked clubs, handcuffs, cattle prods, and other torture implements (SBS News 2018).

The Chinese Communist constitution guarantees protection of minorities and forbids this sort of discrimination, but protests have been brutally suppressed. Genocidal suppression of Tibetan and Mongol culture is only a bit less dramatic; actual genocide of Tibetans was widely known in the 1950s.

            The Portuguese sinologist Gonçalo Santos has summarized almost 30 years of research, including years of field time, in northern Guangdong province, in an important book, Chinese Village Life Today (2021). The village is slowly depopulating as more and more working-age people are forced to move to cities, or to farming areas close to cities, to make ends meet. Food is urbanizing in consequence. Popular influences have arrived. Breastfeeding is less long-continued, being reduced to 2 years or less from 2 to 3 or even 5 before (p. 140; I saw the same thing take place over years in Hong Kong).

            In the meantime, Western astrology has caught on in China, and many believe it, and Virgo got associated with the downvaluing of virgins above marriageable age in China, so now women Virgos are shunned and not dated. This proves that development and propagation of negative stereotypes can happen without any reality or traditional belief behind it (J. Lu et al. 2020). The application to food is that human foolishness is boundless, and lies behind countless food beliefs new and old.

Modern Lore

            China manages to feed itself—almost—by combining traditional, modified traditional, and new agricultural methods.  Aquaculture has exploded, producing most of the world’s aquacultural production.  China has also maintained the traditional silk-fishpond, rice-fishpond, lotus pond, and other water/land interface methods, so unique and brilliant.  A beautiful, detailed, but thoroughly propagandistic article by Janus Dongye Qifeng (2019) gives the Chinese government view, including some gratuitous and dishonest swipes at Tibet—said, for instance, to have subsisted entirely on milk and meat till the Chinese got there and brought vegetables.  The article fails to mention the fact that massive intensive agriculture is unsustainable as currently praticed, due to the huge pollution it generates both from chemical inputs and from agricultural wastes such as pig manure.  Even so, the article is worth investigating for the photographs alone.  Some statistics there:  China eats 45% of the world’s consumed seafood—65 million tonnes (metric tons; 1000 kg) a year; 50 million of these are from aquaculture, including shrimp, crabs, fish, shellfish, and so on.  China produces 66% of the world’s farmed fish.  The integration of silk-raising with water fields (mulberry trees grown on the dikes, as of old) allows China to produce 84% of the world’s silk.  Much of the power is solar; China produces 25.8% of the world’s solar energy.  China also produces 90% of the world’s lotus rhizomes (miscalled “roots” in the article), unsurprising since almost no one but Chinese eat them.  China produces 22% of the world’s rapeseed (this presumably includes traditional Chinese oil mustard as well as canola), using much mud from ponds. 

            China produces about 30% of the world’s honey—543,000 tonnes. This honey is sometimes polluted (as even Qimeng admits).  China produces 79.2 million tonnes of watermelon, out of the total world production of 111 million.  I recall some of us asking a group of ordinary Chinese at a market in 1978 what they would do with a yuan; they all answered “buy a watermelon.”  China leads in many other fruit, but quality control remains a major issue.  China produces 56.3 million tonnes of tomatoes

            China has 1,086 million hectares of agricultural land to India’s 1,579; USA 1,631; EU 1,091.  208.l million tonnes of rice are produced; 257.3 of maize; 134.3 wheat.  The USA figures are 9.2 (we aren’t a rice culture), 366.2, and 47.3.  However, this otherwise relentlessly upbeat article admits that China is losing about 3,000 square km of agricultural land a year, to urbanization and degradation.  The article notes this problem is being addressed by soil conservation, but that devoting marginal land to reforestation instead of farming produces yet another cost to agricultural land—though with an overall increase in welfare as the trees grow and fix carbon. 

            China now leads even in beer, with over 46 million kilolitres produced per year, about twice the US level.  Some 13.6 kilolitres of baijiu (Chinese vodka) is produced, with the article (inevitably) singing the praises of baijiu as superior to vodka or whiskey.  (This is a matter of taste.)  China, as always, has most of the world’s pigs, and produces 54,650 million tonnes of pork, vs. the USA’s mere 12,166.

            Yuan Longping, the “father of hybrid rice,” born 1930, has been receiving more and more honors, including nomination for a Nobel Prize.  His rice has vastly increased yields in China, with rices now yielding over 10 tons/ha per crop (see e.g. Shellen Wu 2021; Yuan 2002).  He used conventional breeding, not genetic engineering.  He supported the latter eventually, however. Toward the end of his life, he was breeding up the salt-tolerant rices of China’s old-time seacoasts to produce rice that can be grown in seawater (Qimeng 2019). He passed away in 2021 at the age of 90.

            Overfishing gets worse every year, as Chinese fleets scour the world’s waters, taking virtually anything and everything, leaving extreme depletion.  This often devastates not only the economic future but the present nutrition of countries that allow Chinese fishing or cannot stop illegal fishing.  This even extends to aquaculture.   Glass eels—larval forms of edible eels—are imported and raised to adulthood on fish farms in China and Hong Kong.  Critically endangered European eels (Anguilla anguilla) come from North Africa and maybe Europe, are imported illegally under CITES.  A. japonica and A. rostrata, treated similarly, arealso endangered but not critically. 

A mangosteen-like fruit (Garcinia sp.) of south China is monographed by B. Liu et al. (2017).

            Tea has received its own art magazine:  The Art of Tea, up to issue 9 as of the end of 2010 (I have not seen it since; it has apparently gone under).  Unsurprisingly, it was supported by the Taiwan tea industry.  It is beautiful and detailed. 

            An excellent book about tea, with many beautiful illustrations, is Luo Jilian’s The China Tea Book (2012). A scholarly tract is Mair and Hoh (2009).

            Going well beyond tea merchandising is Frederick Dannaway’s essay (2010) on the world-in-miniature and tea in China and Japan.  He notes, correctly, that the Chinese do not say “microcosm” or “world-in-miniature” for their bonsai landscapes and compressed urban gardens.  In fact they simply call them mountain landscapes or gardens or even worlds, as if they were the real thing.  And, indeed, they are…you need only look closely (as shown by Stein’s excellent study, 1990).

            Historian Miranda Brown has sought out traditional milk processing that still goes on today.  China’s love affair with dairy foods peaked in medieval times, but yogurt, soft cheese, and other products continue rather widespread.  Learning from central Asia continued during Ming.  Dairy foods turn up in odd places, including Shenzhen, the border town with Hong Kong, where a traditional cheese-like product survives.  Brown has also reported on foreign foods in traditional Chinese cookbooks (Brown 2019) and other matters of Chinese history, and runs a very active food blog.

Breastfeeding, formerly done till the child was two or three (or even till 5; Santos 2021:140, but this may have been a problematic case), is now sharply reduced, because of the pressures of work. Women now labor in factories and other urban jobs, leaving children with grandparents or other relatives. Breastfeeding is recommended by the government but hard to manage.

            Bean starch has an ancient lineage, and jelly made from it goes back to Song. It gelatinizes in hot water. Mung bean starch known and written about since the Qimin Yaosho described how to make the starch: boil beans, leave in water to ferment, mash, soak and stir to separate starch—fenying, “powder essence.” The jelly does not appear in writings till Song but may have been around earlier. Several good Song recipes given, including lungs stuffed with it along with ginger, nuts, sesame paste, and wheat flour; a similar mix (with pine seeds, walnuts, and dill as well as the mung beans, flour, and sesame) was made into a vegetarian “lung” by cutting it in that shape and serving in spicy sauce. Mung bean starch jelly was used in many other mock-meat and mock-seafood dishes. It was compared to jade in appearance. A Ming writer compared mung bean starch with lotus rhizome, kudzu root, and bracken rhizome starches. The jelly is now cut into broad kuanfen noodles, and fensi (bean jelly vermicelli) are common (Liang 2021).

China is, as always, quick to follow global trends. Thomas DuBois and Xiao Kunbing (2021) report on the rapid rise of supermarkets, starting with international chains (including Walmart) but rapidly imitated by locals. Similarly, MacDonald’s and KFC spawned countless imitators, franchising shops for tea, noodles, meat skewers, dumplings, and other staples, with the usual range in quality. TV cooking shows, mass merchandising, name brands, and everything else western has been enthusiastically adopted. Chinese eating will never be the same.

DuBois (2021) has also flagged the importance of culinary nostalgia. Old-time brands and local restaurants are wildly popular in China as of this writing. The items sold and the dishes in the restaurants are not always what they were, but few complain. Food nostalgia is well known throughout the world, and China was sure to follow eventually, though it lagged America and Europe.

Chinese food in Asian context is treated in a series of books by Cecilia Leong-Salobir (2011, 2019; Leong-Salobir ed., 2019).

Current Foodways around China

            A great deal more about Chinese food and caixi—“systems of dishes,” i.e. regional and local cuisines—has come out since 1988.  H. T. Huang’s huge book—the labor of a lifetime—goes into much more detail on wheat products (including alum-raised ones, such as yutiao and some bao) and on flavoring pastes than I can possibly summarize.  There are also many cookbooks with ethnographic detail going far beyond simple recipes.  (A few examples from a large, good literature are Lo and Lo 2003, see previous section; Yee 1975; Young and Richardson 2004).

            Local foodways are covered in a major collection of papers, edited by David Holm (2009).  Sidney Cheung has edited an important volume, Rethinking Asian Food Heritage (2014), with papers on the origins and modern fates of several important, and often little-studied, local food traditions in China and south and southeast Asia; notable, for instance, is James Farrer’s brilliant analysis of the rise and decline of Western-style food in Shanghai during its golden age in the 1920s and 1930s. The western-type food available then was apparently of a very low standard, but it was romantic, exotic, and an important part of the city’s image, so old Shanghai hands clung to it.  They re-created it in Hong Kong (as I well remember from my 1960s time there), only to have the rising young generation scorn it as terrible, unmoved by its hallowed tradition.  Among other outstanding articles are one by May Chang and Cordia Chu on mullet roe in Taiwan.

            Göran Aijmer continues a 60-year career of studying Chinese festivals and rituals, which always involve highly symbolic food (Aijmer 1965, 2003, 2018—a mere thin sample of an enormous bibliography). The 2018 paper compares ritual use and ideas about rice in south China and the Shan groups of Myanmar and India.

            Broomcorn millet, as neglected a major crop as the world affords, has finally received some attention, from Ruiyun Wang et al. (2016).  They describe many uses.  It is parched as chaomi, dry-toasted in a pan, in central Asia.  It is made into suanfan “sour cooked grain,” a fermented concoction with a yogurt-like taste. It is used for the usual noodles, cakes, and buns.  A waxy variety is used for gao cakes, including yougao, oil cake, a deep-fried gao traditional at the Spring Festival and at weddings.  It is also brewed into jiu.  Wedding uses also include limu gao, “cake for leaving mother, and use of jars of millet in dowries (in Hequ, Shanxi; p. 3333).  It is widely cultivated in China, but mostly in the interior north. The seeds are usually yellow or white, but can be red, brown, gray, or black (336).  Many other traits vary too.  The crop is in need of further study.

            A superb, encyclopedic book about tea by Mary Lou and Robert Heiss (2007) covers Chinese tea especially.  It is by a couple who are long-established merchants of top-end tea, so the book is unashamedly promotional; no gritty reporting on the seamy side of the tea industry.  On the other hand, the combination of overwhelming knowledge and deep insight into the tea business produces a quite unique account of the top side. A study of tea in Yunnan’s economy was done by Po-Yi Hung (2015).

            Another phrase for “with-it” is guo fan, “pass grain,” i.e. “helps the food go down,” the precise equivalent of the phrase “it helps the bread go down” recorded by Escoffier from rural France.

            Sticky rice, miscalled “glutinous,” is sticky because it has almost no amylose; the starch it does have, amylopectin, cooks up stickier.  It also brews better, and is thus the usual feedstock for rice “wines” and sakes.  Rice varieties have varying proportions of amylose and amlopectin, and are thus sticky to varying degrees.  The textbook separation of indica, japonica, and glutinous rices does not survive well; there are too many subvarieties, intermediates, and dubiously related sticky forms.

            Rice breeding continues apace; a gene for longer, better-quality, less chalky rice has been found, and is being bred into other rice varieties (Nature 2015, reporting an item in Nature Genetics).

            Eggplants, domesticated in India, were apparently independently domesticated in what is now southern Yunnan (Meyer et al. 2012; the domestic plant Solanum melongena and its purported wild ancestors, S. incanum and S. undatum, turn out to be genetically pretty much the same—all one species).  They go back about as far as any plant records are found, in both China and India.  The garden egg—the variety whose fruit really looks like an egg, oval and white—is apparently yet a third domestication, from southern Southeast Asia. Many other useful fruits are gathered in Yunnan (J. Chen et al. 1999).

            Noodles are made in several ways.  Low-gluten grains like corn and buckwheat are made into a rather wet dough and forced through holes in a colander, directly into boiling water.  This is probably how those 4000-year-old noodles were made.  Bean starch and some wheat/egg noodles are made into lumps or flat sheets and hand-cut.  High-gluten wheat noodles are made in many ways, the most dramatic of which are “pulled” or “swung noodles” (la mian).  For these, the dough is stretched and then swung like a jump-rope, then doubled and re-swung, then doubled again, and so on.  This develops the gluten so much that it produces an extremely chewy noodle.  Swinging the dough without having it neck down and break requires extreme skill.  (Not long ago, the one expert at this in Los Angeles was a Mexican chef working in a Korean restaurant.  Globalization is real.)

Salt in Chinese culture has been the subject of a major monograph by Hans Ulrich Vogel (2009); he reviews every aspect of its production and consumption in late Imperial times, and compares these with the contemporary European world.  Vogel notes, sympathetically, that Chinese add deep-drilling—perfected for salt wells—to the list of the greatest inventions China has given the world, along with paper, printing, the compass, and gunpowder (Vogel 2009:185).

Seitan is wheat gluten used as imitation meat. One can get gluten powder now in the United States (Bob’s Red Mill makes it). Mix, knead, simmer in broth.

            Tangzhong is a roux-type starter for Chinese baked bread. One mixes flour and water, heats, whisks, then mixes into the flour, yeast, water, etc. for the bread. It provides the fluffy but chewy texture that Chinese prefer in bread. It may be from Japanese or possibly from Portuguese usage; Portuguese sweet bread influenced Chinese baking, via Macau.

            Doufu zha is the residue from making bean curd (Japanese okara); it is  locally eaten in north China.

Qing gan cai is green-stemmed bok choy as opposed to the usual white form. Presumably what I have growing in 2021-2 that is so good.

Passion fuit is bai xiang guo, 100 fragrances fruit

Ma nai jiou, kumys (app both undistilled and distilled)

Er guo tou, two pot head, cheap white lightning; 21st-cen usage.

Luohan guo is now Siraitia grosvenorii. Gac fruit, a VN delicacy (under that name), is Momordica cochinchinensis.

Thick NW Ch bread is mo

Huanjing ‘environment’

Gun, “turn,” a cooking time meaning a turn-over of the boiling liquid. Yuan Mei

Boiling and steaming remain the commonest ways of cooking in China. Stir-frying and especially deep-frying and roasting/baking have also become common in recent decades.  The result is not always good for health; fat consumption has soared.  Complex cooking involving several processes has become common in restaurants.  Vegetables are more and more often parboiled before being stir-fried, instead of cut up, stir-fried, and then finished in added liquid.  The latter was the traditional method, at least in the households I knew; but the parboiling step was a gourmet touch, making the result a bit more cui and thus worth the trouble. Cui refers to a mouthfeel: the vegetable is crisp but then succulent, slightly resisting but then yielding, a texture familiar to westerners in well-cooked new peas, string beans, and carrots. It is a desired height of Chinese gourmetship.

The numbing and spicy taste of Sichuan food is known as mala, “hemp and piquant,” the hemp referring to the numbing quality of marijuana; the drug side of the hemp plant (China’s Cannabis sativa) is not as pronounced as that of its Indian relative C. indica, but was quite well known in ancient times. The classic mala dish is mapo doufu, a dish that began (probably in the 19th century) in Sichuan and as swept the world (Erway 2020). The name probably means “the beancurd of the Ma family women,” but there are countless other theories (ma means “hemp” and can refer to smallpox marks, which are vaguely similar to hemp seeds, and some say the dish was invented by a pockmarked woman).

            Seafood gourmetship gets ever more arcane, and ever more fatal to the world oceans (Fabinyi 2012; Fabinyi et al. 2012).  The fisheries of China and the seas around it are depleted, and a zone of extreme overfishing is expanding rapidly through the Philippines and Indonesia and out into the Pacific.  Even American coasts are depleted, by overfishing of things like sea cucumbers and sea urchins.

            Vegetarianism has received some attention lately.  Chinese Buddhists are supposed to be vegetarian, and some non-Buddhists are too; this has led to the development of a vegetarian cuisine.  Buddhist vegetarianism and avoidance of alcohol have received noteworthy attention and excellent review in two articles (Benn 2005; Kieschnick 2005; both in Sterckx 2005).

Ducks may not be raised from the egg with loving care any more (though some probably still are), but the Quan Jude restaurant—Beijing’s classic “Peking duck” place—has flourished and even franchised out.  The owners were sent down to the countryside for being bourgeois, during the Great Cultural Revolution, but they returned (Ni 2004).

Preserving eggs has received brief but thorough monographic treatment from Fuchsia Dunlop (2006), who points out that it was westerners who started calling pi dan “hundred-year” or “thousand-year-old” eggs.  They are aged a few days or weeks.

Milk and milk products used in the past include butter in offerings and milk products consumed by Buddhist monks, among other things (Newman 2011a). 

Tea is the subject of many books.  There has, in fact, been a sudden explosion of books about tea, ranging from brief popular accounts to Heiss and Heiss’ encyclopedic and highly authoritative reference work (2010) and James Benn’s superb history of tea in early dynasties (2015).  An incredibly beautiful book, issued in Thailand, is Tea Horse Road by Michael Freeman and Selena Ahmed (2015); Freeman’s exquisite and scientifically detailed photographs are set off by Ahmed’s unique expertise in tea ethnobotany.

Insects, rarely mentioned at length in Chinese food books, have been treated along with various annelid and other worms by M. Leung (2000).  Cicadas, waterbugs, silkworms, and others are eaten.  Caterpillars and grasshoppers, in particular, saved countless people from starvation in earlier times.  Locusts were so popular they inspired a religious cult (Hsu 1969).  Insects are a major component of southeast Asian fare, occupying e.g. much of the space in the public markets of Cambodia, where deepfried tarantulas are also a delicacy.  Pond snails are popular, and Chinese introduced at least one genus, Viviparus, to the United States, via markets; it still is found therein, but has escaped and gone wild as well (Paul Chace, personal communication, 1987; see also Hanna 1966:37 on V. stelmaphorus).  More exotic is “winter frog”—the fat, with part of the reproductive system, derived from one species of frog in north China (Newman 2000).  One suspects that other frogs are used, because this and other frog dishes are available even in far Los Angeles.  This is contributing to the worldwide disappearance of amphibia.  Turtles are not only popular food, but medicinal, and their fabled longevity makes them a possible candidate for a long-life food (Newman 2004b).  Unfortunately, turtles, like many other animals, are threatened with extinction in China because of their popularity as food and because the Communist government destroyed the traditions of conservation and resource management that had protected China’s and southeast Asia’s environment for centuries.  Deer antlers in velvet may not quite qualify as a food, but are a major product of the deer-raising industry in Taiwan and New Zealand; the antlers are cut off, leading to much pain and loss of blood, but at least sustainably (Tseng 2017).

            Among the saddest cases of failure of conservation is the supply of edible birds’ nests.  These are the nests of a swiftlet, Collocalia esculenta, which makes “white” nests of protein secreted from glands in its mouth.  (Related species produce “black bird’s nests,” not purely mouth secretions, therefore inferior and in need of considerable cleaning.)  The nests are highly regarded as food and medicine, strengthening yin and lungs, good for digestion, and generally tonic.  They actually are made primarily of indigestible long-chain proteins, but include growth stimulants and a unique glycoprotein with immunomodulating value (Kong et al 1990; Langham 1980).  The supply is, however, endangered by overcollecting; increasing demand and breakdown of local social rules on harvesting have led to wiping out the swiftlet in China and making it rarer and rarer throughout its range in southeast Asia (Chiang 2011). Fortunately, the creative farmers of southeast Asia have discovered a workaround: retooling abandoned houses and buildings as swiftlet caves. This has become a big business, and is saving the swiftlets (Wong and Thuras 2021:160).

            China’s environment and agriculture are collapsing fast (see e.g. Johnson 2014), and failure to conserve resources is the worst of many problems.

Mushrooms of many species are important foods in China (Newman 2010b, 2011c, 2019) and especially among minorities.  Many are also exported to Japan.  A huge trade has developed in the Tibetan frontier lands.  Daniel Winkler has chronicled this, and could not resist the temptation to refer to “mushrooming trade” (Winkler 2008, 2009).  Species include shiitake, now Lentinula edodes; maitake, Grifala frondosus; enoki,k Flammuline velutipes;  bamboo fungus, now commercially raised, Phallus indusiatus; and the old usuals (Newman 2019c).

One recent article describes mushrooms of China, with references to early Chinese sources (J. Newman 2010b), and including such unusual species as chicken-of-the-woods (Laetiporus sulphureus), enoki (Flammulina velutipes), and lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus), and followed by an enthusiastic article by her husband Leonard on how to grow shiitake (Lentinula edodes; L. Newman 2019c).  

            An odd item unrelated to cooking as such is the use of restaurant density and quality to assess the wealth, population, and business activity of cities.  Lei Dong and associates (2019) used number and type of restaurants and local ratings of their quality to assess daytime and nighttime populations, businesses, and the like, and checked this against other data.  The restaurants turned out to predict the contours well, so the authors constructed a way of using such data to assess neighborhoods rapidly.

Our knowledge of cooking in the various provinces of China has been enormously advanced by many culinary ethnographies.

Particular distinguished mention goes to Fuchsia Dunlop for her stunning work on Sichuan food, Land of Plenty (2001).  This book not only includes recipes for almost all the Sichuan specialties, but a set of glossaries that give the characters, transliteration, and definition for just about every common Chinese cooking and culinary term, as well as Sichuan localisms, including very obscure ones.  The recipes are, as she says, authentic: they are the way the better Sichuan chefs actually prepared them when she was there in the 1990s.  They are properly rich in garlic, Sichuan brown pepper, and chile, just as I remember real Sichuan food in the old-time cafes in Taiwan that catered to Sichuanese. A later personal memoir, Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper (2008), adds more terms and recipes, as well as lively accounts of eating. 

These and other works have established Dunlop as perhaps the leading ethnographer of actual Chinese food.  (A later book by Dunlop, Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking, 2012, goes over relatively familiar ground, but has some very unusual but simple recipes; it is, however, a photograph book, not an in-depth study.)  Dunlop has also sought out the full story of Gongbao Chicken, the “kung pao chicken” of worldwide menus.  It was created for Ding Baozhen (1820-1886), the Gongbao (Palace Guardian) for “his honorary title of tutor to imperial princes” (Dunlop 2019:F1).  He came from Guizhou, one of the chile-loving provinces since the 18th century, and later spent much time in Chengdu, Sichuan, where the chicken dish was created for him.  It involves chicken white meat with dried chiles, Sichuan brown pepper, garlic, ginger, white spring onions, peanuts, and “a glossy sauce mixed to a particular degree of sweet-and-sour known as ‘lychee-flavored’” (Dunlop 2019:F4).  Today, different forms of gongbao chicken and many other gongbao dishes are made in Guizhou, in honor of Ding’s memory.  The chicken there can be made with dark meat; it uses the local ciba chiles, in red oil, without the peanuts or Sichuan pepper.  Fuchsia Dunlop continues to produce blogs, recipes, and articles at a monumental rate.

Another major ethnography is Bitter and Sweet by Ellen Oxfeld (2017), a study of food and its social meanings in a Hakka village in rural Meixian, the Hakka center, in Guangdong.  She has watched over two decades the changes from real want to considerable luxury.  Older people remembered real starvation, first in pre-Communist days and then again in the Great Leap Forward.  They revel not only in better food, but in the fact that proximity to the county seat lets them work at better jobs than agriculture.  Many of the young have white-collar jobs, and are buying food rather than raising or even cooking it.  A fascinating contrast of home cooking and city food appears in lists of two Midautumn Festival celebrations put on by host families.  The first is home-cooked:  sea cucumber, chicken and duck feet, squid with chive flowers, pig stomach with celery, lotus rhizome soup, braised dog meat, chickens with ginseng in soup, pomfret (steamed), braised duck, steamed shrimp, red-cooked pork with mushrooms, frog with gren peppers, fragrant veined vegetable (xiangmai cai), and fish and meatball soup.  Another family got the feast catered:  Sea cucumber, pigeon, sweet-sour pork, shrimp with snow peas, duick feet, greens (unidentified), custard-filled sweet dumplings, steamed chicken with ginger, red-cooked pork, chicken and ginseng in soup, fried rice flour balls, steamed fish (Oxfeld 2017:68-69).  Note that many dishes are the same.  This was a county-seat caterer who evidently knew what was appropriate.  But the other dishes are more interesting: home cooking gives us pig stomach, dog, and frog; the restaurant provides sweet-sour pork (presumably a backwash from overseas communities) and other standard restaurant dishes like shrimp with snow peas.  The catered meal reflects less flavor, less effort, more worldliness.  Another feast that “consisted of anumber of standard Hakka country dishes: braised pork…, fried noodles, soup with beef and daikon radish, dog meat, stir-fried peapods and pig liver, fish ball soup, fried lettuce…and steamed chiken with ginger and red chiles” (p. 160); another added shrimp and celery and one or two other items (162). The hotpot is well known and a special treat (168).  People criticize the “liquor and meat” of the cadres in the same terms that Chinese have used for 2000 years.

Jiangnan, classically the home of China’s most prestigious and refined cuisines, has received an excellent study by Jin Feng, Tasting Paradise on Earth (2019). The book is a study of the hallowed traditions, their great restaurants, and the recent commercialization of both in that affluent, tourist-oriented, accessible part of China. The food is not always what it used to be; Jin Feng is a remarkably honest reporter on quality.

Henan, previously a rather blank spot on the culinary map, has had its food chronicled by (once again) Jacqueline Newman (2011d—with recipes). It is noted for fairly plain, straightforward cooking, running heavily to pork, onions, and noodle dishes.  Another blank filled by the intrepid Jacqueline is the northeast (the former Manchuria; Newman 2019b).  She notes its history of game, including deer tails, whkich have to be soaked to make fur removal easy and then stewed “for at least two hours with several Korean pastes and lots of cinnamon” (Newman 2019b:15).  Saqima (Manchu sweets) and sanzi (glutinous rice dumpling “wrapped in perilla or linden leaves” (Newman 2019b:14) are eaten. 

In Shanxi, jujubes are made into a true wine—they are mashed and fermented.  Buckwheat is important there, and is made into noodles, as in Korea and Japan.

In Shaanxi especially (but widely in north China), a sandwich, rou jia mo (“meat in bun”), is a common snack. It is more or less a flattened equivalent of a stuffed bao (see Wong and Thuras 2021:121-2).

            In Fujian, dumplings stuffed with meat and flattened are called bian shi, “flattened eats.”  A round bread baked in a tandur-like oven is kompyang or kompia (nasalized), said to have been invented in 1562 when Japanese pirates were spotting pursuers by their kitchen fires and a storable, precooked food was needed.  Of course this could be one of those delightful Chinese dish origin myths.  The bread is bagel-shaped and could be hung on a pole.  It is native to northern Fujian and apparently other areas (Wikipedia, “Kompyang,” with additional information from Katy Biggs [Hung] on Facebook, June 3, 2015).

            Reported from Malaysia is a strange cake made with lye: ki-a-kueh, “lye cake” (ki is lye, a the Hokkien diminutive, kueh is “cake”); Victor Yue, Facebook posting, Dec. 24, 2021).

In Guangxi, barnyard millet (Echinochloa) is an important grain; its name has spread to maize.  The foods of Guangxi have been described by David Holm (1999).

In Yunnan and elsewhere, a bitter tuber of a water plant, sa pi, comes from a Homocharis sedge.  Pteridium and Osmunda fern shoots are also eaten.  Mallows, chayotes from Mexico, and mushrooms abound.  Yogurt is still widespread.  Lima beans have become very common in Yunnan, and known locally elsewhere. 

The minorities of Yunnan traditionally lived largely by swidden farming, though there are several in the south who terrace hillsides for paddy rice. Shaoting Yin (2001) carried out a long and detailed study of swiddening (translated by Magnus Fiskejö, an authority on Yunnan minorities who could add his own knowledge). Yin defends Yunnan swiddening as being extremely sensitive ecologically (see also Jianhua Yang 2013). For one thing, many minorities have planted alders in abandoned swidden fields. Alders rapidly and heavily fix nitrogen from the air, since they have root-knot microbiota symbionts, as legumes do. Thus the swiddeners refertilize their fields while growing valuable timber. They also know that deforestation dries up mountains. Some groups sow eleusine (Eleusine coracana), locally called “dragon claw” millet; this is a plant from Africa that came via India. The usual millets, vegetables, and rice are grown; the Jinuo have over 71 kinds of it (p. 242-244). Recent replacement of swidden by tea and rubber plantations has been ecologically disastrous (Fiskejö 2021; Wang 2013).

            Yunnan cooking still includes dairy products, including thin sheets of goat cheese (ru pi “milk skin”), said to be from the Bai people.  Related is deep-fried soft goat cheese cubes.  Yogurt survives among Tibetan and related minorities.  The extension of milk products to southeast Asia, and their subsequent contraction from much of the region, was chronicled by Paul Wheatley (1965).  He pointed out that they spread with Hinduism and Buddhism, which use milk products ritually, and contracted with the spread of Islam.  An excellent water-buffalo yogurt survives among the Toba Batak of Sumatera, as a local but important food (personal observation; Richard Lando, personal communication).

            Cheese is also made, astonishingly, in Shunde (Sun Tak in its original Cantonese form), near Hong Kong.  It is made from water buffalo milk, and is fully traditional there. Miranda Brown has documented and filmed three women making it (Brown, Facebook posting, Dec. 11, 2017).  Excellent, thorough research by Sau-wa Mak (2014) found that water buffalo fresh cheese used to be eaten with rice congee for illness, but that stir-fried milk, deep-fried milk, milk in ginger juice, and other modern Sun Tak delicacies are relatively or quite modern inventions, created as sophistication and refinement came to Sun Tak and led to elaborating traditional dishes for fun and profit (a very Cantonese thing to do).  At least in my experience, deep-frying milk involves freezing milk in ice cube form, battering the cubes, and deep-frying them before they can melt. They remain somewhat liquid inside.

Cantonese hot non-vegetarian dishes are yitfan “hot staple-food” (see So 1992:136ff). Cantonese soups and related foods are chroniced by Teresa Chen (2009).

            Highland minorities in western Yunnan grow three species of quinces: the familiar Chaenomeles speciosa and also C. cathayensis and C. tibetica.  They provide much vitamin C, and are medicinally used (as elsewhere in China) for their tannins, soothing value, and ability to sweeten other medicines.  They are pain medicines in Yunnan.  They provide valuable ecosystem services, like other tree and bush crops (Yang et al. 2015).

Basella esculenta, a green vegetable oddly known as “bean curd vegetable,” is eaten in southwest China. 

            One of the large smoky-flavored cardamoms, Amomum villosum, is distinguished (and long has been) as sha ren, not tsaoko.

            Many books and articles on tea have appeared, e.g. Chow and Kramer (1990).

The indefatigable Naomichi Ishige, now probably the foremost ethnographer of Chinese food, has produced a fine review article on dining behavior around East Asia (Ishige 2006).

Finally, on a literary note, a humorous short performance by storyteller An Zhongwen of Hangzhou has been translated (Simmons 2011:476-477).  It is a marketplace dialogue between a dried ribbon fish and a winter melon.  They slang each other in dialect like a couple of peasants.  The ribbon fish boasts not only of his taste but of “containin’ phosphorus, protein, and fat”—An Zhongwen was having some fun with modern nutritional advice.  The winter melon answers that it is “thrifty and practical, moreover easy to cook.”  As well as available for candying and soup.  Also, it could roll over and squash the fish with its sixty-eight catties—88 pounds, a most unusual weight indeed for a winter melon.

Good descriptions of local Chinese cuisines have finally begun to emerge in English.

Shanxi possesses a huge salt lake, the Yuncheng Dead Sea, that has produced salt for 4000 years. It contains sulfates, which nourish colorful algae blooms. Today it is more a tourist attraction and health spa than salt supplier, but salt ponds still flourish (Wong and Thuras 2021:118).

Mark Swislocki (2009) has provided a fine study of Shanghai food and its local meanings—heavily nostalgic, of course.

Fujian food involves, besides the famous red ferment on rice, a flavoring mix often lacking ginger—odd in China (see below).  Raw sea food in wine lees or red ferment is not to the outsiders’ taste, especially since the sound and feel of crunching the shell is part of the pleasure.  Pitahaya, a Mexican cactus fruit, has come to Fujian and elsewhere in southeast China, under the name of “fire dragon fruit” (huo long guo)—a creative name for a scaly fruit of shocking pink and electric green.  New world foods often came first to Fujian, and some odd ones occur, such as a purple field corn similar to rare Mexican varieties—and very good (I met with it in remote rural Fujian in 1999).  Green tea powder is used there, as in Japan.  Fukien “water liquor”—made with yeast, often including the red ferment so beloved there (Huang 2000), and water—is mixed with highly distilled raw alcohol to produce a drink significantly called “tiger piss” (lao hu miao).  Hakka people of the area sometimes skin and smoke-dry field mice for food. 

In Quanzhou, tea was once common, became rare, and is now common again, thanks to the boom in the Chinese tea industry; this is a case of  “re-invented tradition” (Tan and Ding 2010).

            Wuhan food, judging from a very inadequate sample in a restaurant in San Gabriel, involves very chile-rich chopped meat dishes cooked in a pan over the stove; I have seen this in Hunanese restaurants elsewhere.  In my experience, there is not much taste except the basic ingredient and the chile.  The Tasty Dining Restaurant also offers sweet glutinous rice-squash cakes with sesame seeds on top; good, and supposedly loved by Mao Zedong.  Noodles with sesame and soy sauces, dumplings with rice and mushrooms as well as pork, and other small items are major parts of the cuisine.

            Jacqueline Newman (2014a) has spent some time in Dongbei—Manchuria—and provided some notes on the cuisine.  Bears’ paws were traditional, with the left front one preferred, but now the paws must be emulated in bean curd, for bears are rare and protected.  Local game in general is so rare that Newman could never find out what a feilong—flying dragon—was; apparently some kind of pheasant-like bird.  Moose nose was popular there, as in Siberia and aboriginal Canada.  Forest mushrooms and herbs remain available.  Various breads show Russian influence, up to and included sausage baked into a bun and known as pork khleb (Russian for “bread”).

            Guizhou’s cuisine, previously almost unknown to the outside world, has finally received a short monograph.  The indefatigable Jacqueline Newman (2010b) reports both regular and glutinous rice, the usual vegetables, nuts including walnuts, wild sour fruit, and game.  Pickled vegetables are popular, and Newman gives an elaborate recipe (2010b:10).  Dog meat is eaten for strengthening (see also Newman 2011a).  Recipes include a marvelous one for fish in sour soup.  Many snacks and fish dishes occur.  I remember once seeing in a Chinese cookbook a Guizhou recipe for pangolin—an animal eaten because its weird appearance makes it suspect of having powerful qi.  The recipe involved stewing it with every strong-flavored thing in Chinese cuisine, obviously to kill the taste; the animal lives on ants.  (I was reminded of the classic American folk recipe for cooking a coot:  Put the coot in water with a brick; boil till brick is tender; throw away the coot and eat the brick.  I am told that Australians use the same recipe for the cockatoo.)

            In Hubei, the mountainous southern district of Enshi is an outlier of minority groups; people of Tujia, Miao and Dong ancestry live there, though they have now Sinicized and blended into the local Chinese population.  A distinctive cuisine of uncertain origin is locally called “Tujia,” but is really a general local cuisine, eaten by all groups in Enshi.  The local anthropologist Xu Wu (2011) has devoted an entire book to this cuisine—the first scholarly book in English on a Chinese local folk cuisine.  Apparently it is a development of the whole mixed-origin population, since it is based on introduced New World crops and is thus clearly a relatively recent development.  Early account mention millets (including eleusine—now forgotten in the area), barley, buckwheat and bracken fern rhizome starch instead of the New World foods.  A watershed for the area was 1735, when the Qing Dynasty worked to open up the area for farming; settlers including minority peoples moved in, land was cultivated, game was hunted out, and the New World crops began to take over.

The distinctive Enshi cuisine is based on maize flour.  Maize is now thought to have been there since ancient times, and the locals refer to themselves as maize-eaters in contrast with the people of the plains, who are rice-eaters; by humorous analogy, jeeps are “maize-eaters” and autos are “rice-eaters” (Wu 2011:93; page numbers refer to the ms., since the book is in print as of this writing).  Rice is, however, important, and all the ritual grain dishes are made of it.  As elsewhere in China, maize has remained very much an outsider in this regard.

Local vegetables are staples, including wild greens.  The “fish flavor vegetable,” Houttuynia cordata, is popular; the root is eaten with the inevitable chiles.  Wormwood (Artemisia sp.) is another.  The people also eat what the Japanese call konnyaku:cakes of the root starch from Amorphophallus riveri.  One dish is made of smoked pork, smoked sausage casing, sticky rice, regular rice, wild wormwood, and wild garlic.” (Wu 2011:40).  It is eaten at the Spring Sacrifice in the second month.  Another green is Camellia oleifera, traditionally used not only for soup but also for tea in place of C. sinensis.  There are said to be 2000 kinds of medicinal plants (Wu 2011:71).  Famine in the Great Leap Forward led to reliance on sweet potato, fern starch, and even loquat tree bark, which is somewhat poisonous (Wu 2011:151).

Pork and bean curd are as popular as elsewhere.  The rivers have fish, once abundant but now depleted.  Game was once important; old accounts even mention smoked tiger meat (Wu 2011:71) as well as hunting with hawks and hounds (p. 83).  Even today, meat (now pork) is often smoked, harking back to the days when preserving game was a regular activity.

This cuisine, at least the folk form of it, is called “hezha.” It was once considered low, but is now popular, with its own specialty restaurants.  Hezha refers specifically to soybeans ground with water as for making tofu, but it is used as a drink or soup in Enshi instead of being processed into tofu.  It is usually cooked with chopped vegetable leaves for soup.  Sometimes red peppers, garlic, and other hot spices are added, or meat is ground with the soybeans to make a very rich hezha.  Its name has come to be the term for the whole cuisine.  Rice is sometimes cooked with white potato cubes as a starch staple.  This is washed down with the local white lightning, made of maize.  Potatoes—often a staple—are also sliced and stir-fried, then eaten with vinegar-chile sauce.  Sweet potato too can be a staple, sometimes made into a ball of mash.

The people love sour flavors including pickled vegetables (Wu 2011:50).  They especially love sour-and-hot foods (“hot” with chile—la—not necessarily hot in temperature).  They make chile sauces, both with chiles alone and with chopped chile mixed with maize flour.  The latter can be stir-fried with smoked pork or cooked into mush.  Chile is used in everything and is wildly popular, and is pieced out with spicebush (Lindera glauca), a spicy-flavored wild plant; it is said to regulate qi (Wu 2011:48).  Sweetening came from glutinous rice, sweet potatoes, maize stems, and other natural sources, including honey.  The local variant of “five spice” involves brown pepper, star anise, cinnamon, clove, and fennel (Wu 2011:48).  The methods of cooking are the usual ones, but they add “dressing raw vegetables with sauce (liangban) (Wu 2011:51).  A banquet is known as “eating wine” (chi jiu; Wu 2011:52).  Another unique trait (so far as I know) is their category of “rising” (fa) foods, those like konnyaku, egg, sticky rice, and kelp, that stimulate and can exacerbate skin outbreaks (allergy rashes)—more or less a blend of the wider Chinese concepts of supplementing and hot-wet foods (Wu 2011:53). 

New Year is celebrated as usual, but many families eat the banquet a day or two before the actual new year.  This is said to be a Tujia custom, but is in fact rather widely distributed.  Many different explanations are given, showing how many “origin myths” for a common custom can coexist in even a small community.  Often the meal involves a pig head and tail, so the year will have “a good beginning and a good end.”

A large number of taboos and avoidances for pregnant women are known, and the usual high-nutrient postpartum foods are recommended (Wu 2011:193). 

Xu Wu has also studied eating of Artemisia in Enshi.  It is eaten in shefan, or haozi fan (hao means “artemisia”), a dish for the spring sacrifice festival.  Wild wormwood is cooked with the local wild garlic (Allium macrostemon) and other wild greens.  An artemisia meal will involve such other items as smoked pork, smoked pork intestines, dried tofu, shepherd’s purse (wild greens), and so on (Wu 2014a).  Only tender young leaves of wild plants are used.  This can be compared with the widespread use of wormwood in Korean cooking.

Wu has extended her concern to other villages, and their revival of local foods in nongjiale—“Farmers’ Joy”—restaurants.  These provide more or less authentic local traditional foods, but to varying degrees modified for the tourists.  “Stinky”—fermented—foods are generally ruled out, for instance.  The Chinese Communist government’s bureaucratic attitude toward classifying ethnicity is revealed in the change of one village from Han to Tujia to Dong (Wu 2014b:170), all with no change in the people.  They are, in fact, culturally Han and mostly Han by ancestry, but classifying them as minorities helped them get a tourism industry started, with—of course—food. 

Wu has also done a fascinating article (2015) on food and pilgrimage on Wudang Mountain.  Here, local gathered foods were ignored and considered uninteresting, but pilgrimage tourism has now made them a hugely popular local specialty.  Farmers and cooks have opened restaurants along the pilgrimage route.  Some have started to cultivate plants formerly gathered in the wild.

China’s traditional contempt for rural and minority cultures has changed to nostalgic love for them, with a newly discovered reverence for “original ecology,” i.e. a romanticised version of the traditional adjustment of local people to their landscapes.  This is partly western-derived, partly derived from China’s own strong and ancient counter-tradition of loving rural landscapes and people.  Communist “modernizers,” who mix modernizing with Han chauvinism, have variously judged negatively the eating of wild animals and plants, eating in a different pattern from standard urban Chinese, drinking much rice wine, drinking with straws, and of course those “stinky” foods (Wu 2014b:164)—though Han foods include some stunningly fragrant ferments, from fermented bean curd to Sichuan pickles and bean pastes.  Wu provides a long, detailed, and well-referenced discussion of Chinese cultural attitudes toward traditional foodways.

From Hunan, we have “the strange tale of General Tso’s chicken” (Dunlop 2005).  General Tso’s Chicken is a common Hunanese dish today, but does not fit the usual Hunanese cooking style, and is not known in Hunan itself outside the capital.  Fuchsia Dunlop tracked it down to an innovative Hunanese chef who invented it in Taiwan (after the Nationalists took refuge there) and then moved to New York, where he Americanized the recipe.  It now bears more resemblance to American Chinese restaurant fare than to anything native to Hunan.  Dunlop points out that it fits a common pattern of naming a dish after a general or other famous individual who might have enjoyed it.  In this case as in some others, it was invented long after the actual General Tso passed on.  The dish has mutated now into many variants, often named after quite imaginary generals with similar-sounding names.  Anglo-American foodies love to demonstrate their knowledge of Chinese food by saying it is not a “real Chinese dish,” but of course it is as real as any other, just not as hoary with antiquity.

More truly Hunanese are a cold dish of cucumbers with garlic and red pepper flakes, marinated in soy sauce; thin-sliced mutton stir-fried with cilantro, garlic, and cut-up fresh jalapenos; pork intestines; smoked duck; and, in general, incredible amounts of cut-up jalapenos or similar chiles in just about every dish.

Wenzhou, an isolated port city in southern Zhejiang, has a distinctive dialect of Wu, or separate language in the Wu group, and an equally distinctive cuisine, with its own dumplings, salads, and sother usual types of dishes.  Being on the sea and cut off from the rest of the world by mountains, it specializes in sea foods, ranging from edible fish skin with garlic to crab and pork dishes.  The indefatigable Jacqueline Newman has chronicled this cuisine as well as many others (Newman 2012d).

Fujian cuisine includes a jelly made from the nuts of Castanopsis spp., very bitter chestnuts.  The nuts have to be ground, leached with water, and the resulting mush pressed through a strainer; the result is made into jelly.  The process is similar to Korean acorn-jelly production.  The trees are saved in fengshui groves, which often become largely this genus, another proof that fengshui groves are working forests, not some result of bizarre and idle belief.

A sort of extension of Fujianese cuisine is the cuisine of Taiwan, now enriched by north Chinese, Shanghainese, Hakka, and other immigrants.  An amazing paean to the humble noodle and dumpling houses of Tainan has been penned by S. J. Ren, a true gourmet in his awareness of perfection in cheap breakfast and snack cuisine, in a bilingual book descriptively titled The Rise and Fall of Some Small Noodle Shops in Northern Tainan: A Historical Survey (2014; thanks to my erstwhile student Toni Snyder for finding this wondrous item)It is a fine introduction to the really traditional food of the island.

Fishing by burning sulfur to attract fish to the light is a dying art in northern Taiwan (Wong and Thuras 2021:129).

More substantial is an amazingly thorough and expert work, A Culinary History of Taipei by Steven Crook and Katy Hui-Wen Hung (2018).  It is in fact an introduction to the food of the whole island, including Aboriginal food, otherwise almost undescribed in western-language sources.  Various fermentation techniques are used.  Rodents are eaten, sometimes intestines and all.  Snakes and mushrooms are foraged, and wild boar regularly hunted.  Sweet potatoes were the poverty food and often the staple in the old days, and remain popular, partly from nostalgia (103-104). Dutch influence is seen not only in the name for peas (ho lan dao, “Holland peas,” as elsewhere in China) but also in a local name for cabbage, ko le cai, the first syllables being Dutch cool (“cabbage,” cf. German kohl, English cole).

Agriculture continues its sad decline, as cheap food imports become ever more available, but specialty farming flourishes (97-118).  Rice is still grown, but Taiwan’s formerly great production of sugar and pork is long gone.  Ponlai rice is still grown, and fed into the Green Revolution rice. 

Interesting plant foods adopted by the Chinese from the Austronesian aboriginals include pickled fruit of pobuzi, Cordia dichotoma, a plumlike tree (p. 17-18; the Maya of Yucatan pickle a very similar fruit from a closely related tree) and seeds of maqaw, Litsea cubeba, a peppery spice from another tree (p. 21).  Perhaps the most interesting is a native Taiwanese quinoa, Chenopodium formosanum, with reddish seeds; it is generally known by the Paiwan (Austronesian) name djulis (118) and is becoming popular with the wider population.  It has medicinal value, under study currently.  Another oddity is leaves of a Chinese brown pepper relative, Zanthoxylum ailanthoides, known as tana to some Aboriginal groups and cicong in Mandarin (21).  The young leaves are high in vitamins.  Another Aboriginal special plant is a mint, Chinese mesona or Platostoma palustre, used for a jelly called “grass jelly” (154).  Wikipedia informs that it is xiancao in Mandarin, sian-chhau in Taiwanese Hokkien, leung fan chou in Cantonese.

Among other vegetables rather strange to most of China are “crested floating-heart of white water snowflake…Nymphoides hydrophylla; a daylily Hemerocallis disticha; a fern, Diplazium esculentum, guomao in Chinese; areca palm flowers; and chayote, whose young shoots are excellent eating and are known in Taiwan as “dragon’s whiskers” (longxu) (pp. 102-103).  Most obscure is jabuticaba, a South American fruit (Plinia cauliflora, syn. Myrciaria cauliflora) superficially similar to grapes, but growing on the trunk of a large tropical tree.  How it got to Taiwan remains obscure, but it is now popular there (107).  The native fig Ficus pumila has a choice local variety, gathered wild; it is a traditional food of the Austronesian groups, with many local names (107).

Among the Chinese, salted mustard greens are a major staple.  A sad Hokkien proverb describing the sad fate of women is cha-bo-gina-a, ku chhai mia; cha-bo-gin-a, lu chhai chi mia—”a girl child, a chive’s fate; a girl child, a mustard seed’s fate.”  Cut down or mashed without thought (p. 14).  They note (p. 31-32) that Chinese satay sauce (Hokkien sa te, which became Mandarin and Cantonese shacha) is now fairly different from the Indonesian original; in Taiwan it now has soy oil and Chinese spicing instead of peanuts and Indoneesian spices.  Hong Kong’s form is closer to the original, but sometimes includes spiced soybean pastes.  Pork floss and geng stews are common—a bit of ancient Chinese food ways surviving today (35).  Bean curd is popular, incliuding the infamous chou doufu, “stinky tofu”—fungal fermented until it greatly resembles the most extreme German soft cheeses.  Vegetarianism is popular in Taiwan, with its Buddhist heritage and western influence.  Many fruits have names that pun with desirable things, as youzi “pomelo” and “to have a child” (with a tone difference). 

            A fad word as of this writing is “Q”—just the English letter. It is actually the Hokkien word k’iu, designating the texture for which the Mandarin word is cui—a succulent but somewhat resistant bite, slightly chewy but moist, like ripe fruit or tender young greens or glutinous rice preparations (Crook and Hong 2018:74; also from Victor Mair, email post).  Ideal Q is the texture or mouthfeel of good rice cake—springy and elastic, then chewy (Qin 2018).  The etymology is obscure.  There is a current fad for Q foods.         

Crook and Hung give the whole festival calendar with its appropriate foods (pp. 76-83).   These defy summary, but the account of mooncakes (p. 80) deserves special note.  Mooncakes have been getting smaller and lower in calorie lately, as elsewhere.  Warming foods for winter include lamb ho pot, ginger duck, and sesame chicken in wine; cooling foods for summer include mung bean porridge (with its cool green color), lotus-leaf porridge, and the lower-calorie, more sour vegetables (83).  Celebratory roadside banquets, open to the neighborhood, are bando (84).  Austronesian festivals are rarer, but feature millet, the ancient crop among these groups (82).   

The traditional Chinese custom of “sitting the month” after childbirth involves highly nutritious, protein-rich foods, as elsewhere, but also includes rice wine (94-95).

Cannibalism, so often alleged without evidence in China, was occasionally practiced in Taiwan, as actually observed by at least three outsiders.  As in mainland China, parts of executed criminals were eaten as a strengthening or courage-giving medicine.  Headhunters ate the brains of victims (Crook and Hung 2018:57). 

Western food came rather early, via Japan or via Russian refugees (p. 67).  Bakeries selling western-type goods now abound, as of course do the international chain eateries.  Beer, wine, sake, and award-winning whiskey have been added to traditional white lightning (baijiu made from kaoliang, or, for cheaper forms, sweet potatoes and the like; 160).  The Aboriginal groups prepare a cloudy millet wine (like that of the Wa and other southeast Asian minorities), sometimes fermented by chewing like Andean chicha, and sometimes mushy enough to be eaten with a spoon, like Southeast Asian tapai.

A particularly fine study of Aboriginal life, provided by Scott Simon (2015), discusses dog and pig keeping by the Atayal people of Taiwan. The dogs are used for hunting, and are also beloved pets. The Atayal have a comprehensive moral ecology reminiscent of similar systems in other small-scale traditional societies (Australian tjukurrpa, for example).

Hakka food, long obscure and poorly described, finally found a serious and worthy champion in Linda Lau Anusasananan (2012), a California Hakka (married to a Thai, hence the notably un-Hakka last name), in The Hakka Cookbook.  She was raised in northern California, where her father had a Chinese restaurant.  She became a food writer, and later traveled the world to explore her heritage and its transformations.  Hakka speak a distinct language.  They immigrated from the north to southern China in successive waves—she lists five—around one to two thousand years ago; they localized in a wild upland area where Zhejiang, Fujian and Guangzhou meet, which, as G. William Skinner pointed out, was something of a dead zone between the downstream-oriented and coast-oriented centers of those provinces.  She cites Lo Hsiang-lin (Luo Xianglin) as holding the Hakka came from north China from the Han Dynasty on, and also challenges by others who maintain that they are semi-assimilated local minority groups.  I interviewed Lo in Hong Kong in 1966 and have high respect for him as a scholar, and I agree with him; however, of course the Hakka have mingled over time with local minority people and assimilated them.

The Hakka were forced to work hard to survive, and to defend themselves against older-established groups that felt the Hakka were interlopers (“Hakka” means “guest households”—Mandarin kejia).  They developed a simple but exquisitely flavored cuisine that runs heavily to pork (stewed or minced), mustard greens (often salted or pickled), and other vegetables.  Stretching the pork by stuffing vegetables and tofu with it is a trademark.  Spinal cord of a cow is a delicacy.  I have always loved Hakka food, which manages to be surprisingly subtle and complex in spite of its mountain simplicity.  Their poor homeland made them quick to adopt New World plants that would grow in rough hill country, from maize and peanuts to chiles and sweet potatoes, and these are now an important part of Hakka life.

Linda Lau Anusasananan provides all the classic recipes (though sometimes more “modernized” that I like).  She also gives an amazing kaleidoscope of recipes from all the places the Hakka have gone.  Their montane homelands are poor and barren, so the Hakka have dispersed over time, first to Hong Kong and other coastal areas near their home, then to the whole world.  There are now said to be 75 million Hakka scattered over the world (p. 6).  They have learned to do everything from pickling chiles and lemons (neither of which are native to Hakka-land) to making full-on Indian curries and Peruvian ceviche.  Anusasananan provides recipes from Mauritius, Peru, Hawaii, Malaysia, Singapore, India, and elsewhere, often involving blends with local cuisine.  India/Hakka food is particularly amazing, but all the adaptations are testimony to the incredible creativity of Chinese cooks in general and Hakka ones in particular.   

Fish are still raised in rural Hong Kong—protected heritage fish ponds present an unchanged landscape contrasting strangely with the high-rises of Yun Long.  The fish bring 12-15 HK dollars per catty but cost 12 per catty to raise, so it isn’t very profiatable and children are not picking it up as a profession. 

Cantonese food is more elaborate than ever, but the simplest of its dishes, “yat ka mien,” remains with us on American menus.  The name simply means “one order of noodles” (Gray 2011).  Another simple food that persists is pun choi, “basin dish,” a large stew-up of meats, traditionally prepared by men, in quantity, for ancestral feasts and commemorative rites and for weddings.  James Watson (1987, 2011) provided a classic study of its important role in village life; it was a core of the festivals that brought village people together and created solidarity.  It has more recently caught on as a restaurant dish (Cheung 2012) and tourist attraction (Watson 2011).  It involves once-inexpensive village foods:  “dried pig skin, dried eel, dried squid, radish, tofu skin, mushroom and pork stewed in soybean paste” (Cheung 2012:4).  Fancier ingredients are now added.  A restaurant in Ohio advertised “too hard to translate soup”—the dish was a homemade dough drop soup (dough in small balls dropped into water), but the Chinese for these dough drops literally means “pimples” (from Victor Mair’s Language Log blog, Sept. 1, 2018).

Another Cantonese touch is referring to carrots as “the ginseng of the poor” (Z. Liang 2013).

Simpler yet is rice, but its role in Cantonese life is important enough to inspire a major book, Gourmets in the Land of Famine by Seung-joon Lee (2011).

Ha kaau (Mandarin xia jiao), the shrimp dumplings that may be the most beloved Cantonese snack, came originally from the village of Wufeng in the Haizhu district (Leo Lok, Facebook post of July 24, 2021).  Their almost inevitable companion siu mai may be Mongolian; it is shumai in Mandarin, mai meaning “wheat” (Katy Hung, Facebook post of Jan. 4, 2021), though Cantonese uses a different character that in Mandarin is mi.

            The famous taan t’a or “dan ta,” “egg tarts,” are derived from pastel de nata, famous exemplar of the pasteis de Belém, the latter word referring to a monastery in Portugal that made them famous. An anticlerical liberal administration took over Portugal in 1820, and a company was set up to save the Belém monastery and its foods. The pastry had probably spread to Macau long before that. In any case, from Macau it spread to the entire Cantonese world, and thus the entire globe today.

Shunde (Sun Tak) has a distinctive cuisine, very rich, with mild and subtle flavors; many fish dishes.  It is very popular now (2013) in Guangjou.  Delicacies include sandworms, snake belly meat (various species of rat snake are on the menu), turtles, chestnut cake (stuffed pancake), all sorts of fish.  Pork hocks are cooked in a sweet sauce much like an American ham sauce. 

Chen Village fen is rice paper with pork bits and soy and other saucing; it is simple but great.  A really good sweet is glutinous rice cake with jujube mashed with some brown sugar. 

Graham and Elizabeth Johnson spent a lifetime chronicling the town of Tsuen Wan in Hong Kong. During this time, it changed from a cluster of old-fashioned brick houses to a skyscraping city of highrises. The last old-timers persist in the last brick homes. Among foodways recorded are the ceremonial cakes for Chinese New Yeark, a local specialty. These are chahgwo and goubaahn, sweet rice cakes with or without peanuts. There are also “year cakes,” nonsweet sticky rice cakes with radish, green onion, preserved meat, mushrooms, and the like. Small cylindrical chahgwo for Qing Ming Day (3rd day of 3rd lunar month) were called jeuijaibaahn, “little boy’s penis cakes.”  Types of chahgwo occurred at some other festivals, incl black herbal ones for Dragon Boat (Johnson and Johnson 2019:36-37). The book is a beautifully written and highly nostalgic account of the changes in a wonderful, close-knit, friendly little community that is on the verge of being finally absorbed into the vast urban mass of Hong Kong.

Hong Kong’s famous floating restaurants are largely gone, but a huge one, the Jumbo Kingdom, survives at this writing. These began as Boat People eating places, but caught on with tourists and were turned into floating palaces by land-dwelling entrepreneurs. The food in the old days was overpriced and cooked for volume feeding; I hope the Jumbo is better (see Wong and Thuras 2021:125).

The boat people themselves are almost all on shore now, not only in Hong Kong but even in Guangzhou (Dixon 2018). Boat-dwellers are said to exist still on remote rivers and coasts.

In a market in Guangjou I noted several new items to me in January of 2013.  One was cow milk jujubes, huge jujubes as big as apples and green in color.  Another was gobo root, huai shan (water radical, huai phon; mountain).  Passion fruit was sold as hundred-fragrance fruit, and enoki as golden-needle mushroom.  Snow lotus was a crisp root, somewhere between a yam and a radish.  A real yam was called fen ge.  Tiger head chile is California chile.  A new fruit is jitan guo (chicken egg fruit)—much like a yellow sapote.  It isn’t in Hu.  It may indeed be a kind of yellow sapote.  Concholepas from Mexico has now come to Hong Kong as an abalone substitute.

Rosemary is now available in Guangjou herb shops.  So are all too many dyed gouji berries and Cordyceps; phony or low-quality cordyceps, dyed orange, is a staple.  The real thing is worth more than gold, and rather hard to find there.  Live scorpions, however, abound.  Crocodile meat may be found, and soup of it is taken for asthma (xiao chuan bing).  A new herb is snow chrysanthemum, a bright orange dried daisy flower.  It makes the best herbal tea I have ever had.  It is in Hong Kong too, as are huge thick slabs of Vietnamese cinnamon bark, used to treat allergy to meat, among other things.

New tim sam include a baxing jiaozi stuffed with peanuts, and very small bits of carrot, cabbage and meat, and a fen kok with very succulent and well-spiced thin-sliced roast or steamed beef wrapped up in the noodle skin, then decked with cilantro.

            Cantonese use of food for insulting people never ends. Haam jyu sau, “salty pig’s hand,” is Cantonese for a groper. Mandarin zhu shou “pig’s foot” means the same, and led to some embarrassment when a Chinese market posted a sign “German Style Sex Offenders” over a display of smoked pork hocks (photo widely circulated on Internet).

            Cantonese shrimp sauce, made of shrimps in salt such that they autodigest, has expanded in Beihai, Guangxi, to include ghost crabs caught on the beach. Pollution is controlled to keep them flourishing. The sauce is extremely popular there (Wong and Thuras 2021:121).

On a different note, there are now maotais costing over $200 per bottle.  And yak meat may now be had in Guangjou as well as Tibet and west China; it tastes like good beef.

Macau has its own cuisine (see Sales Lopes 2010). This went unchronicled, partly because Macanese tend to be quite secretive about it, holding tight to their special family recipes. Finally, it found a devoted historian in Annabel Jackson (2003, 2020). She records wonderful stories and family records, discusses the place of cuisine as critically important heritage and ethnic marker, and provides histories of the incredibly complicated origins of the cuisine. Basically the effect of Portuguese setttling in a Cantonese area, the cuisine was enriched from the start by foods from all the other places the Portuguese colonized, even Brazil, which contributed everything from chiles to specific dishes. Africa provided a surprising amount of ideas, including “African chicken,” a famous Macanese specialty that was invented in Macau by a Chinese chef but with true African antecedents. Another major influence came from Goa, the Indian colony that was a major focus of Portuguese activity in Asia. Melaka also contributed, providing Malaysian foods. Of course, Portugal’s own contributions, from Belem egg tarts—now Cantonese taan ta—to sausages. I remember old-time Portuguese markets in Macau, and goods reaching Hong Kong. One could buy vinho verde, the wonderful “green wine,” as well as Portuguese cheeses, sausages, and canned fish. Bacalhao, the dried salt cod that is Portugal’s signature food, was in evidence. Macanese food has now gone worldwide, with the dispersal of Macanese following Communist Chinese takeover in 1999.

Western food came into Hong Kong not only with the British and Portuguese, but with Chinese and White Russians moving down from Harbin and Shanghai. Chinese cooks opened western-style restaurants as early as the 1860s. The flight of Russians from eastern Russia to China after the 1917 revolution and 1917-21 civil war cretaed a huge Russian population, often food-conscious and able to cook. Russian restaurants became a Christmas tradition in Shanghai and then in Hong Kong. (The last of the Russian colony largely moved to San Francisco in the later 20th century, merging with the Russian settlers in the west-central city.) A western cuisine known as “soy sauce western” arose from a fusion of Russian, British, and Cantonese, the Cantonese toning down strange spices, adding soy sauce to soften flavors such as gamy meat, using more vegetables, and otherwise nativizing the cuisine (E. Cheung 2021). I well remember the old Russian restaurants of the 1960s, already drifting away in a Cantonese direction, from anything Russian. They are gone now. “Soy sauce western” restaurants, such as the well-known Tai Ping Koon, lasted into the 2010s, but they too have largely vanished, in spite of nostalgic visits by old-timers.

Teochiu (Cantonese Chiu Jau or “Chiu Chow”) cuisine remains little known in the English-speaking world, but apparently is covered by Chinese cookbooks.  There is said to be a cookbook: Jia! The Food of Swatow and the Teochew Diaspora, by Diana Zheng, but I can’t locate it so far.  The indefatigable Jackie Newman (2015) reminisces about feasts of duck soup, braised goose, soupy sweets, oyster omelettes sometimes wrapped in bean curd skin, and other items.  She knows this food mainly from Singapore, where they have adoped sa cha or satay—i.e. satay—sauce.  They also produce “hot pot made with many leafy vegetables, yams, and tapioca flour.  The yams are sliced very thin” (p. 10).  Another new dish to me is “a fish salad made with fried or fresh fish and fried shrimp.  It has five-spice powder, plum [mei] sauce, preserved vetebales, radishes and carrots, and fish balls they call dumplings” (ibid.).  This sounds wonderful.  Yet another is spring rolls in bean curd skins, and a congee made with sour mei, among other things (p. 11).  (Wikipedia has directions on how to salt, pickle, and make sauce from mei.) 

A recent study of food shops in Shantou (Swatow) by Guang Tian et al. (2018) describes five famous and long-established shops, selling, respectively: taro cakes and soup; various foods and meat products; bamboo shoot cake with dried shrimp and other cakes; dry noodles with pork and onions and soup with pig parts and fish balls; and stuffed pig intestines, horseshoe crab cake, and zongzi.  The last three are now state-owned, the first two remain private.  Shantou and Teochiu are adjacent and culturally similar.

Some new Shanghainese items to me in 2013 were salted duck eggs (mild, with slightly runny yolks; very good); small river shrimp with Chen kong vinegar; finely slivered baby bok vchoy with mushrooms and meat threads.  Extremely small baby bok choy is “chicken feather” bok choy.

            Chinese names for dishes continue to delight.  Thin noodles with ground meat and oil (and lots of chile) are “ants climbing on trees,” because the bits of meat stick to the noodles and look like ants on trees—if you have a lot of imagination.  A Beijing sweet delicacy is “ass rolls about” (or “donkey rolling in sand”)—a sweet glutinous rice cylinder rolled in crushed bean meal.  The rolling process reminds one of a donkey rolling on sand to scratch his back.  “Across the bridge noodles” is a Yunnan dish in which noodles are poured from one pot into another to finish cooking; the name may come from that, but there is an origin myth involving an elite boy forced to study all the time, and isolated for the purpose on an island in his parents’ garden, food being brought “across the bridge” by his family (Lo and Lo 2003; see ref. in preceding section) or by his long-suffering wife (Freedman 2018, who makes this a theme of her book).  Such cute stories explaining the name of a dish are not to be taken on faith, since the Chinese love nothing better than to make up such tales.  “Lonny,” who I assume to be Leonard Newman, has made up a whole list of wild names:  “Buddha’s navel” is a sesame sweet with fruits and sweets, from Wuxi.  “Bright Pearl in the Hand” is “deboned duck feet topped with shrimp paste and a quail eg, from Anhui.”  “Cats ears” are “stir-fried flat pieces of wheat or sorghum pasta” from Shaanxi.  “Dragon plays with a pearl” is “breaded whole shrimp wrapped with fish, from Shandong; “dragon Playing with Cold Coins” is “eel and shrimp patties with oil, fom Beijing.”  “dragons Fight Tigers”  Snake, cat, chicken, and fish-maw in a soup, from Gunagdong.”  I know a version of this as “dragon, tiger and phoenix”—snake, cat and chicken in a soup.  “Four Stars longing for the Moon”  Carp in a spicy sauce surrounded by foiur other dishes: from Jiangxi.   General Takes Off His Cape:  Eel stir-fried with mushrooms and bamboo shoots: from Hunan.  “Hundred Birds Bowing to Phoenix: Chicken and soup with dumplings; from Hunan.  Lady’s Jade Hairpin: Green stuffed chili peppers with pork and shrimp; from Guizhou.  No More Time: Banana, candied orange, and melon batter-fried; from Chaozhou.”  (This is probably a pun, but too arcane for me.)  “Red Cliffs Burning: Turtle with chicken, ham, and Steamed egg cake: from Shanghai.”  (“Burning” is sure to be an allusion to the ham, which is “fire leg” in Chinese.)  “Toad Spits Honey: Sesame wrapped biscuit stuffed with red bean paste; from Beijing.  Wok Brushes: Open-topped pork dumplings with frilly edges: from Guiyang.  Xixi’s Tongue: Dough filled with date and nut paste and seeds; from Hangzhou.”  (Presumably a reference to the legendary beuaty Xishi; “Lonny” 2016:9.)

A fascinating email exchange in August of 2011 between Andrew Coe, Fuchsia Dunlop, myself and several students and Chinese cooks revealed half a dozen unrelated and mutually incompatible origin myths for the name gu lou yuk, the Cantonese for sweet-sour pork.  It literally means “murmuring and muttering meat,” probably with reference to the sound of cooking the dish.  Some say this could come from a homonymous phrase meaning “ancient-old meat,” but this is unlikely, since there is nothing ancient or old about the dish.  There is a persistent myth that it is a euphemistic way to say guai lou yuk Cantonese for “foreign devils’ meat,” because the dish was devised for westerners.  (It is based on traditional recipes used for pork ribs and for yellow croaker fish, but  was created in the 19th or early 20th century for foreigners, who love sweets and do not want to deal with bones.)  Non-Chinese who are would-be sophisticates take delight in bashing this dish, but a team of leading Chinese chefs who visited Los Angeles in 2013 evaluated one high-line restaurant by its sweet-sour pork, and said this is a standard dish to test a cook’s skill (Gold 2013).  It is not at all easy to make well; it can range from superb to inedible.

            Moon cakes are evolving; heavy, sickly-sweet, and doughy, they are unpopular today, so low-calorie forms are evolving, as well as variants using new ingredients.  They too have spread to the United States and become liberated from traditional contexts (Langlois 1972).

            The tea house as ordinary people’s office, a social institution I described in the book, has finally received proper and deserved historical attention (Wang 2008).

            Tea itself has caught on worldwide, of course, more than ever.  A major art exhibit has chronicled its rise and spread over historic time and over the world (Hohenegger 2009).  The latest fad, as of this writing, is for aged Puer tea from Yunnan; excellent ethnographic and historic research has revealed much about this delicacy (Yu 2010; Zhang 2010).

The Maya-domesticated pitahaya cactus is now universal in east Asia under the name “fire-dragon fruit” or just “dragon fruit” (long guo).  The latest New World fruit (as of around 2010) to arrive in China is the passion fruit, bai xiang guo, “100 fragrances fruit.” 

The classic meat dish “Buddha jumped over the wall” (it smells so tempting that a Buddha would break his vegetarian vows and leap for it) is made by very slowly braising sea cucumber, shark fin, deer sinew, fungus, abalone, dried scallops, snow fungus, fish swim-bladder, turtle, and medicinal herbs such as ginseng.  Other, less exotic ingredients are often substituted for the rarer ones.

There is a scurrilous rumor that 90% of the maotai sold today is “fake,” whatever that may mean of a spirit which at best is neutral grain alcohol.

            Cannibalism, always fascinating to humanity, continues to receive attention.  As noted in my book, famine drove people to eat human flesh on many occasions, but literature fantastically exaggerated the extent of this, and Yenna Wu has analyzed the issue (Wu 1996).

            The indefatigable Jacqueline Newman has assembled a set of interesting etiquette notes about chopsticks:  Never knock them on the table, ‘because these are the sounds of beggars asking for food”; do not stir food in the dish with them or dig into a dish with them; “do not stand them upright in a dish” because that is too reminiscent of incense sticks or chopsticks in the bowls of sacrificial food for the dead (Newman 2017a:13).

More on Cooking Strategies:  Some Thoughts for “Slow Food” Devotees

            Chinese food is the original fast food.  Stir-frying takes seconds, or at most a very few minutes.  Food was sliced very thinly and evenly, with maximum surface area exposed, to allow it to cook at maximum speed.  Tender young ingredients are used, partly for taste, but partly—again—for quick cooking.  “Small eats” (xiao shi, the collective term for snack dishes) are sometimes slow to make, but they are sold on the street for eating on the run.  Even slower processes like steaming and soup-making are done fast in the Chinese kitchen.  Baking was speeded up by making the baked items extremely small.  Persian nan, typically about 30-50 cm long, shrank in China to become the shaobing, only about 10 cm.  Baking was done at high heat in very efficient, fuel-sparing ovens or large pots (derived from the Indian/Central Asian tandur). 

All this has everything to do with the incredible difficulty of obtaining fuel in the old days.  I well remember the scarcity and high price of wood and other fuels, even after kerosene and bottled gas came in.  All Chinese cooking is shaped by the need to cook everything with the absolute minimal amount of fuel.  I have seen a full meal for a family cooked with a handful of grass.  Stoves, dishes, and recipes are all exquisitely adapted to this.  The Chinese traditional bucket stove has now spread worldwide into fuel-short areas; I have seen it sold widely in Madagascar, among other places.  I have also seen an ancient Greek pottery stove that is almost identical; apparently it was an independent invention, but one wonders.

The only really slow cooking in Chinese tradition is the stewing and braising used for tough cuts of meat and fish.  This could be very slow indeed—some restaurants kept pots of stock constantly simmering, and put into them anything that needed long cooking.  According to legend, some of these stock pots had been simmering for centuries.  Admittedly this is highly improbable, but certainly some stock pots had been there at the back of the stove for years. 

Foods of Non-Han Peoples Living in or near China

            Foodways of the Muslim ethnic groups of Xinjiang, largely Turkic-speaking, have been beautifully documented in an encyclopedia, Zhongguo Qingzhi Yinshi Wenhua (Chinese Islamic Drink and Food Culture), issued in Beijing in 2009.  Many illustrations and recipes are provided.  Interesting is the strong European cast of many of the groups, especially the Tatars (p. 202ff), who are quite East European-looking and sometimes brown-haired and blue-eyed. 

            Turkic food includes the dried milk solid qrut (qurt, qurut), usually dried yogurt but often dried skimmed milk. It is aaruul in Mongolian, kūru in Manchu, and one of the milk solids covered by rubing in Chinese (Bello 2016:140).

            Jen Lin-Liu, a food writer and cooking school teacher, traveled the Silk Road from Xi’an to Rome and wrote a delightful travel book about it, On the Noodle Road (2013).  She was obsessed with noodles, and learned to cook every noodle dish she encountered along the way.  She notes that noodles were called tang bing, “soup cakes,” in early medieval China.  In China, la mian dominated, under various names, becoming laghman in Turkic languages.  Other noodles and breadstuffs were found.  She reports that the large breads of northwest China are mo, but were earlier tuturma, from Turkick tuturmashi (Lin-Liu 2013:49-52).

Uighur food includes yang’aq halwasi, “walnut halva” (-si is the possessed Turkic ending, denoting the noun covered by the adjective).  The Chinese name is ma tang, short for hu ma tang, “sesame sugar” (i.e. “sesame sweet”).  It is actually, at least as sold in Beijing, a large cake, up to a meter or so in diameter, made of sesame, peanuts, and dried fruit as well as walnuts and probably other items to bind it.  It is sold by the half kilo by Uighur vendors from villages near Kashgar; they are often illegal migrants and selling illegally, so they have a complex relationship with police and informal market areas (Sullivan 2016). They admit that laghman was originally la mian (Lin-Liu 2013:72).  Persian nan is the standard bread, pronounced nang. Chinese chives are popular, as in Afghanistan.  Dumplings are manta, but small soup dumplings are chuchurma, both Turkic words (see Lin-Liu 2013:86).  Humoral “hot” (Chinese re) is yel (Lin-Liu 2013:89).  Gushgerde are buns baked in a tonur (tandur; Lin-Liu 2013:95).  From Uighurland, Jen Lin-Liu proceeded westward, describing noodles and other foods as she went through Central Asia, Iran, Turkey, and Italy. She continues to produce food blogs, with an emphasis on China.

            The indefatigable Jacqueline Newman has added a compact description of Kashkar (Kashgar) food (Newman 2017c).  It is typical central Asian fare.  She says the city name means “place to find jade”  She too describes ma tang, describing it as “nut nougat covered in creamy yogurt curds drizzled with brown shugar syrup.”  A spice mix called tetitku is noted.  Bread is naan or nang; she gives a recipe, which is more or less the typical Persian one.  Lagmen and similar noodles are as popular as elsewhere in the center.  Whole lambs are served with caraway in their mouths.  “Chicken was cooked with carrots and onion, mutton called polu [or polo]came fried with onion, rice steamed with carrots and onions, too.  Kebabs were called kawaplar [Uighur pronunciation of “kabab” with –lar, the Turkic plural] and made with beef or lamb, seasoned with salt, pepper, sesame seeds, and sometimes chile and cumin, then grilled after soaking them in milk, butter, salt, and sugar” (Newman 2017c:13).  A “big plate chicken” was served.  Fish was available and was eaten with rice.  Sangza, “crispy twisted fried bread, or baked buns called kao baozi” (Newman 2014:14) were eatenat breakfast.  The former is thoroughly Chinese as well as central Asian.  The latter—the word means “roasted little bao”—is Chinese but adapted to ovens; Chinese traditionally did not bake bao (though they now do in western countries and westernized bakeries in China).  Lamb soup was shorpa, as elsewhere (ultimately the familiar Arabic root sh-r-b, “drink”).  Kumys was a preferred drink.  Black tea, Russian-style kvas, and “a non-alcoholic beverage made with honey…called gewasi” were also drunk. 

            All this sounds properly Turkic-Central Asian, with expected Chinese additions.  The words are a mix of Turkic, Chinese, and generic Arab-origin Middle East (shorba, kabab/kawap).  Sometimes, one cannot quite figure out where a word started; lagmen is probably Chinese, but Iranic speakers claim it as an Iranian word. 

            Mongol food is covered elsewhere in my writings, so I note here only a recent thorough account of dairy food preparation by Mongols in Xinjiang (Chan 2017).  The intrepid Jacqueline Newman has chronicled Inner Mongolian food too, with recipes for buuz dumplings (rather like jiaozi), rather Chinese-style meat, and the Mongol version of hot pot.  She mentions “maichan, a boiled lamab and onion dish with bulmuk, a flour-based gravy” (Newman 2017d:11).

            Mongolian food also includes boodog, animal cooked in its own skin. One skins the animal, cuts the meat off the bones, seasons it to taste, puts it back in the skin along with hot stones. The hot stones cook the food, while the hair is singed off over fire (Wong and Thuras 2021:144-145). This is a classic technique among hunters all around the Northern Hemisphere, known as skin-boiling. For large animals, the stomach is used instead of the skin.

            China’s neighbors and ethnic minorities have very complex foodways of their own.  Paul Buell and I, with collaborators Montserrat de Pablo and Moldir Oskenbay, have written up Central Asian food (Buell et al. 2020), including a thorough run-up on Korean food, owing much to Michael Pettid’s superb account of it (2008), and much to research in Los Angeles Koreatown as well as in Korea itself.

Korea’s national dish, kimchi, continues to propagate worldwide. In Korea, it is still homemade; only 7% of that consumed is comercial (Wong and Thuras 2021:154). Koreana magazine has glorified it as a perfect health food (Young 2008).  Indeed, it has plenty of antiseptic garlic and chile, vitamin-rich cabbage, antioxidants in all the vegetables, and so on, but its high salt content is associated with Korea’s high stroke rate.  Pickling destroys its vitamin C content.  I was amazed to find in France, in the heights of the Auverne, a mixed winter pickle virtually identical to kimchi but apparently a purely local invention. 

One important Korean food not known in China (as far as I can find) is acorn mush.  Chinese do eat acorns, however—usually roasted—as well as a pecan-like nut called a “mountain walnut.”  Hu Shiu-Ying (2005) identifies this as referring to both the Chinese hickory, Carya cathayensis, and the Manchurian walnut, Juglans mandschurica.  For the Korean dish, acorns are ground, the tannic acid is soaked out of them, and the meal is then boiled while stirring until it forms a jellylike mush known as dotori muk (the meal is dotori muk karu).  It is tasteless, but is sliced and eaten with seasonings or other foods.  It is similar to the acorn mush of California’s Native American peoples, but more thoroughly leached.  It was independent invented in California and Korea—there are no intermediate steps to connect the two.  (No references here—I had to do all the field work myself on this; I have never seen a published description except a brief note, long ago, in Koreana; the reference did not add to my findings.)

Beware of ordering a sundae in Korea; it’s Korean for pork blood sausage.

Korean ceremonies still use ancient Confucian sacrifice rites, involving offerings of foods adapted to the Korean context (Kim 1999).  These include jujubes, pine nuts, walnuts, and ginkgo nuts, as well as the usual meats and fish, but also kimchi (Korean pickles) including things like Chinese bellflower and wild dropwort (these are medicinal herbs).  Rice cakes and various wines are used, as well as meat minced with soy and other ingredients.  Meat items include something rather mysteriously defined as “swine’s armpit” (Kim 1999:8; the Chinese characters supplied makes things even more mysterious—the character translated “armpit” means “to pat” in Chinese).  Korea now proves to have a very long, complex prehistory (Nelson 1993, 1999).  Millet cultivation began (probably introduced from China) around the 6th millennium BC (Nelson 1999:150).   Rice was introduced, already domesticated, from China, by 2000 BC or earlier (Nelson 1999:150).  Pigs and other animals came early, before rice, and pigs became major domesticates. 

A complex agriculture evolved in Korea, spreading eventually to Japan with the Yayoi culture (intrusive from Korea to Japan around 200 BC).  Japan had some agriculture earlier, but it stayed very simple and minor; only with Yayoi did Japan become truly agricultural.  A quick note suffices for Japan: recent comprehensive, detailed, and excellent work by Eric Rath (2010, 2016; Rath and Assman 2010) and Charlotte von Verschuer (2016) makes further description unnecessary.

Manchu food is more or less Chinese, in recent centuries, but traditions of venison and distinctive noodle dishes survive.  Newman (2006) provides recipes. Large dumplings are bobo, presumably linguistically related to Tibetan momo.

A detailed account of foodways in Vietnam (Ngo 1994) notes that the heating/cooling system and the five-elements system flourish there.  Cooling foods, including many vegetables and fruits, were favored, because of the hot climate.  About 1500 medicinal plants make up the traditional herbal canon; some 150 are food plants (p. 77).  An 18th-century physician, Hai Thuong Lan Ong, wrote a book, Culinary Art, with 152 recipes for healing foods, with recommendations of foodstuffs.  “For instance:  glutinous rice related to sweet and tepid, strengthened spleen, lung and kidney and cured urobilinury whereas ordinary rice related to sweet and healthy, kept up the body and regulated the temperament.  Regarding beans, soya related to sweet and tepid, strengthend the bone, boosted the temperament and detoxicated whereas green beans related to sweet and cold, dissipated the heat, detoxicated and cured diabetes” (Ngo 1994:77).  Lemon balm, ginger, and other plants were noted.  “[W]omen in delivery should use glutinous rice wine, with hen-egg…” (Ngo 1994:77).  Papaya promoted milk, as did soup of pork leg.   The giant waterbug Lethocerus indicus is important in Vietnamese cuisine (Packard 2003; Smith 2003), as in northern Thailand, whence it has been imported into the United States (Pemberton 1988; also my own observations).  The pheromonal gland produces a scent that is greatly relished.  Insecticides have made the insect rare.  It is traditionally made into sauce with chiles, lime, and sometimes dried fish or fish sauce. 

Chan Yuk Wah (2011), in a brief but brilliant article, tells of investigating whether the Vietnamese rice roll known as banh cuon was derived from the Cantonese cheung fan roll.  He realized that both are variants of a local food that seems to be one of the many regional things—foods, words, ideas—linking Cantonese and Vietnamese culture as opposed to north Chinese or (other) southeast Asian.  He reasonably refers to this as Yueh culture—Yueh being the ancient Chinese state occupying what is now southeast China.  “Vietnam,” which is “Yueh nan” in Mandarin, simply means “south of Yueh.”  (Nam Viet, “southern Yueh,” was attested historically too.)  It is definitely time to realize that Cantonese and Vietnamese cultures do comprise, in some ways, a unity over and against their neighbors; one can fold the Thai and Muong cultures of north Vietnam into it, too.  Chan, again correctly, notes that “southeast Asia” is an awfully vague term—it links together a large group of countries that share nothing except their agricultural system (wet rice and tree crops) and some degree of Indian and Chinese influence.  Southeast Asia is much less a cultural unity than, say, Europe, Latin America, or East Africa.  One can easily deconstruct it and make the cultural links go in quite other directions.  Chan’s article is a really wonderful example of starting with something deceptively minor, writing a deceptively short and simple article about it, and using this to establish conclusions that shake the received wisdom on a whole region!

Nir Avieli has described in detail the food of Hui An, a town in central Vietnam that formed around a core of Chinese merchant settlements and thus has a strongly Chinese-influenced cuisine with several distinctive local innovations (Avieli 2005, 2012).  Among these are adding raw herbs—beloved of Vietnamese eaters—to Chinese dishes.  These raw herbs can, however, carry diseases that Chinese cooking would prevent—as I learned to my cost in Hui and Hui An!

One of the common herbs there and elsewhere in southeast Asia is Tabasco parsley, not a parsley but a lettuce relative, Eryngium foetidum.  It comes from Mexico (especially, of course, the Tabasco area) and how it got to southeast Asia is a real mystery.  Around Hoi An it is known as ngo gai

            In Yunnan, dozens of local ethnic groups continue interesting foodways.  A marvelous cookbook of local Yunnan food comes to us from Georgia Freedman:  Cooking South of the Clouds (2018).  The recipes are excellent and the photographs are exceptional even for this modern age of photo-cookbooks.  From limited experience in Yunnan I can vouch for at least several of the recipes.  Freedman usefully recommends substitutes for ingredients hard to get outside Yunnan, while still listing the proper ingredients for those who can find them (though failing to explain that “sawtooth herb” is the Mexican plant Eryngium foetidum).  She traces the best of the famous Yunnan hams to Xuanwei county, near the Guizhou border (and recommends—properly—that you can use Spanish Serrano ham if you can’t find good Yunnan).  This is an exceptional regional cookbook. 

            Wild fruits are still very important (Chen et al. 1999).  Slightly over the international border, Yunnan Chinese in northern Thailand have set up highly successful, stable, intensive farming systems, based on subsistence food cropping plus orchards of lychees, tangerines (with a juice processing factory), and other trees (Huang 2005).  They also use an amazing and wondrous variety of wild plants for medicine, including for childbirth (Wang et al. 2003).

            Yunnan food, and some other Chinese foodways, have migrated to Burma, where Chinese food in Mandalay has become inextricably mixed with Burmese food.  A Burmese tamarind soup, typical of the sour soups of India, Burma and Thailand, is Yunnanized with chile and pronounced a “Yunnanese” food (Duan Ying 2011).

            Tibetan food and medicine are still poorly known in the west (though see Dorje 1985).  The Shuhi people, a Tibetan-related group in Yunnan, rely heavily on walnuts, for food and oil, and not surprisingly give them a major place in religion and ritual (Weckerle 2005).  This links them with scattered long-resident ethnic groups around the Himalayan region; perhaps there are ancient relationships, though we cannot know.  In any case, deteriorating rural and forest conditions in China bode ill for this adaptation.

            The Tibetans of Yunnan now produce a rapidly increasing quantity and variety of medicinal herbs (D. Anderson et al. 2005; Glover 2005; Salick et al. 2005), which is greatly improving the local economy, and, one hopes, world health.  However, it is clearly unsustainable; plants are getting smaller and rarer.  The future can only be one of crashes of major species.  Cultivation is occurring, but a belief that wild plants are more effective than domestic ones makes this a shaky proposition.

            Especially interesting is the caterpillar-parasiting fungus Ophiocordyceps sinensis, known as yartsa gunbu in Tibetan and xiacao dongchong (“summer herb, winter worm”) or simply chongcao (“worm herb”) in Chinese. It grows in the bodies of ghost moth caterpillars (Thitarodes spp., 37 known host species).The first known mention is in a fifteenth-century Tibetan medical text. It appears in Chinese medical writing in 1757, but did not catch on as a mass fad until 1993 (Zahler 2016).Believed to have magical cure-all effects, it is collected in vast quantities in Tibetan grasslands and sold throughout China and among overseas Chinese. The supply is rapidly depleting. Zelda Liang (2012, 2013) records that it is now hyped as “viagra”-like (it does not work), and has become a super-rich status consumption good, now that the traditional luxuries such as abalone, shark fin, sea cucumber, and fish maw are affordable to the upper middle class. Illegal bu pin (strengthening foods) such as pangolin are also super-status.

            A Tibetan community renamed “Shangri-La” by venal Han Chinese publicists has not only become a tourist designation, it has become a major wine terroir, with the publicists doing everything possible to hype its special virtues. It is said to be reasonably good. Unfortunately, mass tourism and French-style wine culture do not mix well with local reverence for mountains, forests, wildlife, and nature (Galipeau 2016).

            The Naxi of northern Yunnan are the subjects of a brief note by Jacqueline Newman (2018), providing only one recipe, but it is complex and stunning.

            The Yi peoples (Harrell 2001) may have ruled Yunnan in its independent days as the state of Nanchao.  They now occupy a vast swath of highland territory from Sichuan to Thailand.  Among the northerly groups are the Nuosu, famous for having remained de facto independent of the Chinese state right up to the 1950s.  Their staple food is buckwheat; they grow both bitter (Fagopyrum tataricum) and non-bitter (F. esculentum, the species familiar in the west—to which it spread from west China).  They prefer the bitter, in spite of its taste, because it has more nutritional value (at least they say it does; Bender et al. 2019:144). They also grow wheat, barley, and potatoes, the last entering the picture since 1700 but very well established.  They have a turnip-like vegetable called voma that is said to be watery and unsubstantial but very popular (Bender et al. 2019:144).  They raise pigs, sheep, goats, cattle, chickens, and horses, and sacrifice and eat the first five of those species.  They formerly ate a good deal of game, subject to a number of taboos that guaranteed sustainability, but now the game is shot out as taboos go by the wayside in a populous, mixed-ethnic world.  With other Yi peoples, they have a cosmology of forests and wilds (the domain of spirits) and cultivated, thoroughly managed lands (the domain of people), and maintain sacred groves that conserve biodiversity (on conservation, see Urgenson et al. 2010, and countless writings by Stevan Harrell).  Their origin myth (Bender et al. 2019) teaches respect for all beings; it does not explicitly order conservation, but it provides the context of beliefs that allow taboos, sacred demarcation, and ritual management systems to conserve a sustainable system.

            Other Yi peoples include the Hani and Akha. The Hani of Yunnan grow “rice and corn; the rice is often but not always purple rice.  They grow lots of…peanuts, tea, and sugar cane…..they love foods tasting acidic and/or spicy” (Newman 2015:29).  They eat a rice dumpling cooked in banana leaves.  Special dishes include baiwang, coagulated “blood of one or more animals: pig, goat and dog are favorites; and mix it with salt, radishes, leaves of the garlic plant, and chili peppers.  Then they season it and grill it” (Newman 2015:30).  They often top it with peanuts.  Another favorite is “fish mud,” “minced fish with deer, goat, any wild bird, some eel, hot pepers, and chili oil…grilled over charcoal” (ibid.).  An infertile woman “is given a leg of pork to hold”; it is called “dragon meat” and eaten with bean curd, fish, celery, sticky rice cakes, peanuts, etc., and the leftovers buried with rice seedlings (ibid.).

            The Sani of central Yunnan are a detachment of the Hani; the name is a variant.  The Sani have an ancient tradition of rice agriculture, both upland (slash-and-burn) and wet, but they have more recently adopted New World crops with enthusiasm.  Their villages consist of adobe houses, on and around which are hanging maize, chile peppers in strings, green beans drying, and Mexican squashes.  Even epazote (Chenopodium ambrosioides) has made it there as a pot-herb, called ki chr kimi..  It all looked like a central Mexican village, even to the clusters of maize ears hanging in trees.  This amazed and delighted the Mexican representatives at the International Congress of Ethnobotany held in Yunnan in 1990.  

Sani dispenses with vowels in many words.  Ng pan mo is “chile.”  The odd small eggplant—a local species, Solanum khasianum—was a dz, a water buffalo an ng (cf. Chinese niu, Cantonese ngau). Dog is chrzh (the last three letters being used here to write something like the buzzed r in Czech). Simplest of all was “horse”:  m.  (The Chinese is ma.

The Akha, related linguistically (but much more fond of vowels, of which they have many), practice slash-and-burn cultivation and some wet-rice agriculture in southern Yunnan.  They eat a typical southeast Asian diet of rice with greens, fish, fruit, peppers, and forest products.  My student Ayoe Wang, an Akha from Yunnan, carried out detailed ethnobotanical researches on the Akha (Wang 2008, 2013).  He found the same general cosmological beliefs as those reported for the Nuosu, with more explicit conservation and more self-conscious differentiation from the surrounding groups.  The Yi world is part of the Southeast Asian world of intensely conservationist and highly sustainable agriculture, a model for the world.

Another related group, the Lisu, are little known to the food world.  A few dishes are described by a Lisu writer, Bai Chingshun (2015).  Bai reports that a thick unleavened wheat bread is one staple; it is cooked on a flat pan and then in the ashes of the fire.  Sweet twisted wheat pastry is a simple delicacy.  Another food is tamales: maize kernels taken off the ear, ground, mixed with chiles and salt and steamed in corn husks or Erythrina variegata leaves. I suppose they are an independent invention based on something like Chinese zong, not direct borrowing of tamales.  Streaky pork with bean paste (mashed beans) and garlic leaves are a delicacy.  Another is wild fennel boiled, tied in a circle, filled with beaten egg, and cooked in soup.  In no case are full directions given, and apparently the author has been long away from home.  We need more ethnography of groups like this.

Also related are the Lahu, evocatively described by Shanshan Du (2002), a Chinese ethnographer. They live a similar lifestyle in the same general area. Du emphasizes the importance of women, who maintain that “chopsticks work only in pairs,” and men and women equally need each other.

Nearby are the Wa, an Austroasiatic-speaking group (like their neighbors the Palaung). They have a well-deserved reputation as ferocious headhunters, protecting their wild and remote but lush and rich land by living in large villages hedged by thorns, guarded by gates, and defended by implacable warriors. They were conquered by the Chinese Communist government in the middle 1950s, but in Burma they remain semi-autonomous. Their staple is rice. They grow foxtail millet for beer, an exceedingly popular item, used ritually like other millet beers of southeast Asia. As in much of the world, meat is highly favored. Cattle, buffaloes, pigs, and chickens abound, and some other domesticates and game animals are consumed. Sacrifices and feasts were once common, especially to celebrate heads taken. The skulls were ritually placed in pillars lining the main road to the village, a fairly good warning of what invaders could expect. The Wa, previously known largely from scary rumors, have been the subject of sustained and excellent ethnographic attention by Magnus Fiskejö (e.g. 2021).

The Mian of southern China and neighboring southeast Asia traditionally ate bland, simple food, but used southeast Asian basil varieties, cilantro, mint, and lemon grass, at least in their southeast Asian villages. Minced beef with basil, eaten in a lettuce leaf, is a favorite dish, and resembles Thai and Vietnamese dishes.  Sticky rice has also spread from the north Thai world.  (Information from Jeff McDonald.)

The Yao have varied foodways, many of which are being lost.  The Ao Yao of Guangxi used to salt down small birds with rice powder to dry them off; this is no longer done.  They pickled many foods.  Otherwise, their diet was, or at least now is, more or less the standard diet of impoverished mountain dwellers:  sweet potatoes, maize, and such, with rice and pork the luxuries (Huang 2009).  Huang gives a recipe for blood sausage—blood and rice in a pig’s intestine, with salt and flavorings. 

The Tujia (see Newman 2014b) are a large but strikingly little-known group, living in central China.  Their language is related to Chinese, but many live near Miao and speak Miao dialects, so one wonders if they have some Miao ancestry.  Over a million are scattered widely from north-central to south China.  Little is recorded of their food, except that it seems hot, spicy, and sour—they love pickles—and related to Sichuanese cooking; they maintain they originated in Sichuan.  Note this is not the same as the Hezha cuisine above.

China’s largest minority is the Thai-speaking (now often Han Chinese-speaking) Zhuang, who live in Guangxi Province and neighboring areas; there are perhaps 30,000,000 of them.  Their food remained mysterious until recently, but now an article (Newman 2005), among other sources, opens them to the world.  They eat both sticky and nonsticky rice; nonsticky seems to be usually (not always) the staple.  They are fond of cassia and fennel, and flavor their tea with orange flowers.  Black rice soup flavored with cassia and fennel is a typical dish.  Eggplant is cooked with rice vinegar, white pepper, cinnamon, sugar, fermented sticky rice, and oil. 

A restaurant in San Gabriel (near Los Angeles) served Guangxi Zhuang food.  A  specialty is luosifen, snail noodle soup.  The snails are boiled in the water but then taken out.  They give a strange earthy or pond-like flavor.  The soup is based on spaghetti-like rice noodles with tomatoes, Chinese cabbage, bamboo shoots, meat or fish of any kind, and flavorings.  Other soups with sour vegetables exist.  (The same restaurant—run by a couple from China’s northernmost and southernmost extremes—served Harbin specialties from north Manchuria.  These are largely dumplings stuffed with pork and fennel leaves or other meat-and-vegetable stuffings.  Cumin is a common spicing, indicating Near Eastern antecedents.  Lamb stir-fried with sour cabbage is also a delicacy there as elsewhere in the far north.)

Dai food has been chronicled by the indefatigable Jacqueline Newman, and is described as often being sour, with pickled vegetables important.  They share a fondness for minced, highly spiced raw meat with other Thai-speaking groups (Newman 2012b).  Water bugs continue popular (Pemberton n.d.).

Wang Si, an ethnologist in Yunnan, has described the Bai (Wang 2012), who are also fond of raw pork.  She supplies details on pig butchering and raw meat preparation and use.

Dr. Newman, who is systematically chronicling the minority foodways of China, has gone on to describe the foods of the Dong (Tung), another Thai minority very close to the Zhuang (Newman 2007, 2012b, 2012c).  (In fact, “Dong” and “Zhuang” are routinely confused.  The languages are very similar, and are close to Thai.  Speakers are called “Dong” or “Zhuang” indifferently, depending on local history.  Newman reports that some people of apparent Tibeto-Burman origin are also called Dong locally.)   A characteristic Dong flavor is tea oil, from fruits of Camellia species including C. oleifera, C. sasanqua and C. kissi (but not from true tea, C. sinensis).  This is often made into a sauce with mustard, vinegar, salt, and sugar.  A raw-shrimp paste with chile, rice, ginger, cinnamon and salt is also made and stored; it would salt-cure (autodigest) in the jars.  Sticky rice is common as a staple.  It is also the staple food in northeast Thailand and neighboring areas.  Vegetables are marinated in a mix of sugar, salt, Chinese hard liquor (technically a vodka or unaged whiskey), and rice wine.  Newman has also contributed a brief account of the Bai of Yunnan, whose cuisine is not strikingly different from other Yunnan Plateau food (Newman 2012).

Newman’s latest foray has been to the world of the Gelao (Kelao), a group so obscure that they appear never to have been well described in print in English.  They live in the far south, in Guizhou, Yunnan, and Guangxi.  Their language is distantly related to Thai, but in a separate branch (Kadai) of the Thai-Kadai phylum.  It is poorly known.  Their food was even less well known till now.  Newman (2016) reports:  “Their staple diet is corn supplemented with ricewheat, millet, sorghum, buckwheat, and sweet potatoes.”  They like sweet-sour tastes.  “They make a condiment called ‘chili bone.’ It is actually ground pork bones mixed with chicken meat, lots of chili powder, sugar, wine and/.or vinegar, and Sichuan pepper and salt.  This they seal in jars for two weeks or more…it is a sweet and sour sauce-like item used as a dipping condimentor spread on dumplings or rice cakes.”  They worship on Ox God with sacrificed chicikens, wine, and rice cakes (Newman 2016b:13).  Newman provides recipes for maize and shrimp congee with vinegar, and ginger, glutionous rice cakes with brown sugar, black vinegar, sesame oil, preserved vegetables, and fried dough sticks, and presed tofu and rice cakes with ginger, black vinegar, sugar, and chile (Newman 2016b:14).  These resemble Cantonese breakfast items.

            Yang Zhuliang has chronicled mushrooms in Yunnan (Yang n.d.).  Mushrooms also figure large in Tibet, where they are collected by Tibetans and minorities as food.  Sale of them has made many people quite well off (Arora 2008).  The caterpillar-parasitizing fungus Cordyceps sinensis complex is an extremely important medicine, sale of which actually is the biggest single moneymaker in rural Tibet (Winkler 2008, 2009).  It is used for almost anything by Chinese and Tibetans, but is not known to have any empirically demonstrable benefits.  Many other mss. on mushrooms, as well as taro, herbal medicine, edible insects, wild game animals, pine nuts, dogs, and other edibles have crossed my desk, but in preliminary or partial forms that cannot be cited here.

Yamamoto and Nawata have provided an extremely detailed and well-documented study of Taiwan aboriginal food, including Tabasco chile pepper use by these groups (Yamamoto and Nawata 2009).  Names and genetics show varieties in the southern areas of Taiwan were introduced from the Philippines (and often to the Philippines from Indonesia).  These small hot chiles are used not only for food, but for ornament, medicine, and ritual.  Young leaves as well as fruits are eaten.  This all indicates a long and interesting history.  The plants must have been introduced soon after the Spanish occupied the Philippines in the 16th century.

            To Katy Hung (Biggs) and Tammy Turner I am deeply indebted for information on Litsea cubeba, known as may chang, mu jiang, or shan hujiao (“mountain black pepper”), or in Atayal, a Taiwan Aboriginal language of the Austronesian phylum, as magao or maqaw.  It is so important to the Atayal that a park is proposed, with that name, to save it.   It is also widespread on the mainland, in tropical areas.  It is valued for its berries, which have a lemony flavor that Ms. Biggs finds exquisite.  The scientific name shows its use as a substitute for cubeb pepper (Piper cubeba), formerly imported to China from Southeast Asia.  Another flavoring food there is Rhus javanica, whose sour berries are used for salt.  (Information by email exchange, Dec. 6, 2014.)

            The indefatigable Ms. Biggs, who is Taiwanese in spite of her Irish name, reports that in southern Taiwan noodles are made from catfish meat (Facebook posting, Dec. 14, 2014).  Dumpling skins are made from fish meat mixed with sweet potato flour.  This adds a whole new dimension to Chinese noodle cuisine.  The snakehead catfish is referred to as “dog mother fish” (gou mu yu, or kiau mu yu in Taiwanese) from its resemblance to a lizard, “dog fish snake” in Taiwan Chinese, which is considered lowly.  She also reminds us that mudskippers are good food, and I can add walking gobies from experience eating them with Chinese in Malaysia.  Mudskippers (fei yu seems to be the name) are apparently fancy restaurant fare in southern Taiwan.

            Southeast Asian food and its history has been reviewed in an excellent historical study by the Japanese scholar Akira Matsuyama (2003).  This book is particularly good on fermented foods, and provides an opportunity for someone to do a really major study by comparing them with those documented in Huang (2000).  Ties with China are very clear.

Globalization and Diaspora:  Chinese Food Outside China

Much research on Chinese food in recent years has focused on the process of globalization. This has led to questioning just what Chinese food is (King 2020). In most arenas, globalization has meant the spread of American pop culture at the expense of everything else. It is currently a bit politically uncorrect to say this, but look at any photograph of any street in any city in the world, and think where the clothing styles, sign styles, building styles, car styles, and other styles originated.  The only serious exception to Americanization, outside of local scripts on the signs, is the religiously-entailed women’s clothing in the more conservative Muslim cities.  In foodways, however, the Chinese have more than held their own.  Chinese food has been going global for centuries, since it spread along the Silk Road and along land and sea routes to Southeast Asia. 

China’s most far-flung restaurants have been chronicled by the intrepid researchers of Gastro Obscura. They now occur in northern Alaska, Easter Island, the south tip of South America (in Ushuaia), over 14,000 feet up in Cerro de Pasco, Peru, and Greenland (Wong and Thuras 2021:126-127). Old railroad and mining towns all over western North America have very old Chinatowns, dating from the use of Chinese labor building the lines, mining, or servicing other workers.. Many very old buildings survive, as well as treasure troves like the medical records of a frontier Chinese doctor in Idaho. The food was classic chop suey house fare, and often still is, though now often cooked by recent immigrants who can also produce more upscale dishes.

One result of the food diaspora has been the rise of white experts on Chinese cooking and the neglect of Chinese experts.  Mea culpa, of course, but I have tried to acknowledge, cooperate with, and coauthor with Chinese experts.  Clarissa Wei (2017) has written an insightful article on the problem.  (She is willing to forgive competent experts, but not the newspapers and the white chefs.  I am more forgiving—but I am not a disinterested observer here.)

            The long process of blending Chinese and Southeast Asian food thus commands attention, and has received it in several excellent studies (see Tan [ed.] 2011).  Notable is one on Chinese food in Singapore.  Chinese settled in southern Malaya by the 1500s, and a fusion cuisine, “Nonya” food, arose as they married into local communities.   It influenced both parents:  returning migrants brought Sinicized versions of Malay foods back to China, and Malay food has adopted countless Chinese ingredients and techniques.  It differs from both parents in a strong emphasis on turmeric and lesser galangal; it uses more hot spices than Chinese food, but less than Malay.  A very similar evolution has taken place in Indonesia, where the peranakan (Indonesian-Chinese) communities developed fusion cuisines and influenced Indonesian food profoundly.  (Ultimately, they influenced the whole world, through such inventions as ketchup.)  “Nonya” cuisine (“nonya” is a local word for a Chinese woman of status) has been self-consciously revived and modernized in Singapore (and to a lesser extent in Malaysia).  Thus, it has progressively changed.  However, Chinese identity is still marked.  Holvor Helland (2008), studying Penang, found about what I found in 1970: Chinese food reinforced Chinese identity, with pork a particularly strong ethnic marker because it is banned to the Muslims who form most of the rest of the population there.  Chinese have adopted local ingredients but cook in Chinese ways.  At least in 1970, that meant Hokkien ways, but I suspect the same thing has happened in Penang that has happened in Singapore: a blurring of Chinese ethnic lines and a spread of Cantonese cuisine across Chinese ethnicities.  (One may argue that there is a good reason for that, given the contrasts in cooking between Cantonese and Malaysian Hokkien foodways in the old days.)

            The initial diaspora of Chinese food was almost entirely from the south coastal provinces, Fujian and Guangdong (Anderson 1988; Tan 2011).  Southeast Asian Chinese food is primarily from Fujian, with varying degrees of Guangdong and other influences.  The names for foods show this:  they are almost entirely in Hokkien (Southern Min), the language of southern Fujian and neighboring northern Guangdong (Anderson 1988; Tan 2011).  The Philippines seems slightly more complicated, with some highly Tagalog-influenced Chinese words that do not always show clear Hokkien roots.  Carolyn Ang See (2011) provides an excellent account with full food vocabulary; words can be Tagalog, Hokkien, Cantonese (e.g. siomai for siumai) or even possible Mandarin with much Tagalog influence.  Sometimes the etymology is astonishing:  the standard Philippine noodle dish pansit is from Hokkien pian sit (Mandarin bian shi), “fast or convenient food.”  On top of this, Philippine languages have borrowed many Spanish words for dish types and ingredients.  Sometimes these Spanish words were in turn borrowed from native American languages; for instance, various pronunciations of the Nahuatl (“Aztec”) word camote have become the usual namesfor the sweet potato.

            Fishing went with Chinese settlers to every coastal area they settled.  In North America, Chinese got into fishing quite early, dominating some fisheries.  This did not totally satisfy demand, so much was imported from China, especially since certain gourmet items like salt croakers and dried squid were hard or impossible to produce in the new land. 

            J. Ryan Kennedy (2017) has studied the mix of Chinese-caught, Anglo-caught, and imported fish available to early Chinese Californians. San Francisco Chinese firms (jinshanzhuang, “Golden Mountain firms”) imported dried fish, including the southeast Asian snakehead catfish Channa micropeltes (Kennedy et al. 2021). This catfish was possibly imported as a health aid, since ability to breathe air and squirm through wet grass between ponds gives the various snakehead catfish the reputation of being sheng yu, “living fish,” whose flesh makes one resist cancer and other such diseases. However, I was gravely assured in Hong Kong that some are “bone-transforming dragons” (fa kuat lung in Cantonese), that if eaten will make the eater disappear completely, even his bones. The catfish are thus cooked with a piece of pork, to see if it disappears. I was told of people who had seen this happen, but never met any or heard believable accounts.

            Chinese moved quickly into the abalone fishery, since that snail is among the most valued gourmet health foods in eastern Asia.  Todd Braje (2016) studied abalone fishing camps on the Channel Islands, where particularly well-preserved ones on San Clemente give insight into Chinese and western fishers.  These authors summarize a long literature on these subjects.

In the Western Hemisphere, Chinese food meant Cantonese food—from central Guangdong—until recently.  The standard food names are Cantonese, sometimes in the Taishan (Toisan) dialect; most of the early Cantonese migrant were from Taishan or the nearby “four districts” (the sei yap of California Chinese history) that speak a closely related dialect. 

Only in the last 40 years have Sichuanese, Shanghainese, north Chinese, and other regional cuisines spread much beyond China’s borders.  Another aspect of the mix has been the recent emigration of vast numbers of ethnic Chinese from Vietnam and other southeast Asian countries.  They have started restaurants that not only reflect the fusion cuisines of their homelands, but also reflect fusion in their new homes with local traditions.  It is thus common in the United States to find “Vietnamese” restaurants that serve sinicized Vietnamese staples, standard south Chinese dishes, and American Chinese dishes like beef broccoli and ginger beef. 

An eclectic cuisine has developed and become almost universal.  “Chinese” restaurants in North America and Europe, for instance, typically serve the more famous dishes of several regions.  This regional fusion was looked upon with some disquiet by traditional gourmets, but it is now quite standard in Hong Kong and Taiwan as well as in diaspora communities (Wu 2011 gives excellent descriptions and provides his full share of the disquiet). Sidney Cheung has written on the assimilation of Shanghai foodways into Hong Kong life (2020).

            Americans first learned of Chinese food in China itself, and developed a stereotype of it (based on Canton experience) as a lot of unsavory dishes of cut-up cats, dogs, and such (Coe 2009; see pp. 32 ff for colonial racist quotes).  Chinese emigrants came to America in the Gold Rush and in much larger numbers in the late 19th century, bringing rural Cantonese food, especially from the Taishan (Toisan) district of Guangdong).  This food was not necessarily China’s finest, and only slowly won acceptance.  Coming of more variety and quality led to an explosive growth of acceptance, making Chinese food universal and beloved (Coe 2009; Newman and Halporn 2004). 

            Tofu was brought to America by a rather striking individual, Dr. Yamei Kim.  She was born in Ningbo in 1864, orphaned, adopted by American missionaries with medical background, raised in Japan and the United States, and became a doctor.  She worked with new foods in WWI for the United States, introducing a variety of soybean products including tofu (Roth 2018).  She was obviously not the first to bring it, but she seems to have made it more visible to the American elite world.  She lived a colorful life, being very much a showperson and champion of both modernity and Chinese tradition. 

            More recently, Chinese restaurants from Korea and Japan to America and Europe have developed local versions of Chinese food.  (On this, there are several excellent recent studies, notably Arnold et al. 2018; Banh and Liu 2019; Newman and Halporn 2004; Roberts 2002; Wu and Cheung 2002; Wu and Tan 2001.  For Korea, a superb article by Kim Bok-rae, 2009, chronicles in detail the changes involved.  Here the main influence was from Shandong, not south China. For France, see Sabban 2009.)   They accommodate to local tastes by changing spices, substituting local ingredients, etc.  Many stories of particular restaurants, and memoirs of restaurant families, have been collected recently (see Banh and Li 2019 and references therein).

They also, alas, often use much cheaper and worse ingredients than they would dare to use at home, though this is rapidly changing.  American Chinese food has gone through several stages in my lifetime.  When I was young, most American Chinese came from impoverished backgrounds, and cooked (by necessity) rather cheap, simple food.  Accommodation to American ways led to making this cuisine even cheaper and simpler, resulting in the food of the “chop suey joints” of old (Coe 2009).  These were small local restaurants that served very humble food—“chop suey” is from Cantonese tsap sui, “miscellaneous leftovers.”  It is a dish from the Toisan and Sei Yap area of Guangdong province, originally made by vegetable growers, who at the end of the day would cook up the “miscellaneous leftovers” that were too small or odd to sell (information from former vegetable growers in Hong Kong, 1975). 

The dish is actually widespread in China; the Mandarin pronunciation is za sui. The dish is venerable. The first mention is in China’s great fantasy novel, Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en. The trickster-hero Monkey threatens to make chop suey from the organs of a demon if it swallows him. The demon gives up the project (vol. 1, p. 75, reference from Facebook posting by Jim McClanahan, Jan. 2022).

“Leftovers” is more often used to refer to the odd bits of animals, and the dish has another past as a way of using up chicken gizzards, intestines, lungs, and the like, as pointed out by Hai-Ming Liu (2009) and Miranda Brown (2021). This makes the dish comparable to Mexico’s menudo (“little parts”) and birria (“leftovers”), made from tripe and from the leftovers of sheep and goat butchering respectively. In America, it first appeaed in New York, then appeared in San Francisco around 1900, becoming famous there (Coe 2009; Peters 2013).

Recently, this once-humble dish has occasioned a publishing explosion. Major authorities have devoted books and articles to it. These include Miranda Brown (2021), Andrew Coe (2009), Haiming Liu (2009, 2015), Anne Mendelson (2016) and Yong Chen (2014) have chronicled the progress of chop suey and other Chinese-American foods; Yong Chen gives some recipes.

Other memorable foods of the old chop suey houses were chow mien (chao min, fried noodles, with sauce), egg foo young (fuyong, omelet-like stirred eggs), tofu dishes, won ton soup, and stir-fried meat with vegetables that consisted largely of undercooked vegetables with tiny shreds of meat.  Another standard was yatka mien, from Cantonese yat ko mien (or min or men), “one bowl of noodles.”  This normally meant just regular noodles, with some green onions, barbecued pork, and the like, but the irrepressible culinary genius of New Orleans has made it into a whole new dish, yakamein.  This is a hangover cure, sometimes known as “Old Sober,” and made of “spaghetti, chopped beef, green onions, and chopped hard-boiled eggs, drowned in a tangy beef broth, spiced up with hot sauce and soy sauce, and sprinkled with liberal amounts of Creole seasoning” (Gastro Obscura, online newsletter, 2019).

Ever-present was the fortune cookie, based on the Japanese tea wafer, but converted in the United States to something like a sugar cookie; it was and still is folded (when still pliable) around a slip of paper bearing a “fortune” or a wise saying.  They were invented in San Francisco (though San Franciscans like to blame them on Los Angeles).  Makoto Hagiwara started the trend around 1900, at the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park.  The fortunes were apparently added during the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915, by the Benkiyodo bakery, possibly in relation to the Sperry Flour Company’s huge display at that fair (Peters 2013:179-180).  They were quickly picked up by Chinese restaurants.

New waves of ever-more-affluent, ever-more-educated immigrants brought higher standards, and now the best restaurants in Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco are as good as any (except perhaps the very best) in Hong Kong or Taiwan.  The Los Angeles area now has highly specialized restaurants; one excellent one specializes in hui tou, a shallow-fried dumpling like a pot-sticker but larger and juicier, with a rather thick wheat-flour skin surrounding finely minced, highly flavored pork or beef.  Vegetarian and Buddhist restaurants exist, as do ones specializing in Zhuang minority food, Manchurian food, medical food, and countless other items.  Dumplings are so popular that non-Han experts are emerging.  Christopher St. Cavish, from Florida but now resident in China, has made a study of the xiao long bao (“little dragon dumpling,” a big meat dumpling boiled in soup, a Shanghainese specialty).  He found that the ideal skin was thinner than 1.36 mm (which is very thin), 20% soup within, and folded with many pleats at the top (18-20 seems ideal but perhaps excessive; see Makinen 2015). 

The southeast Asian immigration to America has brought thousands of ethnic-Chinese Vietnamese, Cambodians, Thai, and others, many of whom start complex fusion restaurants.  My wife and I delighted in the Mien Nghia Noodle Express in the San Gabriel Valley, which is Teochiu-Vietnamese. It serves almost exclusively noodle dishes, with all sorts of noodles: fine rice to wide rice, small egg-wheat noodles to large ones, and so on.  The food is a Vietnamese-influenced fusion of Cantonese and Teochiu.  The menu is in Chinese characters, English, and Vietnamese (in that order).  Similarly complex blends, involving many Chinese and Southeast Asian traditions, abound in the San Gabriel Valley.

Far from all restaurants come up to this standard.  Even the old-fashioned “chop suey joint” survives in rural communities; it has become all but extinct in urban America.

An odd side note on China in America is the development of the Bing cherry by Ah Bing, a six-foot-tall northern Chinese man working for the Quaker farm family of Lewelling in the late 19th century in Oregon.  Seth Lewelling generously named the cherry after Bing (Newman 2019a).

Similar progress is documented for Australia, Japan, England, and elsewhere, with perhaps less eclipse of the low-end (Cheung and Tan 2007; Wu 2011; Wu and Cheung 2002).  David Wu, anthropologist and self-described Chinese gourmet, has traveled widely in the world, and eaten at every sort of Chinese restaurant from the humblest New Guinea émigré shack to the finest and most expensive restaurants in China and Taiwan.  He provides us a memoir (Wu 2011) with his reminiscences and frank opinions of Chinese food around the world—finding it very lacking indeed in many of the émigré communities.

In western South America, where Chinese restaurants are known as chifa (presumably a corruption of Mandarin chi fan or Cantonese sik faan “eat rice”), food of the old “chop suey joint” style survives and flourishes, providing cheap, filling food.  New “wine palaces” in the central cities have not displaced the old chifas.

            In Hawaii, the old “chop suey joints”—fondly remembered by working-class sand student-class Hawaiians—have given way to “all you can eat buffets” that provide modernized but bland fare (Wu 2008; similar restaurants exist on the mainland, but are not so common).  There are many Native Hawaiian and mainland Anglo-American influences in the cuisine.  Emphasis has been on providing cheap, filling food to a varied but typically nonaffluent clientele.  David Wu, veteran of countless meals in the Chinese diaspora and long resident in Hawaii, concludes that, in Hawaii, “[i]t is very difficult at this time to identify any Chinese restaurants that provide a fine dining and exquisite culinary experience” (Wu 2008:23).  Fortunately, this is not true of the Pacific Coast mainland.

            Saimin noodles—from Cantonese for “small noodles”—have become rather Japanified, leaving the Hawaiians in doubt as to whether they were originally a Chinese or Japanese dish, but very clear that they are now a Hawaiian dish (Hino 2017).

            Chinese overseas continue to celebrate with traditional foods—long-life noodles for birthdays, cakes and sweets for life-passsage rites and at New Year, buns, dumplings, roast meat (Newman et al. 1988).  In general, as Chinese immigrants acculturate to receiver societies, drinks and snacks change first; traditional festive dishes change last.

Noodles have received their own excellent and thorough history, Slippery Noodles by Hsiang Ju Lin (2015). This book actually tells the whole story of Chinese food, but focuses on the rise and development of this favorite item. An odd recent fad was knife-shaved noodles, cut off a block of dough (Wank 2015). These briefly went worldwide in Chinese restaurants. Chinese food is as prone to fads and fashions as any other, and always has been, as have fashions; “changeless China” did have some slow-to-change aspects, like the reliance on millets and rice, but some things change fast.

One of the oddest creations of the Chinese diaspora was the fortune cookie—an ordinary American sugar cookie wrapped around a slip of paper with an oracular line on it.  This strange food was invented in California, either San Francisco or Los Angeles (McDermott 2000).  San Franciscans tend to blame it on Los Angeles and vice versa.  One Anglo-American man in San Francisco made a career of writing the fortunes for the restaurants there.  The fortune cookie found chroniclers in Jennifer 8 Lee (2009), and in Terry McDermott (2000), who researched it thoroughly for an article (a very humorous one) in the Los Angeles Times.  Many of the fortunes are recycled bits of Western wisdom literature, and many of the fortune-writers are not Chinese.  A counter-theory had it invented in Japan (Andrew Coe, pers. comm., Feb. 2010). 

            It turns out the fortune cookie does indeed come from Japan (Alexander Akin, Facebook posting, Nov. 24, 2013; Peters 2013).  It is a cut-down, Americanized version of a Kyoto temple cookie, and seems to be first recorded in the US at the Hagiwara Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, around 1900.  Apparently it converged there (or near there) on the American sugar cookie.  The fortune in the cookie goes back to the Golden Gate Park tea garden, and is found in Kyoto at least in recent years.  Fortune cookies were a new and strange item in Hong Kong when I was first there in 1965; restauranteurs could not imagine why American tourists were insisting on them as inevitable Chinese restaurant trappings.

I have developed an interest in cultural ways that “swim upstream,” i.e. that not only survive in the face of Americanization but actually invade America itself.  Chinese food and Italian food are the clear winners in this sweepstakes, though Andean and Celtic music, Australian Aboriginal art, French and Australian wines, and various other cultural entities are noteworthy as well. 

In general, things that “swim upstream” have to be really good, and they have to be actively merchandised.  It helps if they are purveyed by prestigious urban communities, but this is obviously not necessary, given the success of Australian Aboriginal art and Andean indigenous music.  Some things fail simply because they come from cultures that do not like high-pressure salesmanship.  A comparison I did between Finnish food and Chinese food in America revealed that Finnish restaurants failed not because the food was bad but because traditional Finnish hospitality requires that guests be fed without charge! 

Other immigrant communities (the Ethiopian, for instance) were less charitable and did well, but kept restaurants going just long enough to put their children through college, whereupon the children became engineers, lawyers and other white-collar workers.  A brief burst of Ethiopian restaurants in major American cities has narrowed to a small number of dedicated survivors in areas where some immigration still goes on.

By contrast, the Chinese, even when college educated, love to start restaurants.  The distinguished Sinologist and anthropologist Vivienne Lo, for instance, continues to carry on the family tradition; her father was the famous chef and restauranteur Kenneth Lo.  Now, she helps her sister Jenny Lo with professional cooking and cookbook writing (Lo and Lo 2003).  Chinese food is taking over the world more surely than American fast food is.  One reason is the dedication of Chinese in all walks of life to good eating.  Another is the popularity of Chinese food with virtually everybody. 

            Meanwhile, American food, inevitably at its worst, has invaded East Asia.  A superb collection of studies edited by James Watson (1997) records the progress of McDonald’s Hamburgers in Asia.  Yan Yunxiang (1997), writing in Watson’s book, records how McDonald’s in China became the “in” place for sophisticated, worldly young people to be seen—a far cry from its identification in its homeland with more humble social realms.  I have seen the same thing in Hong Kong.  It always amazed me to see Hong Kong citizens, arguably the most food-conscious gourmets that have ever existed on this planet, flocking to a restaurant of this nature.  (Incidentally, McDonald’s started in the next city to where I live: the hardscrabble city of San Bernardino, California.  The McDonald brothers first opened a roadhouse a few miles to the west of the town, then settled in San Bernardino and began to branch out.  The real spread of the chain, however, took place after they retired and sold out to Roy Kroc, who internationalized the chain.  See Schlosser 2002.) 

            There was in 2012 a vast potato chip boom in China.  Lay’s had the largest market share, but there were local imitations.  Growers are displacing grassland and herders in Inner Mongolia to grow the potatoes.  Quality control is the main problem—only 1 out of 3 big potatoes usually makes the cut (!).  The sustainable grassland-herding economy is giving way to a probably unsustainable potato boom (K. D. Anderson and Isenhour 2012).

With globalization, international influences have also influenced Chinese food in its homeland.  First, the worldwide mid-20th-century fondness for meat, oil and sugar influenced Chinese food, which became far less healthy than it had formerly been.  This process ran from about the middle 1960’s to the 1990’s.  By the 1980s, a reaction was beginning, again tracking trends elsewhere.  The emphasis returned to healthier fare, with smaller portions, more vegetables, more delicate cooking, more attention to fresh high-quality ingredients, and above all less fat and sugar. 

This may have been “nouvelle” cuisine in France and America, but it was, for China, a return to the status quo ante.  It has certainly led to what almost anyone would describe as a marked improvement, if one compares a good Chinese restaurant today with one 20 years ago.  But the great restaurants of 40 and more years ago remain, in my opinion, unequalled today.  The biggest difference is in the ingredients.  Few if any restauranteurs today will raise their own chickens and feed them entirely on sesame seeds, for instance.  And, more tragically, the superb sea foods of the old days simply do not exist any more.  They have been fished to extinction.

            On the other hand, nouvelle cuisine is alive and well in China’s newly opulent cities with their nouveaux riches desperate for status consumption (see e.g. Farquhar 2002).  Cantonese cuisine has benefited, or suffered, depending on one’s taste, and the resulting challenge to Cantonese tradition has been the subject of a stunningly good and thorough review by Jakob Klein (2007).  Klein documents the rise of expensive nouvelle Cantonese restaurants in Hong Kong and Guangzhou; meanwhile the traditional food suffers some eclipse, partly because of the difficulty of getting good ingredients in these environmentally-sad times.  Klein’s investigation of the sociological and personal experiences that result defies summary and needs serious reading.  Klein has also given wonderful accounts of the revival of traditional Cantonese food in Guangzhou; some old-timers are not satisfied, but at least they have something of the good old days back (Klein 2006, 2007).  Klein tells of Old Uncle Lu, who complains of sloppy cooking but still eats at the venerable teashop in the center of town.

            “Fusion cuisine” has become a fad in California and some other multicultural environs.  Chinese food is often blended with French, Japanese, Italian, and other “great” cuisines (D. Wu 2012).  The results are always striking and sometimes (!) successful….  One remembers that this is no new phenomenon; fusion cuisine at its most fused (so to speak) is documented in the Yinshan Zhengyao and many similar medieval works. 

            All this raises the question of “authenticity.”  Obviously, by now, “authentic” Chinese food is a very slippery concept.  Hamburgers are not authentic Chinese food, but what do you say about the split bao buns stuffed with flattened Chinese meatballs that were popular a few years ago in teashops?  They were thoroughly traditional in taste, but made to look like the prestigious hamburger.  And what of the thousands of species of fish and shellfish now used in Chinese restaurants round the world?  Most were unknown in old China, but they are now cooked in thoroughly Chinese ways, and they taste just fine.  And it always makes me feel a bit weird to eat hot-and-sour soup (suanlatang) that doesn’t have dried daylily buds or coagulated blood in it.  But, in much of the world, you can’t get daylily buds, and people won’t eat blood.  So, hot-and-sour soup adapts.  Some westernization is a total disaster, such as using sherry instead of Chinese “wine” in cooking, or thickening sauces with flour.  Other westernization works fine, such as adopting asparagus and other newly-Asianized western vegetables.  One has to look case by case.  (Lo and Lo’s 2003 cookbook talks thoughtfully about such matters; see also David Wu, op. cit.) 

            So I prefer to talk about what is traditional—what has been around for generations—and what is new.  Then I care about whether the result tastes good.  I let someone else worry about “authenticity.” 

Food as Medicine

            Since Pillsbury’s classic article (1978) there have been several studies of “doing the month”—recovering from childbirth.  Pregnant women are at first cold for three months, then neutral, then hot,  and have to eat accordingly.  Women after childbirth still stay warm and quiet and eat high-protein, high-iron foods; the custom, so valuable if restricting, has not changed as much as most traditions in this modern world.  Pork liver is a favorite for this and for building blood—it works, being the richest in iron and vitamin B12 of any common food.  Pigs’ feet cooked with vinegar and Chinese wine provide calcium and other minerals.  Also valued are eggs—often in incredible quantities—and greens.  Red foods such as red jujubes, peanuts (Chinese peanuts have red skins), and red wine are used for buillding blood, but with less excuse—they have some value, but their color is the main draw.  By similar magical thinking, black foods—black jujubes, black chickens, black dog meat, Guinness Stout (called “black dog” in colloquial Chinese)—are used to build body.  Their saturated color is thought to indicate their strength.  Variants of “doing the month” occur widely in Eurasia, from Bangladesh to Spain and thence to the New World, so it may be a part of the Greek humoral medical tradition that shares that distribution.  Some scholars have seen it as part of the repression of women common in those cultures, but the fact is that “doing the month” involved rest, warming, and diet that was necessary to the survival of mothers and infants in the old days.  It now receives some support from modern medical writers—at least the milder forms involving rest and good protein-rich food, not the mother-roasting and restriction to the house.  Those made sense in the old days of rampant infection, but no longer do.

            Infant feeding methods in old times were studied by B. S. Platt and S. Y. Gin (undated separate from Archives of Disease in Childhood, ca. 1938).  In the 1930s, Chinese (largely Yangzi Delta people) breastfeeding was almost universal.  Thirty-six families had used a wet nurse; otherwise, mothers nursed their infants, though six mothers used powdered milk (having been apparently unable to nurse) and one claimed, unbelievably, to have used only rice powder.  Rice powder was used as supplement from very early.  From five or six months, soft rice supplemented the milk, and from about eight months, soup, eggs, and the like.  Chinese jujubes often came in at this point to promote blood and body; the jujubes do have iron and vitamin C.  Mothers ate pork, dry beans, cuttlefish, chicken, shrimp, sea cucumber, Chinese wine, wheat cakes, and millet to produce more milk.  They were aware of the nutritional value of silkworms, which are indeed very rich in vitamins and minerals.  Interestingly, soymilk was not used for feeding babies.

The myths die hard.  I heard in Taiwan in the 1970s that certain rich and powerful individuals abstained from rice noodles, humorally dry foods (such as peanuts), etc., eating instead a good deal of easily digested, nutritious food like chicken and vegetables and fruits.  They drink honey and use little oil.  This enables them to enjoy many lovers, which in turn built more vigor, since they could absorb yin energy from them.  They even eat ground pearls to supplement yang force.

            Of course, some plants really are nutritionally superior.  In addition to the pine seeds noted above (and now threatened by overharvesting; Allen 1989), the berries and leaves of Chinese wolfthorn (Lycium chinense; go qi zi and go qi zai respectively) are so rich in vitamins and minerals that they have served as de facto vitamin pills for millennia.

            The dietary combinations (shiwu xiangfan or shiwu xiangke—“food things that mutually dominate”) so feared in Chinese tradition have received some further attention since my coverage in The Food of China; see Lo (2005).  Incompatibilities between medicine and food have a different name, fuyao shiji.

            Tea is proving itself; green tea, in particular, turns out to be preventive of cancer,  heart disease, and other degenerative conditions.  This confirms the long-maligned enthusiasm of the famous Dutch “tea doctor,” Bontekoe, who was long ridiculed for insightfully making these claims in the 17th century.  This is apparently because of the tannins and other bioflavinoids and polyphenols that tea contains. “White tea”—tea leaves steamed at picking and then dried, so that they retain more of their chemical compounds—is better still.  It slows bacterial growth and kills fungi (Conis 2005).

Then there are other medicinal matters….  Cockroaches, boiled to treat colds and pimples, found a more subtle yet direct use in the Castle Peak Bay community where I lived for two years.  When a child was “shamming sick” to get out of going to school, his or her mother would quickly brew up some cockroaches and say, “All right, here, take this.”  The usual response was, “No, no, I’m fine, I’m going to school!” 

More serious is the use of endangered species as bu pin (supplementing foods; supposedly strengthening and tonic) or other uses.  Pangolins are now endangered worldwide because of the alleged, but wholly imaginary, medicinal value of their scales.  The Yellow-breasted Bunting (Emberiza aureola; huangxiong wu) formerly occurred in tens of millions.  It is now down to tens of thousands.  Always a popular food but able to survive heavy hunting, it was first hit hard by Mao Zedong’s anti-sparrow campaign.  That campaign quickly died when huge insect outbreaks followed the slaying of sparrows, buntings, and other small birds, but then the bunting came increasingly (at least since the 1990s) to be seen as a bu pin, and massacred accordingly, though it is now protected.  The world population is down to a few tens of thousands, and the bird may soon be extinct (Yali Wang et al. 2019).

            Several hallucinogenic plants were known to Chinese traditional medicine, including henbane (Hyoscyamus niger), datura (Datura spp.), marijuana (Cannabis sativa), and toxic mushrooms including Amanita and a “laughing mushroom” that may have been a Panaeolus (Li 1977).  These plants made people see ghosts or “devils.”  Some plants that are toxic but not really hallucinogenic were classed with them; Phytolacca and Ranunculus, for instance.

            Moving from historical research to China today (see e.g. Farquhar 1993, 1994; Kleinman et al. 1975):  A brilliant new group of experts on Chinese medicine has arisen, many forming a network based around the Needham Institute at Cambridge.  Their research has focused largely on clinical treatment practice (Hsu 1999, 2001), but food cannot be neglected in any study of Chinese medicine, and they do not neglect it (see esp. Engelhardt 2001; Engelhardt and Hempen 1997).  Livia Kohn has reviewed much practice in a new book (Kohn 2005).  The Newman and Halporn (2004) anthology noted above has several articles on food and medicine, including one by myself (Anderson 2004).  Chinese traditionally focused on trying to maximize longevity—not a surprising concern in a country whose traditional life expectancy was in the 25-30 range.  Equally unsurprising, given China’s history of famine, was the fact that they were most concerned with nutrition.  Poetry reflected health beliefs; Taoist poetry is full of medical views (Cheng and Collet 1998).

            Chinese food is indeed very healthy, or once was.  Ironically, much of the health value comes not from the foods believed to be good for you, but from the humble, often-despised everyday grains and greens.  Studies by Cornell University in the 1980s and 1990s showed that Chinese under traditional rural conditions had incredibly low levels of cholesterol (average 127—vs. over 200 in the contemporary USA), were lean and in good shape, and had very low rates of heart disease, many cancers, and other circulatory and degenerative ailments (Campbell and Campbell 2005; Campbell and Chen 1994; Chen et al 1990; Lang 1989).  Some areas, at least, had rather high rates of cancer.  Cancer incidence can increase from having too low a cholesterol level (Barbara Anderson, personal communication).  But, in general, traditional Chinese food was healthful.  Some “long-life villages” in south China—often Thai-speaking villages—have especially long life expectancies (as do villages in parts of southern Japan, notably Okinawa).  The secret seems to be mountain air and water, mountain exercise, and a diet of whole or nearly-whole grains, vegetables, some fish, and little meat. 

            Chinese women traditionally breastfed for a long time, sometimes three years (but usually half of that).  Frequent pregnancy and long lactation, and frequent spells of malnutrition, meant that women rather rarely menstruated, which may explain Chinese beliefs about menstruation as a rather strange and dangerous state (Harrell 1981).  A large number of fascinating medical beliefs about breasts, breastfeeding, and breast health went—in general—to support breastfeeding in traditional China, but some were complex medical beliefs with obscure origins (see Wu 2011).

            On the other hand, liver flukes abounded of old, thanks largely to eating raw or undercooked carp and similar fish.  Opisthorchis viverrini is particularly common today.  “Many still believe that the O. viverrini parasite can be killed through fermentation, preparation of raw fish with chilies or lime, or consumption with alcohol” (Ziegler et al 2011).  No, and even freezing, salting and drying do not kill it.  There is no solution except thorough cooking.

Today, the situation is changing, and not always for the better.  Eating more meat, fat, and sugar, and less vegetables, bean curd, and unprocessed grain, has led to skyrocketing rates of obesity and diabetes.  Longevity increases with modern medicine, but heart attacks are commoner.  Moreover, the Chinese government has turned away from its spectacular early successes in medical care, which more than doubled life expectancy from the 1940s to the 1980s.  Health spending as a part of total government spending declined “from 28% to 14% between 1981 and 1993, allocation to the rural ‘cooperative medical-insurance system’ decreased from 20% to 2%,” while rampant corruption and price-gouging have denied care to the poor (Dong, Hoven and Rosenfeld 2005:573-574).  Given the epidemics of SARS and AIDS as well as the drastic decline in healthy eating, China is in deep trouble.  Problems for the future include not only obesity and diabetes, but specific deficiencies, such as anemia (chronic in China for millennia) and folic acid deficiency (an emergent danger with the decline in eating vegetables and whole grains).  Folic acid deficiency is probably the major cause of birth defects round the world, and is probably increasing in China.  (The double “probably” reflects the dismal state of knowledge of this terrible, insidious problem.) 

On the other hand, life expectancy continues to increase (so far), and the Chinese live almost as long as Westerners.  In Taiwan, and parts of south China, they live as long as do the inhabitants of many European nations.  Food and medical care continue to be reasonably adequate, and the scale of differences from two generations ago are almost unparalleled in world history.  However, public health care is declining seriously in rural areas (Arif Dirlik, talk of May 26, 2005, UCR), threatening the future.

            Meanwhile, Chinese medicinal food has spread to the western world, not only via books but also via such restaurants as the TT Chinese Imperial Cuisine of San Gabriel, CA—a restaurant serving medicinal foods to the local Chinese community.  In China itself, restaurants serving yaoshan—“medical dining,” traditional medicinal dishes—have been growing in number and elaborateness since their beginning around 1980 in Sichuan.  They use variously-updated recipes from the medical-nutrition classics.

            And the classic four tastes—salt, sweet, sour, and bitter—have been increased to five:  the human tongue has receptors for glutamate, giving us the taste known in Japanese (and now in English) as umami.  This gives the spark to MSG and many Asian ferments.  And to end this ms with a correction: In 1988 I reported that MSG could cause flushing and discomfort, the “Chinese restaurant syndrome.”  This seems to be a rare allergy, not a normal event; the syndrome was usually psychosomatic. 


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— 2017.  “Funeral and Burial Practices (Part 2): Those of Liao, Western Xia, Jin, Dali and Ethnic Settlements under the Jurisdiction of Song.”  Ibid., 335-350.

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—  2021. Timber and Forestry in Qing China. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Foreword by K. Shivaramakrishnan.

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Can’t find on amazon.

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Bibliography of E. N. Anderson



Just about 8400 pages as of 2021 (after bk 32, article 51, chap 61).  Splitting the difference on coauthored books.


  Books and Monographs

 1.  1970.  The Floating World of Castle Peak Bay.  Washington, DC:  American Anthropological Association, Anthropological Studies Series, Vol. 3, 274 pages.

 2.  1972.  Essays on South China’s Boat People.  Taipei: Orient Cultural Service.  146 pages.

 3.  1973.  Eugene N. Anderson and Marja L. Anderson.  Mountains and Water.  Taipei:  Orient Cultural Service.  179 pages.  

 4.  1978.  Eugene N. Anderson and Marja L. Anderson.  Fishing in Troubled Waters: Research on the Chinese Fishing Industry in West Malaysia.  346 pages.  Taipei: Orient Cultural Service.

 5.  1978.  A Revised, Annotated Bibliography of the Chumash and Their Predecessors.  Socorro, New Mexico:  Ballena Press.  82 pp.

6.  1983.  Coyote Space.  Shelter Cove, CA: Holmgangers Press.  26 pp.  (Poetry.)

7.  1988.  The Food of China.  New Haven: Yale University Press.  263 pp.

7a.  1997.  One chapter, “Traditional Medical Values of Food,” reprinted (from above) in a book of readings in nutritional anthropology: Counihan, Carole, and Penny Van Esterik (eds.): Food and Culture: A Reader.  New York and London: Routledge.  Pp. 80-91.

8.  1996.  Ecologies of the Heart.  New York: Oxford University Press.  xiii + 256 pp.

8a.  1999.  One chapter, “Chinese Nutritional Therapy” (pp. 29-54), reprinted in a book of readings in nutritional anthropology: Alan Goodman, Darna Dufour and Getel Pelto (eds.), Nutritional Anthropology:  Biocultural Perspectives on Food and Nutrition.  Mountain View, CA:  Mayfield.  Pp. 198-211.

9.  1996.  Ed./introduction to:  Duff, Wilson: Bird of Paradox, the Unpublished Writings of Wilson Duff.  Surrey, B.C.: Hancock House.  (Introductory material, pp. 1-117, and editorial matter, pp. 281-313, plus overall editing, of posthumous work by a leading Canadian anthropologist.)

10. 1997.   Coyote Way.  Pleasant Hills, CA:  Small Poetry Press.  100 pp.  (Poetry.)

11.  2000.  A Soup for the Qan.  By Paul D. Buell and E. N. Anderson.  London:  Kegan Paul International.  715 pp.  (Chinese text [ca. 160 pp.], translation, and book-length editorial matter, scholarly commentary, and annotations.)

Second edition, 2010.  Xviii, 662 pp.  Leiden:  Brill.

12.  2003.  Those Who Bring the Flowers:  Maya Ethnobotany in Quintana Roo, Mexico.  By E. N. Anderson with José Cauich Canul, Aurora Dzib, Salvador Flores Guido, Gerald Islebe, Felix Medina Tzuc, Odilón Sánchez Sánchez, and Pastor Valdez Chale.  Chetumal, Quintana Roo:  ECOSUR.  323 pp.

Spanish edition:  Las Plantas de los Mayas:  Etnobotánica en Quintana Roo, México.  Tr. Gerald Islebe and Odilón Sánchez Sánchez.  Chetumal:  Colegio de la Frontera Sur (successor to ECOSUR).

13.  2004.  Introduction to Cultural Ecology, by Mark Q. Sutton and E. N. Anderson.  Walnut Creek:  AltaMira (division of Rowman and Littlefield).  Xiii + 385 pp. 

Second edition, 2009.

Third edition, 2013.

14.  2004.  Rights, Resources, Culture, and Conservation in the Land of the Maya.  Ed. by Betty B. Faust, E. N. Anderson, and John G. Frazier.  Westport, CT:  Greenwood.

15.  2005.  Everyone Eats.  New York:  New York University Press.  Viii + 294 pp. 

2nd edn., 2014.

16.  Chase-Dunn, Christopher, and E. N. Anderson, eds. 2005.  The Historical Evolution of World-Systems.  New York:  Palgrave MacMillan. 

17.  2005.  Animals and the Maya in Southeast Mexico, by E. N. Anderson and Felix Medina Tzuc.  Tucson:  University of Arizona Press.  Xviii + 251 pp.

18.  2005.  Political Ecology in a Yucatec Maya Community.  Tucson:  University of Arizona Press.  Xx + 275 pp. 

19.  2007.  Floating World Lost:  A Hong Kong Fishing Community.  New Orleans:  University Press of the South. Ix + 206 pp.

20.  2008.  Mayaland Cuisine: The Food of Maya Mexico.  St. Louis: Mira Publishing Co. 

2nd edn., 2013, 213 pp.

21.  2010.  The Pursuit of Ecotopia:  Lessons from Indigeonous and Traditional Societies for the Human Ecology of Our Modern World.  Santa Barbara, CA:  Praeger (imprint of ABC-Clio).  Xiii + 251 pp. 

22.  2011  Ethnobiology, ed. by E. N. Anderson, Deborah M. Pearsall, Eugene S. Hunn, and Nancy J. Turner.  Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.  Viii + 399 pp.

23.   2013  Warning Signs of Genocide, by Eugene N. Anderson and Barbara A. Anderson.  Lanham, MD: Lexington Books (division of Rowman and Littlefield).  Xiii + 213 pp.

24.   2014.  Caring for Place.  Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press.  305 pp.  (Selected by Choice magazine as an Outstanding Academic Book for 2014; about 1/10 of books they review, and thus about 2.5% of all academic books, make this cut)

25.  2014.  Food and Environment in Early and Medieval China.  Philadelphia:  University of Pennsylvania Press. 338 pp.

Reviews: Robert Hart, Economic Botany 70:94; Kaori O’Connor, Journal of Anthropological Research 72:1,

26.  2016  Barbara Anderson and Gene Anderson:  A Power of Good: Language of a Midwestern Childhood.  Chesterfield, MO: Mira Publishing.  95 pp.  (Popular booklet.)

27.   2017  K’oben: 3,000 Years of the Maya Hearth, by Amber O’Connor and E. N. Anderson.  Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.  203 pp.

28.    2017  E. N. Anderson and Barbara Anderson.  Halting Genocide in America.  Chesterfield, MO: Mira Publishing.  91 pp.

29.    2019  The East Asian World-System: Climate and Dynastic Change.  Cham, Switzerland: Springer Nature.  Xii + 248 pp.

30.     2020  Paul D. Buell, E. N. Anderson, Montserrat de Pablo, and Moldir Oskenbay.  Crossroads of Cuisine: The Eurasian Heartland, the Silk Roads, and Foods.  Leiden:  Brill. xi + 340 pp. 

31.     2020  E. N. Anderson and Barbara Anderson.  Complying with Genocide: The Wolf You Feed.  Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.  172 pp.

32.     2021  Paul D. Buell and Eugene N. Anderson.  Arabic Medicine in China: Tradition, Innovation, and Change.  Leiden: Brill.  1005 pp.

Refereed/Scholarly Journal Articles

 1.        1963    “Tahitian Bonito Fishing,” Kroeber Anthropological Society Papers 28:87-113. 

 2.        1964    “A Bibliography of the Chumash and Their Predecessors,” University of California Archaeological Survey Reports 61:25-74. 

 3.        1967    “Prejudice and Ethnic Stereotypes in Rural Hong Kong,” Kroeber Anthropological Society Papers 37:90-107.

 4.        1967    “The Folksongs of the Hong Kong Boat People,” Journal of American Folklore 80:285-296.  Reprinted in Essays on South China’s Boat People, 1972.

 5.+      1968    “Changing Patterns of Land Use in Rural Hong Kong,” Pacific Viewpoint 9:1:33-50.  Reprinted in Mountains and Water, 1973.

 6.        1969    Eugene N. Anderson and Marja L. Anderson.  “Folk Medicine in Rural Hong Kong.”  Ethnoiatria II:I.  Reprinted in Mountains and Water, 1973. 

 7.        1969    Eugene N. Anderson and Marja L. Anderson.  “Cantonese Ethnohoptology.”  Ethnos, pp. 107-117.  Reprinted in Mountains and Water, 1973.

 8.        1969    “Sacred Fish,” Man 4:3:443-449.  Reprinted in Essays on South China’s Boat People, 1972.

 9.        1970    “The Boat People of South China,”  Anthropos 65:248-256. Reprinted in Essays on South China’s Boat People, 1972.

10.       1970    “Traditional Aquaculture in Hong Kong,” Journal of Tropical Geography 30:11-16.

11.       1970    “Reflexions sue la cuisine.”  L’Homme 10:2:122-124.

12.       1970    Eugene N. Anderson and Marja L. Anderson.  “The Social Context of a Local Lingo.”  Western Folklore XXXIX:153-165.

13.       1971    “Beginnings of a Radical Ecology Movement.”  Biological Conservation 3:4:1-2.

14.       1972    “Radical Ecology:  Notes on a Conservation Movement.”  Biological Conservation 4:4:285-291.

15.       1972    Eugene N. Anderson and Marja L. Anderson.  “Penang Hokkien Ethnohoptology.”  Ethnos 1-4:134-147.

16.       1972    “Some Chinese Methods of Dealing with Crowding.”  Urban Anthropology 1:2:141-150.  Reprinted in Mountains and Water, 1973. 

17.       1972    “On the Folk Art of Landscaping”  Western Folklore  XXXI:3:179-188. 

18.       1973    “A Case Study in Conservation Politics:  California’s Coastline Initiative.”   Biological Conservation 5:3:160-162. 

19.       1974    “On the Need for Studies of Food Consumption Ideas.”  Journal of the New Alchemists 2:128-132. 

28.       1975    “Songs of the Hong Kong Boat People.”  Chinoperl News 5:8-ll4. 

21.       1977    “The Changing Tastes of the Gods.” Asian Folklore 36:1:19-30. 

22.       1980    “’Heating’ and ‘Cooling’ Foods in Hong Kong and Taiwan.” Social Science Information 19:2:237-268.

23.       1984    “`Heating’ and `Cooling’ Foods Re-examined.”  Social Science Information 23:4/5:755-773.

24.       1985    “The Complex Causation of South Chinese Foodways.”  Annals of the Chinese Historical Society of the Pacific Northwest, pp. 147-158. 

25.       1985    “Two Chinese Birds Among the Golden Mountains.”  Annals of the Chinese Historical Society of the Pacific Northwest for 1984, pp. 257-259. 

26.       1987    “Why is Humoral Medicine So Popular?”  Social Science and Medicine, 25:4:331-337. 

27.       1987    Eugene N. Anderson and Chun-Hua Wang. “Changing Foodways of Chinese Immigrants in Southern California.”  In Annals of the Chinese Historical Society of the Pacific Northwest, 1985-86, pp. 63-69. 

28.       1990    “Up Against Famine:  Chinese Diet in the Early Twentieth Century.”  Crossroads 1:1:11-24.   

29.       1991  “Chinese Folk Classification of Food Plants.”  Crossroads 1:2:51-67. 

30.      1992  “Chinese Fisher Families: Variations on Chinese Themes.”  Comparative Family Studies 23:2:231-247. 

31.  1992  “A Healing Place: Ethnographic Notes on a Treatment Center.”  Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly 9:3/4:1-21. 

32. 1993  “Gardens in Tropical America and Tropical Asia.”  Biotica n.e. 1:81-102. 

33.  1993  “Southeast Asian Gardens: Nutrition, Cash and Ethnicity.”  Biotica n.e. 1:1-12. 

34.  1998  Teresa Wang and E. N. Anderson.  “Ni Tsan and His ‘Cloud Forest Hall collection of Rules for Drinking and Eating.’”  Petits Propos Culinaires 60:24-41. 

            34a.  Reprinted with additions and corrections by Victor Mair and ENA:  Eugene N. Anderson, Teresa Wang, and Victor Mair.  2005.  “Ni Zan, Cloud Forest Hall Collection of Rules for Drinking and Eating.”  In Victor Mair, Nancy Steinhardt and Paul R. Goldin (eds.), Hawai’i Reader in Traditional Chinese Culture.  Honolulu, HI:  University of Hawaii Press.  Pp. 444-455.

35.  1999  “Child-raising among Hong Kong Fisherfolk: Variations on Chinese Themes.”  Bulletin of the Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica, 86:121-155. 

36.  2000  E. N. Anderson, Teik Aun Wong and Lynn Thomas.  “Good and Bad Persons: The Construction of Ethical Discourse in a Chinese Fishing Community.” Bulletin of the Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica, 87:129-167. 

37.  2000  “Maya Knowledge and ‘Science Wars.’”  Journal of Ethnobiology 20:129-158.

38.  2002  “Some Preliminary Observations on the California Black Walnut (Juglans californica).  Fremontia 30:12-19.  (Nonrefereed  scholarly journal of the California Native Plant Society).

39.  2004  Barbara A. Anderson, E. N. Anderson, Tracy Franklin, and Aurora Dzib-Xihum de Cen.  “Pathways of Decision Making among Yucatan Mayan Traditional Birth Attendants.”  Journal of Midwifery and Women’s Health 49:4:312-319.

40.  2007  “Malaysian Foodways:  Confluence and Separation.”  Ecology of Food and Nutrition 46:205-220 (Special Issue:  Tribute to Christine S. Wilson (1919-2005), ed. by Barrett P. Brenton, Miriam Chaiken, and Leslie Sue Lieberman.)

41.  2011  “Yucatec Maya Botany and the ‘Nature’ of Science.”  Journal of Ecological Anthropology 14:67-73.

42.         2012  E. N. Anderson and Barbara Anderson: “Development and the Yucatec Maya in Quintana Roo: Some Successes and Failures.”  Journal of Political Ecology 18:51-65.

43.  2012  “Anthropology of Religion and Environment: A Skeletal History to 1970.”  Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture 6:9-36.

44.   2012  Hiroko Inoue, Alexis Alvarez, Kirk Lawrence, Anthony Roberts, E. N. Anderson and Christopher Chase-Dunn.  “Polity Scale Shifts in World-Systems Since the Bronze Age: A Comparative Inventory of Upsweeps and Collapses.” International Journal of Comparative Sociology 53:210-229.  (I contributed only about 1% of this.)

45.   2012  “Religion in Conservation and Management:  A Durkheimian View.”  Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture 6:398-420.

46.    2013  “Conquest, Migration and Food in Mongol China: Yuan Food in Chinese Context.”  Journal of Chinese Dietary Culture 9:1-51.

47.     2016.  “Birds of the Mongol Empire.”  Ethnobiology Letters 7:1:67-73.

48.     2017  “Birds in Maya Imagination: A Historical Ethno-ornithology.”  Journal of Ethnobiology 37:637-662.

49.     2017  Chelsey Geralda Armstrong, Anna C. Shoemaker, Iain McKechnie, Anneli Ekblom, Péter Szabó, Paul J. Lane, Alex C. McAlvay, Oliver J. Boles, Sarah Walshaw, Nik Petek, Kevin S. Gibbons, Erendira Quintana Morales, Eugene N. Anderson, [8 others], Carole Crumley.  “Anthropological Contributions to Historical Ecology: 50 Questions, Infinite Prospects.”  PloS One,  Ca. 40 pp.

50.     2019  Christopher Chase-Dunn, Peter Grimes, and Eugene N. Anderson, “Cyclical Evolution of the Global Right.”  Canadian Review of Sociology 56:529-555.

51.     2021  Fernández-Llamazares, Álvaro, et al. and 29 others.  I am #14.  “Scientists’ Warning to Humanity on Threats to Indigenous and Local Knowledge Systems.”  Journal of Ethnobiology 41:144-169.

Invited Book Chapters and Working Papers

1.         1972    “The Life and Culture of Ecotopia,”  in Reinventing Anthropology, edited by Dell Hymes.  New York: Pantheon Press, pp. 264-283.  Reprinted in paperback, Vintage, 1973.

2.         1975    “Chinese Fishermen in Hong Kong and Malaysia,” in Maritime Adaptations in the Pacific, edited by Richard Casteel and George I. Quimby, pp. 231-246.  Hague:      Mouton.  (In “World Anthropology” series.)

3.         1975    Eugene N. Anderson and Marja L. Anderson.  “Folk Dietetics in Two Chinese Communities and its implications for the Study of Chinese Medicine.”  In Medicine in Chinese Cultures, edited by Arthur Kleinman, Peter Kunstadter, E. Russell         Alexander, and James E. Gale.  USHEW, pp. 143-176.

4.         1977    Eugene N. Anderson and Marja L. Anderson.  “Modern China: South.”  In Food in Chinese Culture, edited by K.C. Chang, Yale University Press, 1977, pp. 319-382.

5.         1978    Eugene N. Anderson and Marja L. Anderson and John H.C. Ho.  “Environmental Background of Young Chinese Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma Patients.”  In Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma: Etiology and Control, edited by G. Dethe and Y. Ito.  Lyon, France:  WHO, International Agency for Research on Cancer.  Pp. 231-240. 

6.         1979    “Social History of Hong Kong Boat Folk Songs” in Legend, Lore and Religion in China: Essays in Honor of Wolfram Eberhard on His Seventieth Birthday,” edited by Sarah Allen and Alvin Cohen, CMC Asian Library Series No. 13. San Francisco: Chinese Materials Center, pp. 155-175.

7.         1981    “The Changing Social Context of Hong Kong Fishermen’s Songs.”  Proceedings of the 30th International Congress of Human Sciences in Asia and North Africa: China, Vol. I.  Mexico City: El Colegio de Mexico.  15 pp.

8.         1982    “Cuisine,” invited article for The Cambridge Encyclopedia of China.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 382-390.

           Reprinted with some revisions in the second edition of the encyclopedia, 1991, pp. 368-377.

9.         1983    “A View from the Bottom: The Rise and Decline of a Malaysian Chinese Town.”  In The Chinese in Southeast Asia, Vol. 2, Peter Gosling and Linda Lim, eds., pp. 147-169.  Singapore: Maruzen Asia.

10.       1984    “Ecologies of the Heart.”  In Proceedings, International Chinese Conference, Michael W. Gandy, Mason Shen and Effram Korngold, eds., pp. 205-230.  Oakland: Michael Gandy.

11.       1985    “A Mosaic of Two Food Systems on Penang Island, Malaysia.”  In Food Energy in Tropical Systems, Dorothy Cattle and Karl Schwerin, eds.  Food and Nutrition in History and Anthropology Series, Vol. l4, pp. 83-104.  New York: Gordon and Breach. 

12.       1987    “A Malaysian Tragedy of the Commons.”  In The Question of the Commons, McCay, Bonnie, and James Acheson, eds.  Tucson: University of Arizona Press.  Pp. 327-343. 

13.       1987    Eugene N. Anderson and Harry Lawton.  “Chinese Religion, Temples and Festivals in the San Bernardino Valley.  In Wong Ho Leun: An American Chinatown.  The Great Basin Foundation, editors. San Diego: The Great Basin Foundation.  Vol. 2, pp. 25-44. 

14.       1989    “The First Green Revolution:  Chinese Agriculture in the Han Dynasty.”  Food and Farm, Christina Gladwin and Kathleen Truman, eds.  New York:  University Press of America and Society for Economic Anthropology, pp. 135-151. 

15.      1994  “Food and Health at the Mongol Court.”  In: Kaplan, Edward H., and Donald W. Whisenhunt (eds.): Opuscula Altaica: Essays Presented in Honor of Henry Schwarz.  Bellingham: Western Washington University, pp. 17-43. 

16.      1994  “Fish as Gods and Kin.”  In: Dyer, Christopher, and James R. McGoodwin (eds.): Folk Management in the World’s Fisheries.  Niwot, CO: University Press of Colorado,  pp. 139-160. 

17.      1994  “Food.”  In: Wu Dingbo and Patrick Murphy (eds.): Handbook of Chinese Popular Culture.  Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, pp. 35-54.

18.      1995  “Prinz Wen Huis Koch–Einfuhrung in die chinesische Nahrungs-Therapie.”  In: Keller, Frank Beat (ed.):  Krank Warum?  Ostfildern, Germany: Cantz (for Swiss Ethnological Museum), pp. 3-22. 

19.      1995  “Natural Resource Use in a Maya Village.”  In: Fedick, Scott, and Karl Taube (eds.): The View from Yalahau.  Riverside: Latin American Studies Program Field Report Series #2.  Pp. 139-148.

20.      1996  “Gardens of Chunhuhub.”  In: Hostetler, Ueli (ed.): Los Mayas de Quintana Roo: Investigaciones antropologicas recientes.  Universitat Bern, Institut fur Ethnologie, Arbeitsblatter, #14.  Pp. 64-76.

            20a.  1998.  Republished in slightly different form in Tercer Congreso Internacional de Mayistas, Memoria.  Mexico City: Universidad Autónoma de México and Universidad de Quintana Roo.  Pp. 291-310.

21.     2001  “Flowering Apricot:  Environmental Practice, Folk Religion, and Daoism.”  In: N. J. Girardot, James Miller, and Liu Xiaogan (eds.):  Daoism and Ecology: Ways within a Cosmic Landscape.  Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University, Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard Divinity School.  Pp. 157-184.

            Translated into Chinese for Chinese edition of this book, Beijing, 2008.

22.      2001  “Comments.”  In: Richard Ford (ed.), Ethnobiology at the Millennium.  Ann Arbor, MI:  Museum of Anthropology, University of Michigan.  Anthropological papers No. 91.  Pp. 175-186.  (Comments on a series of papers from the Society of Ethnobiology annual conference, 2000, published here in book form.)

23.     2002  “Biodiversity Conservation: A New View from Mexico.”   In:  John R. Stepp, Felice S. Wyndham, and Rebecca K. Zarger (eds.):  Ethnobiology and Biocultural Diversity.  Athens, GA:   University of Georgia Press.   Pp. 113-122.

24.     2003  “Traditional Knowledge of Plant Resources.”  In:  A. Gomez-Pompa, M. F. Allen, Scott Fedick, and Juan J. Jimenez-Osornio (eds.): The Lowland Maya Area: Three Millennia at the Human-Wildland Interface.  New York:  Haworth Press.  Pp. 533-550.

25.      2003  “Caffeine and Culture.”  In:  William Jankowiak and Daniel Bradburd (eds.):  Drugs, Labor, and Colonial Expansion.  Tucson: University of Arizona Press.  Pp. 159-176.

26.       2003  “China,” subentries “Ancient and Dynastic China,” “Beijing (Peking) Cuisine,” “Guangzhou (Canton) Cuisine,” “Sichuan (Szechuan) Cuisine,” “Zhejiang (Chekiang) Cuisine,” Encyclopedia of Food and Culture, ed. by Solomon Katz and William Woys Weaver.  New York:  Charles Scribners’ Sons.  Pp. 379–396.

27.       2003  “Ess- und Trinkkultur.”  Das Grosse China-Lexikon, ed. by Brunhild Staiger, Stefan Friedrich und Hans-Wilm Schütte.  Darmstadt, Germany:  Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.  Pp. 194-197.  (Encyclopedia entry.)

28.      2004  E. N. Anderson, Betty B. Faust, John G. Frazier.  “Introduction:  An Environmental and Cultural History of Maya Communities in the Yucatan Peninsula.”  In:  Betty B. Faust, E. N. Anderson, and John G. Frazier (eds.):  Rights Resources, Culture, and Conservation in the Land of the Maya.   Westport, CT:  Praeger.  Pp. 1-30.

29.      2004  “Valuing the Maya Forests.”  In:  Betty B. Faust, E. N. Anderson, and John G. Frazier (eds.):  Rights Resources, Culture, and Conservation in the Land of the Maya.   Westport, CT:  Praeger.  Pp.  117-130. 

30.      2004  “Heating and Cooling Qi and Modern American Dietary Guidelines:  Personal Thoughts on Cultural Convergence.”  In Jacqueline Newman and Roberta Halperin (eds.):  Chinese Cuisine, American Palate.  New York:  Center for Thanatology Research and Education, Inc.  Pp. 26-33.

31.      2004  Barbara Anderson, E. N. Anderson, and Roseanne Rushing:  “Violence:  Assault on Personhood.”  In Barbara A. Anderson:  Reproductive Health:  Women and Men’s Shared Responsibility.  Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett.  Pp. 163-204. 

32.       2005  E. N. Anderson and Christopher Chase-Dunn: “The Rise and Fall of Great Powers.”  In Christopher Chase-Dunn and E. N. Anderson (eds.):  The Historical Evolution of World-Systems.  New York:  Palgrave MacMillan.  Pp. 1-19. 

33.       2005  “Lamb, Rice, and Hegemonic Decline:  The Mongol Empire in the Fourteenth Century.”  In Christopher Chase-Dunn and E. N. Anderson (eds.):  The Historical Evolution of World-Systems.  New York:  Palgrave MacMillan.  Pp. 113-121.

34.       2007  E. N. Anderson and Lisa Raphals: “Taoism and Animals.”  In Paul Waldau and Kimberley Patton (eds.):  A Communion of Subjects:  Animals in Religion, Science, and Ethics.  New York:  Columbia University Press.  Pp. 275-290.

35.       2009  “Northwest Chinese Cuisine and the Central Asian Connection.”  In David Holm (ed.), Regionalism and Globalism in Chinese Culinary Culture.  Taipei:  Foundation of Chinese Dietary Culture.  Pp. 49-78.

36.     2009  “Cuisines” and “Health, Nutrition, and Food,” Berkshire Encyclopedia of China (online), pp. 529-535 and 1010-1012.

37.     2010  “Indigenous Traditions:  Asia.”  Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability, vol. 1, The Spirit of Sustainability.  Pp. 216-221.

38.       2010  “Food and Feasting in the Zona Maya of Quintana Roo.”  In John Staller and Michael Carrasco (eds.), Pre-Columbian Foodways:  Interdisciplinary Approaches to Food, Culture, and Markets in Ancient Mesoamerica.  New York:  Springer.  Pp. 441-465.

39.      2010  “Managing Maya Landscapes:  Quintana Roo, Mexico.”  In Leslie Main Johnson and Eugene S. Hunn (eds.), Landscape Ethnoecology:  Concepts of Biotic and Physical Space.  New York:  Berghahn.  Pp. 255-276. 

40.     2010  “Food Cultures:  Linking People to Landscapes.”  In Sarah Pilgrim and Jules Pretty (eds.),  Nature and Culture: Rebuilding Lost Connections.  London:  Earthscan.  Pp. 185-196.

41.     2011  “Emotions, Motivation, and Behavior in Cognitive Anthropology.”  In David Kronenfeld, Giovanni Bennardo, Victor C. de Munck, and Michael D. Fischer (eds.), A Companion to Cognitive Anthropology.  New York: Wiley-Blackwell.  Pp. 331-354.

42.   2011  “Introduction.”  In E. N. Anderson, Deborah Pearsall, Eugene Hunn and Nancy Turner (eds.),  Ethnobiology.  Hoboken, NJ:  Wiley-Blackwell.  Pp. 1-14.

43.   2011  “Ethnobiology and Agroecology.” In E. N. Anderson, Deborah Pearsall, Eugene Hunn and Nancy Turner (eds.),  Ethnobiology.  Hoboken, NJ:  Wiley-Blackwell.  Pp. 305-318.

44.    2011  “Drawing from Traditional and ‘Indigenous’ Socioecological Theories.”  In Helen Kopnina and Eleanor Shoreman-Ouimet, Environmental Anthropology Today.  London:  Routledge.  Pp. 56-74.

45.   2011  “War, Migration, and Food in Mongol China:  Yuan Dynasty Food and Medicine.”  In Proceedings of the 12th Symposium on Chinese Dietary Culture.  Taiwan:  Foundation for Chinese Dietary Culture.  Pp. 1-32. 

46.    2011  “China.”  In Food Cultures of the World:  Encyclopedia.  Vol.:  Asia, Ken Albala, ed.  Santa Barbara, CA:  ABC-Clio.  Pp. 61-72.

Access electronically: User B5342E, password abccomp.

47.     2013  “Culture and the Wild.”  In The Rediscovery of the Wild,Peter H. Kahn, Jr., and Patricia H. Hasbach, eds.  Cambridge, MA:  MIT Press.  Pp. 157-180.

48.     2013  “What Shapes Cognition?  Traditional Sciences and Modern International Science.”  In Explorations in Ethnobiology: The Legacy of Amadeo Rea, Marsha Quinlan and Dana Lepofsky, eds.  Denton, TX:  Society of Ethnobiology.  Pp. 47-77.

49.     2013  “Foreword.”  In Environmental Anthropology Engaging Ecotopia: Bioregionalism, Permaculture, and Ecovillages, Joshua Lockyer and James Veteto, eds.  New York: Berghahn.  Pp. xi-xviii.

50.     2013  “Learning Is Like Chicken Feet: Assembling the Chinese Food System.”  In International Conference on Foodways and Heritage, Conference Proceedings, Sidney C. H. Cheung and Chau Hing-wah, eds.  Hong Kong: Government of Hong Kong, Leisure and Cultural Services Dept.  Pp. 3-20.

51.     2013  Stand Straight and Never Bend:  How China Fed Millions of People for Thousands of Years.  Working Paper #1, Dept. of Anthropology, Sun Yat-sen University [Zhongshan University], Guangdong, China.  24 pp.

52.      2013  “Tales Best Told Out of School:  Traditional Life-Skills Education Meets Modern Science Education.”  In Anthropology of Environmental Education, Helen Kopnina, ed.  New York: Novinka.  Pp. 1-24.

53.      2014  “China.”  In Food in Time and Place: The American Historical Association Companion to Food History.  Berkeley: University of California Press.  Pp. 41-67.

54.     2016  “Agriculture, Population, and Environment in Late Imperial China.” In Environment, Modernization and Development in East Asia: Perspectives from Environmental History, Ts’ui-jung Liu and James Beattie, eds.  Houndsmill, Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave MacMillan.  Pp. 31-58.

Translated into Chinese, Taipei  2018, pp. 55-96

55.     2017  “Ethnobiology and the New Environmental Anthropology.”  In Routledge Handbook of Environmental Anthropology, Helen Kpnina and Eleanor Shoreman-Oiuimet, eds.  Abingdon (Oxford) and New York:  Pp. 31-43.

56.     2017  “Traditional and Nontraditional Medicine in a Yucatec Maya Community.”  In Plants and Health: New Perspectives on the Health-Environment-Plant Nexus, Elizabeth Olson and Richard Stepp, eds.  New York: Springer.  Pp. 1-16.

57.     2018  “Chinese Cuisine.”  In Asian Cuisines: Food Culture form East Asia to Turkey and Afghanistan, Karen Christensen, ed.  Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire.  Pp. 3-11.

58.     2018.  “Traditional Chinese Medicine and Diet.” In Asian Cuisines: Food Culture form East Asia to Turkey and Afghanistan, Karen Christensen, ed.  Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire.  Pp. 12-15.

59.     2019  “Traditional Intensive Organic Farming.”  In Organic Food, Farming and Culture: An Introduction, ed. by Janet Chrzan and Jacqueline A. Ricotta.  London: Bloomsbury Academic.  Pp. 31-43.

60.     2019  E. N. Anderson, Jacqueline A. Ricotta, and Janet Chrzan.  “Conclusion.”  In Organic Food, Farming and Culture: An Introduction, ed. by Janet Chrzan and Jacqueline A. Ricotta.  London: Bloomsbury Academic.  Pp.293-300.

61.     2020  Chelsey Geralda Armstrong and Eugene N. Anderson.  “Ecologies of the Heart.”  In Archaeologies of the Heart, Kisha Supernant, Jane Eva Baxter, Natasha Lyons, and Sonya Atalay, eds.  Cham, Switzerland: SpringerNature.  Pp. 39-58.

62.     2021.  “Ecology: Environments and Empires in World History, 3000 BCE-ca. 1900 CE,” by James Beattie and Eugene Anderson.  In The Oxford World History of Empire. Vol. 1, The Imperial Experience, edited by Peter Fibiger Bang, C. A. Bayly, and Walter Scheidel.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.  Pp. 460-493.

Electronic Publications

1.       1998  “Managing Maya Commons: Chunhuhub, Quintana Roo.”  Proceedings of the International Association for the Study of Common Property, annual conference, Vancouver, Canada.  One of several papers selected by the organizers of the conference for electronic publication.   (Book chapter 35 above is a greatly expanded and rewritten version.)

2.      2015  China’s Water Problems.  Nottingham University, China Policy Institute, Policy Paper Series, issue 6.

3.  2018   Articles for Wiley International Encyclopedia of Anthropology, online: E. N. Anderson and Kristen Sbrogna,  “Agroecology”;  Mark Q. Sutton and E. N. Anderosn, “Cultural Materialism” (i.e. Cultural Ecology); E. N. Anderson, “Motivation.”

4.     2019  The Cyclical Evolution of the Global Right, by Christopher Chase-Dunn, Peter Grimes, and E. N. Anderson.  Irows working papers 134, at


1.         1966    “Coyote Song,” Coyote’s Journal, #4.  (Refereed, poem)

2.         1966    “Bird Selling in San Hui,” Hong Kong Bird Report, 1965 pp. 49-51.

3.         1968    “The Chumash Indians of Southern California,” Malki Museum Brochure #4.  Malki Museum Press.  (Popular writing) Reprinted 1975.

4.         1969    “The Kingfishers” and “The Duck Farm,” In Transit: The Gary Snyder Issue, pp. 24-25.  (Two poems)

5.         1969    “The Social Factors Have Been Ignored,” Harvard Educational Review, 39:3:581-585.  (Commentary, unrefereed, in major journal.)

6.         1969    “Caucasian Genes in American Negroes,” in Science, 166:3911:1353.  Reprinted in Human Population, Genetic Variation and Evolution, by Laura Newell Morris.  1971, pp. 446-447.  (Letter, reprinted in reader on human genetics.)

7.         1970    “Lineage Atrophy in Chinese Society,” American Anthropologist 72:363-365.   Reprinted in Mountains and Water, 1973.  (Unrefereed research note in major journal)

8.        1970     Invited Comment on: “Mannerism and Cultural Change: An Ethnomusicological Example,” by Ruth Katz, Current Anthropology, XI:469.  (Note)

9.         1970    “Hoklo Boat People,” Urgent Anthropology, Current Anthropology, XI:I:82-83.  (Brief comment in major journal.)

10.       1970    “Toward a Planner’s Guide to Ecology,” Ecology: The Journal of Cultural Transformation, 1:6-11.  (Popular writing)

11.       1970    “Notes for the Biosphere,” Ecology: The Journal of Cultural Transformation, 1:2-5.  (Popular writing)

12.       1971    “A Food Tract,” Ecology: The Journal of Cultural Transformation, 1:3:5-18 and 1:4:6-13.  (Popular writing)

13.       1971    “A Design for the Tropical Center,” The New Alchemy Institute Spring Bulletin, pp. 16-20.  (Scholarly but unrefereed journal.)

14.       1971    “A Design for the Tropical Center” (in Spanish).  Leaflet distributed by The New Alchemy Institute.  6 pages.  (Largely a translation of the previous item.)

15.       1972    Western Riverside County: A Natural History Guide, E. N. Anderson, Riverside.  33 pages.  (Popular writing, booklet)

16.       1972    Man on the Santa Ana.  Tri-County Conservation League Riverside.  10 pages.  (Popular writing, booklet)

17.       1972    The Living Santa Ana River.  Edited and majority written by E.N. Anderson.  Tri-County Conservation League, Riverside.  3l pages.  (Popular writing, booklet)

18.       1972    Herbs.  Jurupa Cultural Center, Riverside.  32 pages. (Popular writing, booklet)

19.       1973    The Edible Forest.  Jurupa Cultural Center, Riverside. 26 pages.  (Popular writing, booklet)

20.       1973    Vegetables.  Jurupa Cultural Center, Riverside.  26 pages.  (Popular writing, booklet)

21.       1977    Comment on Marvin Harris’ “Cultural Ecology of India’s Sacred Cattle.”  Current Anthropology 18:3:552. 

22.       1977    Comment on R. Winzeler.  Current Anthropology 18:3:552.

23.       1977    Will Staple, Gene Anderson, Lowell Levant.  Coyote Run: Poems by Will Staple, Gene Anderson, Lowell Levant.  Anderson Publications, Riverside.  (Book; my poems, pp. 27-56)

24.       1978    “Sea Birds Off Tahiti” Western Tanager.  Journal of Los Angeles Audubon Soceity, p. 6.  (Popular.)

25.       1978    Invited Comment on Paul Diener and Eugene Robkin, “Ecology, Evolution, and the Search for Cultural Origins: The Question of Islamic Pig Prohibition.” Current Anthropology 19:3:509.

26.       1979    “Chinese Food: First Million Years.”  Wok Talk III:5:1, 8.  (Popular.)

27.       1979    “Beijing and Delhi.”  Western Tanager 45:10:6.  (Popular.  Reprinted in Bird Watcher’s Digest.)

28.       1980    Invited comment on Paul Diener, “Quantum Adjustment, Macroevolution, and the Social Field: Some Comments on Evolution and Culture.”  Cultural Anthropology 21:4:431-432.

29.       1980    Comment on Daniel E. Moerman, “On the Anthropology of Symbolic Healing.”  Current Anthropology 22:1:107.

30.       1980    “Food and Philosophy in Ancient China.”  Wok Talk IV:3:1-7.  (Popular.)

31.       1980  “A Closer Look at Hakka Cooking.”  Wok Talk IV:5:1-7. (Popular.)

32.       1980    “Teochiu Cuisine.”  Wok Talk IV:4:1 and 8.  (Popular.)

33.       1980    Eugene N. Anderson and Dexter Kelley.  “Birding in Nearer Baja.”  Western Tanager 47:4:1-3.  (Popular.)

34.       1981    “On Preserving Seafood.”  Wok Talk V:3:2-7.  (Popular.)

35.       1981    “The Foods of China’s Golden Age.”  Wok Talk VI:1:9-10.  (Popular.)

36.       1982    “Wisdom Literature as Prayers to Coyote.”  Coyote’s Journal, P. 64.  (Poem; major journal of poetry and literature)

37.       1983    The Inland Empire: A Natural History Guide.  Jurupa Cultural Center, Riverside.  (Booklet, 62 quarto pp.)

38.      1983  Nunez, Christina; Michael Hogan; E. N. Anderson.  Food Banks and the Anthropology of Voluntary Organizations.  California Anthropology 13:2:23-39.  (Minor unrefereed journal.  I was responsible for about 1/3 of this article.  The other two authors were students here.  Item missing from previous files, because the senior author published it without telling me.)

39.       1984    “Plant Communities and Bird Habitats in Southern California, Part II: The Chaparral.”  Western Tanager 52:3:1-4.  (Popular.)

40.       1985    Three poems in Reflections, Iain Prattis, ed. Washington: American Anthropological Association.  (Collection of poetry by anthropologists about anthropological themes) pp. 211-217.

41.       1985    Invited comment on Cecil Brown, “Mode of Subsistence and Folk Biological Taxonomy.”  Current Anthropology 26:1:53-54.

42.      1986     Invited comment on Cecil Brown, “The Growth of Ethnobiological Nomenclature.”  Current Anthropology 27:1:11-12.

43.       1986    Comment on “The Social Context of Early Food Production”  Current Anthropology 27:3:262-263.

44.       1988    Jean Gilbert, Claudia Fishman, Neil Tashima and Barbara Pillsbury, Fred Hess, Elvin Hatch, Barbara Frankel and Gene Anderson.  “National Association of Practicing Anthropologists’ Ethical Guidelines for Practitioners.”  American Anthropological Association Newsletter 29:8:8-9.

45.      1992  Invited comment “On Training and Certification,” CommuNiCator (Newsletter of the Council on Nutritional Anthropology), 16:1:1-2.

46.      1992  “Can Ancient Maya Wisdom Save Our Favorite Birds from the Cows?”  Western Tanager March 1992, pp. 1-4.  (Popular.)

47.      1992  “Four Fields in Ecological Anthropology,” long contribution to ongoing debate on the “Four Fields in Anthropology,” Anthropology Newsletter (official newsletter of the American Anthropological Assn.), Nov. 1992, p. 3.

48.      1993  “Teaching Philosophy,” statement to accompany Honorable Mention for Distinguished Teaching award from National Association of Student Anthropologists, Anthropology Newsletter, Feb. 1993, p. 18.

49.      1993  “A ‘Blue-Headed’ Solitary Vireo from Baja California,” The Euphonia 2:1:22.  (Brief note)

50.      1993  “How Much Should We Privilege ‘Native’ Accounts?”  American Anthropologist 95:706-707.  (Commentary, unrefereed, in major journal.)

51.      1994  “Caught in the Flood of Urbanization.”  Western Tanager 61:4:1-3.  (Popular.)

52.      1995  “After the Fire: Bird Use of a New Burn.”  Western Tanager 61:7:1-3.  (Popular.)

53.       1995  “On Objectivity vs. Militancy.”  Current Anthropology 36:820-821.  (Commentary.)

54.      1997  “Vegetables, Roots, and Wisdom in Old China.”  Journal of Ethnobiology 17:1:147-148 (Short Communication).

55.      2000  “On an Antiessential Political Ecology.”  Current Anthropology 41:105-106.

56.      2000  “On ‘Are East African Pastoralists Truly Conservationists?’”  Current Anthropology 41:626-627.

57.      2000   “Brief Notes on Observations in Spain.”  Anthropology Newsletter 41:9:41-42.

58.      2001   Folk song text (collected and translated by myself), five photographs I took, and summary of my research writings on Hong Kong, published in Elizabeth Johnson:  Recording a Rich Heritage: Research on Hong Kong’s ‘New Territories.’  Hong Kong Heritage Museum, Hong Kong.  Pp. 82-88.

59.      2001  “Psychology and a Sustainable Future.”  American Psychologist 56:5:457-458.  (Comment on a series of articles on psychology and the environment.)

60.      2001  “Tropical Forest Game Conservation.”  Conservation Biology 15:791-792.  (Edited comment; major journal.)

61.      2002  Comment on “Maya Medicine in the Biomedical Gaze” by Ronald Nigh.  Current Anthropology 43:789-790.

62.        2003  “Tropical Multiple Use.”  Journal of Conservation Ecology 7:14.  (Comment on earlier article:  Victor Toledo, B. Ortiz-Espejel, L. Cortes, P. Moguel, M. D. J. Ordonez, 2003, “The Multiple Use of Torpical Forests by Indigenous Peoples in Mexico:  A Case of Adaptive Management,” Journal of Conservation Ecology 7:article 9 online.)

63.       2008  Comment on “Reason and Reenchantment in Cultural Change:  Sustainability in Higher Education” by Peggy Barlett (Current Anthropology 49:1077-1098).  Current Anthropology 49:1090.

64.      2009  Comment on “Cultural Relativity 2.0” by Michael Brown (Current Anthropology 49:363-383).  Current Anthropology 50:251.

65.      2010  Comment on “Attachment and Cooperation in Religious Groups” by Carol Popp Weingarten and James S. Chisholm.  Current Anthropology 51:421-422.

66.     2010  “Ancient and Modern Foods from the Tarim Basin.”  Expedition 52:3:5-6.

67.      2011  “AAA Long-Range Plan.”  (Letter.)  Anthropology News, Feb., p. 3.

68.      2011  “Salt Water Songs of Hong Kong.”   In The Columbia Anthology of Chinese Folk and Popular Literature, Victor H. Mair and Mark Bender (eds.).  New York:  Columbia University Press.  Pp. 145-147.

69.      2012  “Cooking with Kublai Khan.”  Flavor and Fortune 19:4:13-14.

70.      2013  “Folk Nutritional Therapy in Modern China.”  In Chinese Medicine and Healing: An Illustrated History, TJ Hinrichs and Linda Barnes, eds.  Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press.  Pp. 259-260. 

71.     2013  “Are Minds Modular?”  (Letter, with answer by Michael Shermer and comment by Steven Pinker.)  Scientific American, May, 8-9.

72.     2-13  “Happiness Now or Later.”  (Letter, with answer by editors.)  Scientific American Mind, July/August, p. 4.

73.     2013  “Foreword.”  In Environmental Anthropology Engaging Ecotopia:  Bioregionalism, Permaculture, and Ecovillages, Joshua Lockyer and James R. Veteto, eds.  New York:  Berghahn.  Pp. xi-xviii.

74.     2013.  Preface and two poems, “Desert in Fall” and “Nocturne.”  In A Poet Drives a Truck: Poems by and for Lowell Levant, Ronald Levant, Carol Slatter and Caren Levant, eds.  Copley, OH:  Truck Stop Press.

75.     2016  “Foreword.”  In Shen Nong Bencao Jing: The Divine Farmer’s Classic of Materia Medica, translated and edited by Sabine Wilms.  Corbett, OR:  Happy Goat Productions.  Pp. xxiii-xxx.

76.     2018  Comment on Ludwig, David.  2018.  “Revamping the Metaphysics of Ethnobiological Classification.”  Current Anthropology 59:415-438.

77.     2019  “Afterword.”  In American Chinese Restaurants: Society, Culture and Consumption, Jenny Banh and Haiming Liu, eds.  New York: Routledge.  Pp. 301-303.

78.     2020  “Archaeologies of the Heart: People, Land, and Heritage Management in the Pacific Northwest,” by Chelsey Geralda Armstrong and E. N. Anderson.  In Ecologies of the Heart, K. Supernant, K.; J. E. Baxter; N. Lyons, S. Atalay.  Pp. 39ff.


 1.        1967    “The Ethnoichthyology of the Hong Kong Boat People,” Ph.D. Dissertation, University of California, Berkeley. Printed in Essays on South China’s Boat People, 1972. 105 pp.

2.         1987    Eugene N. Anderson and Evelyn Pinkerton.  “The Kakawis Experience.”  Kakawis Family Development Centre, 68 pp. + appendices.  (Contracted technical study and report to Kakawis Family Development Centre.)

3.         2007  Sun Simiao.  Recipes Worth a Thousand Gold:  The Food Sections.  Tr. Sumei Yi, ed. E. N. Anderson.  Ms circulated electronically.  56 pp.

4.         2007   The Tropical Food Security Garden.  On website,

5.        2015   Sycamore Canyon Natural History.  A report to the Riverside Municipal Museum.  Available on website,


Review Articles

1.         1977    The Chinese by C. Osgood.  Reviews in Anthropology 4:1:17-24. 

2.         1981    Review article of Arthur Kleinman: Patients and Healers in the Context of Culture: An Exploration of the Borderland between Anthropology, Medicine and Psychiatry, and Margaret Lock, East Asian Medicine in Urban Japan.  Reviews in Anthropology 8:1:45-58. 

3.         1984    Cooking, Cuisine and Class by Jack Goody.  Reviews in Anthropology 10:2:89-95. 

4.        1994  Islands, Plants and Polynesians ed. by Paul Alan Cox and Sandra Anne Banack, and Traditional Plant Foods of Canadian Indigenous Peoples: Nutrition, Botany and Use by Harriet Kuhnlein and Nancy J. Turner.  Reviews in Anthropology 23:97-104. 

5.        1995  Human Ecology as Human Behavior by John Bennett, and Radical Ecology by Carolyn Merchant.  Reviews in Anthropology 24:113-122. 

6.        1999  “Native American Cultural Representations of Flora and Fauna.”   Ethnohistory 46:373-382

7.        2000  The Ecological Indian by Shepard Krech.  Journal of Ethnobiology 20:37-42. 

8.        2002  “ New Textbooks Show Ecological Anthropology Is Flourishing.”  Reviews in Anthropology 33:231-242. 

9.        2007  Behavioral Ecology and the Transition to Agriculture, ed. by Douglas Kennett and Bruce Winterhalder.  Journal of Ethnobiology 27:277-280.

10.     2009  Trying Leviathan:  The Nineteenth-Century New York Court Case that Put the Whale on Trial and Challenged the Order of Nature, by D. Graham Burnett.  Journal of Ethnobiology 29:362-365.

11.      2014  E. N. Anderson and Seth Abrutyn:  “Robert Bellah’s Religion in Human Evolution.”  Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture 8:111-127.

Short Reviews

(Probably not a complete list, since I think I have missed some announcements from Choice that my short reviews for them were published)

 1.        1966    “La peche au grand filet a Tahiti,” by Paul Ottino. Journal of Polynesian Society 75:1:130-131.

 2.        1967    The Sea Nomads, by David E. Sopher.  Oceania 37:4:313-314.

 3.        1974    Tai Yu Shan: Traditional Ecological Adaptation in a South Chinese Island, by Armando de Silva and The Men and Women of Chung Ho Ch’ang, by Mary B. Treudley.  American Anthropologist 76:3:610-611.

 4.        1975    December’s Child, by Thomas Blackburn.  Journal of California Anthropology 2:2:241-244.

 5.        1975    Chinese Symbols and Superstitions by H. T. Morgan, Journal of American Folklore.  Spring 1975.

 6.        1976    California: Five Centuries of Cultural Contrasts by J. Nava and B. Barger.  Journal of California Anthropology 3:3:100-102.

 7.        1977    The Eye of the Flute by T. Hudson et al. Journal of California Anthropology 4:1:1-141-142.

 8.        1977    Migrants of the Mountains by W.R. Geddes  Ethnopharmacology Society Newsletter 1:1:5-6.

 9.        1977    Fig Tree John: An Indian in Fact and Fiction by P. Beidler, Journal of California Anthropology 4:2:322.

10.       1978    Food in Chinese Culture by Charles W. Hayford, Journal of Asian Studies XXXVII:4:738-40.

11.       1978    Edible and Useful Plants of California by Charlotte Clarke, Journal of California Anthropology 5:1:139-140.

12.       1981    Chinese Village Politics in the Malaysian State by Judith Strauch, Newsletter of the Association for Political and Legal Anthropology 5:3:17-19. 

13.       1981    Manna: An Historical Geography by R.A. Donkin, Journal of Historical Geography 7:3:329-330.

14.       1983    “Cities in China” film series (three films: “Xian,” “Suzhou,” Biejing”).  American Anthropologist 85:2:491-492.

15.       1984    Shenfan by William Hinton, American Anthropologist 1986:1002.

16.       1984    Nourishment of Life by Linda Koo, Social Science and Medicine 20:3:350-354.

17.       1985    Living the Fishing by Paul Thompson, et al, Urban Life 14:3:350-354.

18.       1987    Wives and Midwives by Carol Laderman, Medical Anthropology Newsletter.

19.       1987    Man and Land in Chinese History by Kang Chao, American Asian Review V:3:105-107.

20.      1987     Medicine in China History, Vol. 1: A History of Ideas.  Vol. 2: A History of Pharmaceutics.  Vol. 3: Nan-Ching: The Classic of Difficult Issues by Paul Unschuld, American Asian Review V:3:115-118.

21.      1988     The Cambridge History of China, vol. I: The Ch’in and Han Empires, ed. by Denis Twitchett and Michael Loewe, American Asian Review VI:1:78-82.

22.      1990     Disputers of the Tao by A. C. Graham.  American Asian Review 8:4:135-139.

23.      1991     Cannibalism in China by Key Ray Chong.  American Asian Review 9:2:109-112.

24.      1991     Native North American Interaction Patterns by Regna Darnell and Michael K. Foster, eds.  Culture: Journal of the Canadian Anthropological Society, pp. 92-94.

25.      1991  Nch’i Wana: The Big River by Eugene Hunn.  American Anthropologist 93:4:1002-1003.

26.      1991  With Bitter Herbs They Shall Eat It by Timothy Johns.  Journal of Ethnobiology 11:2:184-186.

27.      1992  Origins of Agriculture and Settled Life by Richard S. MacNeish.  Journal of Ethnobiology 12:198-26.

28.      1993  Coyote Stories and A Salishan Autobiography by Mourning Dove.  Anthropology and Humanism Quarterly 18:2:84-85.          

29.      1993  Tangweera by C. Napier Bell.  Anthropology and Humanism Quarterly 18:2:85-86.

30.      1994  The Flowering of Man by Dennis Breedlove and Robert Laughlin.  Economic Botany 48:1:101-102.

31.      1995  The Cuba Commission Report: A Hidden History of the Chinese in Cuba ed. by Dennis Helly.  Journal of Caribbean Studies 10:99-101.

32.      1995  Chumash Healing by Phillip L. Walker and Travis Hudson.  Journal of Ethnobiology 14:184.

33.      1995  Environmental Values in American Culture by Willett Kempton, James S. Boster, and Jennifer A. Hartley.  Choice 33.2.

34.      1995  Prophets of Agroforestry:  Guaraní Communities and Commercial Gathering by Richard K. Reed.  Choice 33:3.

35.      1995  Memoirs of an Indo Woman: Twentieth-Century Life in the East Indies and Abroad by Marguerite Schenkhuizen, ed. and trans. by Lizelot Stout van Balgooy.  Anthropology and Humanism 20:172-173.

            1995  Prehistoric Cultural Ecology and Evolution, by Donald Henry.  Choice 33-4589.

36.      1996  Earth’s Insights by J. Baird Callicott.  Journal of Ethnobiology 16:130-131.

37.      1996  Eat Not This Flesh (2nd edn.) by Frederick Simoons.  Journal of Ethnobiology 16:128-130.

38.      1996  Guest People: Hakka Identity in China and Abroad ed. by Nicole Constable.  Choice 34:4.

39.      1997  Green Guerrillas ed. by Helen Collinson.  Choice 34:6.

40.      1997  Humanity’s Descent by Rick Potts.  Choice 35:1.

41.      1997  Hunting the Wren by Elizabeth Atwood Lawrence.  Journal of Ethnobiology 17:67-68.

42.      1997  The Animal World of the Pharaohs by Patrick F. Houlihan.  Journal of Ethnobiology 17:135-136.

43.      1997  Wild Men in the Looking Glass and The Artificial Savage by Roger Bartra.  Journal of Ethnobiology 17:136-138.

44.      1997  Eco Homo by Noel T. Boaz.  Choice 35:4.

45.      1997  Greenlanders, Whales, and Whaling by Richard Caulfield.  Choice 35:4.

46.      1998  Shamanic Songs and Myths of Tuva by Mihaly Hoppal.  Choice 35:5.

47.      1998  Bhutan: Mountain Fortress of the Gods ed. by Christian Schicklgruber and Francoise Pommaret.  Choice 35:7.

48.       1998  Uncommon Ground by Victoria Strang.  Choice 35:7.

49.       1998  Knowledges: Culture, Counterculture, Subculture by Peter Worsley.  Choice 35:10.

50.       1998  Contested Arctic ed. by Eric Alden Smith and Joan McCarter.  Choice 35:10.

51.       1998  Natural Premises:  Ecology and Peasant Life in the Western Himalaya, 1800-1950 by Chetan Singh.  Choice 36:5.

52.       1998  Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent, by Meredith Small.  Choice 36:2.

53.       1999  Golden Arches East:  McDonald’s in East Asia, edited by James L. Watson.  Anth rpos 94:307-310.                

54.       1999  Wisdom from a Rainforest, by Stuart Schlegel.  Choice 36:8.

55.       1999  Siren Feasts, by Andrew Dalby.  Journal of Ethnobiology 18:2:188.

56.       1999  Building a New Biocultural Synthesis, ed. by Alan Goodman and Thomas Leatherman.  Choice 36:10.

57.       1999  Rebuilding the Local Landscape:  Environmental Management in Burkina Faso,

by Chris Howorth.  Choice 37:3.

58.       2000  That Complex Whole:  Culture and the Evolution of Human Behavior, by Lee Cronk.  Choice 37:5.

59.       2000  Anthropology of Food: The Social Dynamics of Food Scarcity by Johan Pottier.  Anthropos 95:1:296-298.

60.      2000  Plants for Food and Medicine  ed. by H. D. V. Prendergast, N. L. Etkin, D. R. Harris, and P. J. Houghton.  American Anthropologist 102:50-51.

61.      2000  Ruins of Identity: Ethnogenesis in the Japanese Islands by Mark J. Hudson.  Choice 37:7.

62.       2000  Sustaining the Forest, the People, and the Spirit by Thomas Davis.  Choice 37:10.

63.       2000  Las Plantas de la Milpa entre los Maya by Silvia Teran and Christian Rasmussen.  Journal of Ethnobiology 19:219-220.

64.       2000  The Ambonese Curiosity Cabinet, by Georgius Everhardus Rumphius.   Journal of Ethnobiology 19:258-259.

65.       2000  The Great Maya Droughts, by Richardson Gill.  Choice 38:3.

66.       2001  In One’s Own Shadow: An Ethnographic Account of the Condition of Post-Reform Rural China, by Xin Liu.  Choice 38:3.

67.       2001  Indigenous Environmental Knowledge and Its Trasnformations: Critical Anthropological Perspectives, ed. by Roy Ellen, Peter Parkes, and Alan Bicker.  Choice 38:10.

68.        2001  Portraits of “Primitives”:  Ordering Human Kinds in the Chinese Nation, by Susan Blum. Choice 38:10.

69.        2001  Between Mecca and Beijing:  Modernization and Consumption among Urban Chinese Muslims, by Maris Boyd Gillette.  Choice 38:10.

70.        2001  Feeding the World, by Vaclav Smil.  Journal of Ethnobiology 20:217-221.

71.        2001  El Bosque Mediterráneo en el Norte de África, by Jesús Charco.  Journal of Ethnobiology 20:237-238.

72.         2001  The Age of Wild Ghosts:  Memory, Violence, and Place in Southwest China, by Erik Mueggler. Choice 39:02. 

73.        2001  Environmental Anthropology:  From Pigs to Politics, by Patricia Townsend.  Choice 39:1.

74.        2001  New Directions in Anthropology and Environment: Intersections, ed. by Carole Crumley.  Choice 39:4.

75.        2001  Imperfect Balance: Landscape Transformations in the Precolumbian Americas, ed. by David Lentz.  Journal of Ethnobiology 21:53-55.

76.        2001  The Ecological Indian:  Myth and Reality, by Shepard Krech III.  Journal of Ethnobiology 20:37-42.

76a.        2002  A Society without Fathers or Husbands, by Hua Cai.  Choice 39:5.

77.        2002  The Hmong of China: Context, Agency, and the Imaginary, by Nicholas Tapp.  Choice 39:5.

78.        2002  Cocina indigena y popular, by CONACULTA.  Petits Propos Culinaires 69:124-125.

79.        2002  Chinese Gleams of Sufi Light, by Sachiko Murata.  Philosophy East and West 52:257-260.

80.         2002  Hosts and Guests Revisited: Tourism Issues of the 21st Century, ed. by Valene Smith and Maryann Brent.   Choice 39:08.

81.         2002  Black Rice, by Judith A. Carney.  Journal of Ethnobiology 21:53-54.

82.         2002  Changing Chinese Foodways in Asia, ed. by David Wu and Tan Chee-Beng.  Journal of Asian Studies 61:2:689-691.

83.         2002  Mayo Ethnobotany, by David Yetman and Thomas VanDevender.  Choice 39:11.

84.         2002  Feasts: Archaeological and Ethnographic Perspectives on Food, Politics, and Power, ed. by Michael Dietler and Brian Hayden.  Anthropos 97:573-574.

85.          2002  The Cambridge World History of Food, ed. by Kenneth Kiple and Kriemhild Ornelas.  Journal of Ethnobiology 22:163-164.

86.          2002  Ways of Being Ethnic in Southwest China by Stevan Harrell.  Choice 40:03.

87.          2002  Culture, Environment, and Conservation in the Appalachian South, ed. by Benita J. Howell.  Choice 40:3.

88.           2002  Appetites:  Food and Sex in Postsocialist China, by Judith Farquhar.  Choice 40:04.

89.           2003  When Culture and Biology Collide, by E. O. Smith.  Choice 40:3479.

90.           2003  The World and the Wild, ed. by David Rothenberg and Marta Ulvaeus.  Pacific Affairs 75:4:588.

91.           2003  China to Chinatown:  Chinese Food in the West, by J. A. G. Roberts.  Journal of Asian Studies 62:569-571.

92.            2003  Changing Chinese Foodways in Asia, ed. by David Wu and Tan Chee-beng.  Anthropos 98:620-622.

93.            2003  Crafting Tradition, by Michael Chibnik.  Choice 41-1618.

94.            2003  New Year Celebrations in Central China in Late Imperial Times, by Goran Aijmer.  Choice 41-2554.

95.            2004  Moral Politics in a South Chinese Village:  Responsibility, Reciprocity and Resistance, by Hok-Bun Ku.  Choice 41-5442.

96.            2004  Indus Ethnobiology, ed. by Steven A Weber and William R. Belcher.  Choice 41-5993.

97.            2004  Food in the Ancient World from A to Z, by Andrew Dalby.  Journal of Ethnobiology 24:163-164.

98.            2004  Political Ecology:  An Integrative Approach to Geography and Evnironment-Development Studies, ed. by Karl Zimmerer and Thomas J. Bassett.  Choice 41-6682.

99.             2004  Social History and African Environments, ed. by William Beinart and JoAnn McGregor.  Choice 41-6689.

100.            2004  The Nehalem Tillamook:  An Ethnography, by Elizabeth Derr Jacobs.  Choice 41-1026.

101.           2004  The Retreat of the Elephants, by Mark Elvin.  Journal of Ethnobiology 24:352-354.

102.           2004  Anthropology of the Performing Arts, by Anya Royce.  Choice 42:3518.

103.           2004  Miniature Crafts and Their Makers:  Palm Weaving in a Mexican Town.  Choice 42:6669.

104.           2005  Political Ecology, by Paul Robbins.  Choice 42-5341.

105.           2005  Miniature Crafts and Their Makers:  Palm Weaving in a Mexican Town, by Katrin S. Flechsig.  Choice 2004:10393.

106.           2005  Collapse:  How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Jared Diamond.  Journal of Ethnobiology 25:143-145.

107.          2005  The Origin and Evolution of Cultures, by Robert Boyd and Peter Richerson.  Choice 43:1027.

108.         2005  Facing the Wild:  Ecotourism, Conservation and Animal Encounters, by Chilla Bulbeck.  Choice 43:1641.

109.         2005  Intelligence in Nature:  An Inquiry in Knowledge, by Jeremy Narby.  Choice 43:2765.

110.           2006  Tending the Wild:  Native American Knowledge and the Management of Calfornia’s Natural Resources, by Kat Anderson.  Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 25:255-258.

111.           2006  Survival Skills of Native California, by Paul D. Campbell.  Journal of California and Great Basin Anthropology 25:262-263.

112.          2006  Food Plants of China, by Hu Shiu-Ying.  Journal of Ethnobiology 26:165-167.

113.          2006.  Where Rivers and Mountains Sing:  Sound, Music and Nomadism in Tuva and Beyond, by Theodore Levin.  Choice 44:0226.

114.          2006  Miraculous Response:  Doing Popular Religion in Contemporary China, by Adam Yuet Chau.  Choice 44-0394.

116.         2006  People and Nature: An Introduction to Human Ecological Relations, by Emilio Moran.  Choice 44:2770. 

117.        2006  As Days Go By:  Our History, Our Land, and Our People—The Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla, ed. by Jennifer Karson.  Choice 45-1077

118.        2007  Be of Good Mind:  Essays on the Coast Salish, ed. by Bruce Granville Miller.  Choice 45:2204.

119.         2007  The Earth Only Endures:  On Reconnecting with Nature and Our Place in It, by Jules Pretty.  Choice 45:4461.

120.       2007  Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Natural Resource Management, ed. by Charles R. Menzies.  American Anthropologist 109:571-572.

121.        2008  “An Anthropology of Chocolate.”  Review article on Chocolate in Mesoamerica:  A Cultural History of Cacao, ed. by Cameron McNeil.  American Anthropologist 110:71-73.

122.        2008  Chumash Ethnobotany:  Plant Knowledge among the Chumash People of Southern California, by Jan Timbrook.  Choice 45-6271.

123.        2008  Chumash Ethnobotany:  Plant Knowledge among the Chumash People of Southern California, by Jan Timbrook.  Journal of Ethnobiology 28:136-138.

124.        2008  Animals the Ancestors Hunted:  An Account of the Wil Mammals of the Kalam Area, Papua-new Guinea, by Ian Saem Majnep and Ralph Bulmer.  Journal of Ethnobiology 28j:134-136.

125.        2008  Wild Harvest in the Heartland:  Ethnobotany in Missouri’s Little Dixie, by Justin Nolan.   Journal of Ethnobiology 28:139-140.

126.       2008  Life in a Kam Village in Southwest China, 1930-1949, by Ou Chaoquan, tr. by D. Norman Geary.  Brill, 2007.

127.        2008  Kinship and Food in South East Asia, ed. by Monica Janowski and Fiona Kerlogue.  Copenhagen:  NIAS press, 2007.  Anthropos 103:2:598-599.

128.        2008  The Nature of an Ancient Maya City:  Resources, Interaction and Power at Blue Creek, Belize, by Thomas Guderjan.  Choice 46-1659.

129.        2008  Environmental Anthropology: a historical reader, ed. by Michael R. Dove and Carol Carpenter.  Choice 46-1566.

130.       2008  Koekboya (and) Nomads in Anatolia, by Harald Bőhmer.  Journal of Ethnobiology 28:318-319.

131.      2009  The Fishermen’s Frontier:  People and Salmon in Southeast Alaska, by David F. Arnold.  Choice 46-4615.

132.      2009  State and Ethnicity in China’s Southwest, by Xiaolin Guo.  Choice 46-5188.

133.      2009  Christmas Island:  An Anthropological Study, by Simone Dennis.  Choice 46-6282.

134.      2009  Against the Grain, ed. by Bradley Walters, Bonnie J. McCay, Paige West and Susan Lees.  Journal of Ethnobiology 29:360-362.

135.     2010  Spirits of the Air:  Birds and American Indians in the South, by Shepard Krech.  Choice 47-3251.

136.     2010  California Indians and the Environment:  An Introduction (2nd edn.), by Kent Lightfoot and Otis Parrish.  Choice 47-3252.

137.     2010  Biocultural diversity and indigenous ways of knowing: human ecology in the Arctic, by Karim-Aly Kassam.  University of Calgary Press,  2009.  Choice 47-5105.

138.     2010  Terres de Vanoise:  Agriculture en Montagne Savoyarde, by Brien Meilleur.  Journal of Ethnobiology 30:173-174.

139.     2010  Material Choices:  Refashioning Bast and Leaf Fibres in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, edited by Roy Hamilton and Lynne Milgram.  Ethnobiology Letters 1:3.

140.     2010  Trying Leviathan, by D. Graham Burnett.  Ethnobiology Letters 1:4-6.

141.     2010  Grass Roots:  African Origins of an American Art, edited by Dale Rosengarten, Theodore Rosengarten, and Enid Schildkrout.  Ethnobiology Letters 1:7-8.

142.     2010.  Spirits of the Air:  Birds and American Indians in the South, by Shepard Krech III.  Ethnobiology Letters 1:16-17.

143.     2010.  Naming Nature:  The Clash between Instinct and Science, by Carol Kaesuk Yoon.  Ethnobiology Letters 1:30-32.

144.     2010  After the first full moon in April: a sourcebook of herbal medicine from a California Indian elder, by Josephine Grant Peters and Beverly R. Ortiz.  Choice 48-1558.

145.     2010  Jungle laboratories: Mexican peasants, national projects, and the making of the pill, by Gabriela Soto Laveaga.  Choice 48-2255.

146.     2011  Different truths: ethnomedicine in early postcards, by Peter A. G. M. de Smet.  Kit Publishers, 2010.  Choice 48-2759.

147.     2011  Biocultural diversity conservation: a global sourcebook, by Luisa Maffi and Ellen Woodley.    Earthscan Publications Ltd., 2010.  Choice 48-2767.

148.     2011  Indigenous Knowledge, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, by Raymond Pierotti.  Ethnobiology Letters 2:3-5.

149.     2011  Feeding the People, Feeding the Spirit:  Revitalizing Northwest Coastal Indian Food, ed. by Elise Krohn and Valerie Segrest.  Ethnobiology Letters 2:45.

150.     2011  Dark Green Religion, by Bron Taylor.  Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Cultue 5:2:244-245.

151.  2011  Troubled Natures, by Peter Wynn Kirby. Choice 48-6986.

152.     2012  The Banana Tree at the Gate, by Michael Dove.  Ethnobiology Letters 3:13.

153.     2012  From the Hands of the Weaver, ed. by Jacilee Wray.  Choice 50-2152

154.     2012  Walking the Land, Feeding the Fire: Knowledge and Stewardship among the Tlcho Dene.  Choice 50-2267.

155.  2012  Swamplife: People, Gators and Mangroves Entangled in the Everglades, by Laura Ogden.  Choice 49-3461.

156.  2012.  Our Nelson Island Stories, ed. by Ann Fienup-Riordan. Choice 49-3334.

157.  2012  Instituting Nature: Authority Expertise, and Power in Mexican Forests, by Andrew Mathews.  Choice 49-5757.

158.  2012.  Crude Domination: An Anthropology of Oil, ed by Andrea Behrends, Stephen P. Reyna, and Gunther Schlee.  Choice 49-5152.

159.  2012  The Modern Maya: Incidents of Travel and Friendship in Yucatan, by Macduff Everton.  Choice 50-0365.

160.     2013  Spiritual Ecology, by Leslie Sponsel.  Current Anthropology 54:245-247.

161.     2013  Stealing Shining Rivers, by Molly Doane.  Choice 50-5663.

162.     2013  The Ordination of a Tree, by Susan Darlington.  Choice 50-6248.

163.     2013  Environmental Anthropology, ed by Helen Kopnina and Eleanor Shoreman-Ouimet.  Choice 51-1575.

164.     2014  Environmental Winds, by Michael Hathaway.  Choice 51-2805.

165.     2014.  How Forests Think, by Eduardo Kohn.  Choice 51-2744.

166.     2014  Uses of Plants by the Hidatsas of the Northern Plains, by Gilbert Wilson.  Choice 52-2068.

167      2014  Native Art of the Northwest Coast: A History of Changing Ideas, ed. by Charlotte Townsend-Gault, Jennifer Kramer, and Ki-Ke-In.  Choice 51-3635.

168      2014  The Ecology of the Barí: Rainforest Horticulturalists of South America, by Stephen Beckerman and Roberto Lizarralde.  Choice 51-4520.

169      2014  The Bushmen, by Jiro Tanaka.  Choice 52-1491.

170      2014  Uses of Plants by the Hidatsas of the Northern Plains, by Gilbert Wilson.  Choice 52-2068.

171      2015.  Hunters, Predators and Prey: Inuit Perceptions of Animals, by Frederic Laugrand.  Choice 52-4291.

172.     2015  Islands’ Spirit Rising: Reclaiming the Forests of Haida Gwaii.  Choice 52-4414.

173.     2015.  The Sea Is My Country: The Maritime World of the Makahs, an Indigenous Borderland People, by Joshua Reid.  Choice 53-0957.

174.     2015  Tikal: Paleoecology of an Ancient Maya City, by David L. Lentz, Nicholas Dunning and Vernon Scarborough (eds.).  Choice 53-1796.

175.     2016  The Relative Native: Essays on Conceptual Worlds, by Eduardo Viveiros de Castro.  Ethnobiology Letters 7:1:42-44,

176.     2016  The Invention of Science: A New History of the Scientific Revolution, by David Wootton.  Ethnobiology Letters 7:1:55-58,

177.     2016  The Ecology of the Barí: Rainforest Horticulturalists of South America, by Stephen Beckerman and Roberto Lizarralde.  Human Ecology 44:393-394.

178        2016  Embodying Ecological Heritage in a Mayan Community: Health, Happiness and Identity.  Choice 53-5298.

179       2016.  Introduction to Ethnobiology, by Ulysses Paulino-Albuquerque and Rodrigo Romeu Nobrega Alves.  Choice 54-0648.

180.     2016.  Why the Porcupine Is Not a Bird, by Gregory Forth.  Choice 54-0747.

181.     2017  Tracing China: A Forty-Year Ethnographic Journey, by Helen Siu.  Choice 54-3876.

182.     2017  Handbook on Ethnic Minorities of China, ed. by Xiaowei Zang.  Choice 54-4838.

183.     2017  Radical Territories in the Brazilian Amazon, by Laura Zanotti.  Choice 54:3895.

184.     2017  Science and Civilisation in China.  Vol. 6, Biology and Biological Technology.  Part IV: Traditional Botany: An Ethnobotanical Approach, by Georges Métailié.  Translated by Janet Lloyd.  Ethnobiological Letters 8:1:43-45.

185.     2017  Rural China on the Eve of Revolution: Sichuan Fieldnotes, 1949-1950, by G. William Skinner, ed. by Stevan Harrell and William Lavely.  Choice 54-5679.

186.     2017  Empire of Cotton: A Global History, by Sven Beckert.  Ethnobiology Letters 8:1:97-100.

187.     2017  The Patterning Instinct:  A Cultural History of Humanity’s Search for Meaning, by Jeremy Lent.  Choice 44-1414.

188.     2017  Moral Ecology of a Forest: The Nature Industry and Maya Post-Conservation, by José Martinez-Reyes.  Ethnobiology Letters 8:1:142-143.

189.    2018  Chow Chop Suey: Chinese Food and the American Journey, by Anne Mendelson.  Gastronomica, Spring. 2 pp.

190.     2018  Le Monde d’océan indien, by Philippe Beaujard.  Journal of World-Systems Research 24,

191.     2018  Bitter and Sweet: Food, Meaning, and Modernity in Rural China, by Ellen OxfeldAgricultural History 92:271-272.

192.     2018  Rice, Agriculture, and the Food Supply in Premodern Japan by Charlotte von Verschuer, tr. Wendy Cobcroft.  Ethnobiological Letters 9:105-106.

193     2018  Indigeneity and the Sacred, edited by Fausto Sarmiento and Sarah Hitchner.  Choice 55:2132.

194     2018  Social Memory and State Formation in Early China, by Li Min.  Choice 56, issue 3.

195     2018  Bitter and Sweet, by Ellen Oxfeld. Pacific Affairs 91:351-352.

196     2018  Secwepemc People, Land and Laws, by Marianne Ignace and Ronald Ignace.  Ethnobiology Letters 9:2,

197     2018  Poisonous Pandas: Chinese Cigarette Manufacturing in Critical Historical Perspectives, Matthew Kohrman et al.  Choice 56:1250.

198     2018.  Social Memory and State Formation in Early China, by Li Min.  Choice 56:1171.

199     2018  Histoire et voyages des plantes cultivées à Madagascar avant le XVI siècle, by Philippe Beaujard.  Ethnobiology Letters 9:2:245-246.

200     2018  The First Domestication: How Wolves and Humans Coevolved, by Raymond Pierotti and Brandy R. Fogg.  Ethnobiology Letters 9:2:247-249.

201     2018  Domestication Gone Wild, ed. by Heather Swanson, Marianne Lien, and Gro Ween  Choice 56-3191.

202     2019  Coastal Heritage and Cultural Resilience, ed. by Lisa Price and Nemer Narchi. Choice 56-G140.

203     2019  Energy at the End of the World, by Laura Watts.  Choice 56-TJ808.

204     2019  The Southeast Asia Connection: Trade and Politics, by Sing Chew.  Journal of World-System Research, Winter-Spring (online).

205     2019  An Inconstant Landscape: The Maya Kingdom of El Zotz, Guatemala by Thomas Garrison and Stephen Houston.  Choice 56:4382.

206     2019  Anthropomorphizing the Cosmos by Prudence Rice.  Choice 56-4760.

207     2019  Energy at the End of the World by Laura Watts.  Choice 56-4348.

208     2019  Taste, Politics, and Identities in Mexican Food ed. by Steffan Igor Ayora-Diaz.  Choice 57-0144.

209      2019  Beyond Repair: Mayan Women’s Protagonism in the Aftermath of Genocidal Harm, by Alison Crosby.  Choice 57-0702.

210      2019  Ambient Temperature and Health in China ed. by Hualiang Lin, Wenjun Ma, and Qiyong Liu.  Doody reviews online.

211     2019  Gao Village Revisited: The Life of Rural People in Contemporary China, by Mobo C. F. Gao.  Choice 57-1416.

212     2019  Oral Health in America: The Stain of Disparity, ed. by Henrie Treadwell and Caswell Evans.  Doody reviews online.

213     2019  Fruit from the Sands: The Silk Road Origins of the Foods We Eat, by Robert Spengler III.  Ethnobiology Letters 10:109-110.

214     2019  Philosophical and Methodological Debates in Public Health, ed. by Jordi Vallverdu, Angel Puyok and Anna Estany.  Doody Enterprises, review online.

215     2019  Multiple Nature-cultures, Diverse Anthropologies.  Choice 57-2320.

216     2020  Foundations of Physical Activity and Public Health, 2nd edn, ed. by Harold W. Kohl III, Tinker D. Murray, and Deborah Salvo.  Doody Enterprises, review online.

217     2020  Violence and the Caste War of Yucatan by Wolfgang Gabbert.  Choice 57-3752..

218     2020  Culture, Environment and Health in the Yucatan Peninsula: A Human Ecology Perspective, ed. by Hugo Azcorra and Federico Dickinson.  Doody Enterprises, online.

219     2020  Suckling: Kinship More Fluid, by Fadwa el Guindi.  Doody Enterprises, online.

220     2020  Commercialisation of Medical Care in China, by Rama Baru and Madhurima Nundy.  Doody Enterprises, online.

221     2020  Global Climate Change, Population Displacement, and Public Health: The Next Wave of Migration, by Lawrence Palinkas.  Doody Enterprises, online.

222     2020  Understanding Collapse by Guy Middleton.  Cliodynamics, summer 2020.

223     2020  Asian Fruits and Berries by Kathleen Low.  H-net,

224     2020  Cultivating Nature: The Conservation of a Valencian Working Landscape by Sarah Hamilton.  Environment and Society: Advances in Research 11:148-149.

225     2020  The River That Made Seattle: A Human and Natural History of the Duwamish, by B. J. Cummings.  Choice 58-0856.

226     2020  Theology and Evolutionary Anthropology: Dialogues in Wisdom, Humility, and Grace,ed. by Celia Deane-Drummond and Agustin Fuentes.  Choice 58-1084.

227     2020  Health of People, Health of Planet and Our Responsibility, ed. by Wael K. Al-Delaimy, Veerabhandran Ramanathan, and Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo.  Doody Enterprises, online.

228     2020  Ecological Integrity in Science and Law, ed. by Laura Westra, Klaus Bosselmann, and Matteo Fermeglia.  Doody Enterprises, online.

229     2020  The Real Business of Ancient Maya Economies: from Farmers’ Fields to Rulers’ Realms, ed. by Marilyn A. Masson, David Freidel, and Arthur A. Demarest.  Choice 58-2036.2

230     2021  Implications of the California Wildfires for Health, Communities, and Preparedness, by National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Workshop on Preparedness.  Doody Enterprises, online.

231     2021  Ethical Water Stewardship ed. by Ingrid Stefanovic and Zafar Adeel.  Doody Enterprises, online.

232     2021 Animals through Chinese History: Earliest Times to 2011, ed. by Roel Sterckx, Martina Siebert, and Dagmar Schäfer.  Ethnobiology Letters 12:1:14-15.

233     2021  Feeding the People: The Politics of the Potato, by Rebecca Earle.  Ethnobiology Letters 12:1:55-57.

234     2021  Ancient Maya Politics by Simon Martin. Choice 58-3234.

235     2021  Salt in Eastern North America and the Caribbean: History and Archaeology, ed. by Ashley A. Dumas and Paul N. Eubanks.  Choice 59, issue 2, HD-9213, 59-0489.

236     2021  Social Medicine and the Coming Transformation, ed. by Howard Waitzkin, Alina Perez, and Matthew Anderson.  Doody Enterprises, online.

237    2021  The Story of Food in the Human Past: How We Ate Made Us Who We Are, by Robyn E. Cutright.  American Anthropologist, online,

238      2021  Deconstructing Health Inequity: A Perceptual Control Theory Perspective, ed. by Timothy Carey, Sara J. Tai, and Robert Griffiths, eds.  Doody Enterprises, online.


Cool quotations

Cool stuff

“Cool” is remarkably enduring as a word.  It comes from the West African concept, according to Robert Faris Thompson (Jessica Ogilvie, “You Know It,” LAT, Nov. 10, 2012, p.E7).  Chevere is South American Spanish for “cool.”

Traveling light….

The train done gone and the Greyhound bus don’t run

But walkin’ ain’t crowded and I won’t be here long.

                        Traditional blues verse

Got the key to the highway, I’m booked out and bound to go,

Gone to leave here runnin’ cause walkin’ is mo’ slow

                        Traditional blues verse


The Wolf You Feed

The Wolf You Feed

E. N. Anderson



            Studies of genocide find that once killing is started, almost everyone joins in.  People suddenly change from peace and order to violent murder, and often back to peace when the dictator falls.  This can be explained only by the existence of both potentialities within people.   Human evil is here defined as gratuitous harm to people and other lives.  It very often comes from simply following orders or doing a job, or from “greed” (gain by predatory taking from others), but most often it comes from hatred and defensiveness.  At worst—and very commonly—it causes people to hurt themselves simply to hurt disliked others.  At root, it can be traced to irrational, overemotional responses to fear and threat.  These are common among people abused as children and subsequently, and among people raised in disempowering, oppressive, intolerant environments.  They become resentful, frustrated, and personally weak—lacking in self-efficacy.  They often bully or scapegoat others, usually even weaker persons.  Social hate is especially damaging, seen in genocide, bigotry, warfare, allowing people to starve or die of disease when they could have been saved, and other mass destruction.  Empowerment, rational coping with stress, and comprehensive morality based on “we’re all in this together” are the major cures.  These general cures can be applied to specific social issues.


“Son, it’s time to teach you the most important lesson about life and people.  It is that everyone has within him, or her, two wolves:  a good wolf that wants to help everyone and do what’s best for all, and a bad wolf that wants to do evil and hurt people and the world.”

“Father, that’s scary.  It really worries me.  Which wolf wins out in the end?”

“Son: the wolf you feed.”

                        Native American folktale



            This story—perhaps more Manichaean than Native American—captures much of what I have learned in my life.  I was raised to think people are good, and that evil is merely ignorance.  The people around me gave the lie to that.  They were often quite deliberately bad.  Many ordinary people, perhaps most at one time or another, hurt themselves just to hurt others.  They ruin marriages and friendships because of imagined or trivial slights. They vote their own destruction by electing people who promise to crush “the others.”  They sacrifice their lives for violent and extremist causes.  Humanity has a sorry record.  Despite claims of moral progress, the genocidal dictator and the suicide bomber are the emblems of the late 20th and early 21st century.

            Yet, obviously, many people are good, some are saintly, and almost everyone is good some of the time.  Even mass murderers and psychopaths usually have a history of decent behavior when not having a psychotic break. 

            Jesus said:  “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted?  It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men” (Matthew 5:13).  The salt of the earth—as opposed to sea salt—came from salt springs, and was contaminated with ordinary dirt or carbonate.  Over time, aerial moisture would leach the salt out, leaving only the residue.  Natural human goodness and sociability is subject to similar leaching.  This was, of course, Jesus’ real message.  (One wonders what Biblical literalists make of verses like this one.) 

            Most people are in a rather neutral, everyday state most of the time, not thinking of acting saintly or demoniacal, but they are still torn between virtuous ideals of helping, sheltering, and caring, and vicious ideals of excluding, ignoring, and hurting. They are either working for and with people, or working against people.  We are constantly forced to decide.  As Pascal Boyer (2018:33) says, “Observers from outside our species would certainly be struck by two facts about humans.  They are extraordinarily good at forming groups, and they are just as good at fighting other groups.” 

            The nature and promotion of good have been addressed by every religious writer in history, as well as countless psychologists and other scientists.  Covering this literature is neither necessary nor possible in the present brief essay.  Evil is less well studied.  Outside of religious imprecations against sin, there are rather few studies, mostly by psychologists.  Of these, particularly valuable are Roy Baumeister’s Evil (1997), Aaron Beck’s Prisoners of Hate (1999),  Alan Fiske and Taj Rai’ Virtuous Violence (2014), Ervin Staub’s books (1989, 2003, 2011), the Sternbergs’ The Nature of Hate (2008), and James Waller’s Becoming Evil (2002) and Confronting Evil (2016).  Simon Baron-Cohen’s Zero Degrees of Empathy (2011), Steven Bartlett’s The Pathology of Man (2005), Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear (1997), Fiske and Rai’s Virtuous Violence (2014), Robert Sapolsky’s Behave (2017), and Kathleen Taylor’s Cruelty (2009) cover some important psychological terrain.  Zeki and Romaya (2008) review the physiology of hate.  Albert Bandura’s book Moral Disengagement (2016) exhaustively treats that aspect of evil. 

            Most of these books, as well as the literature on genocide, spice up their texts with horrific stories.  Baumeister is especially graphic.  I have absolutely no interest in transmitting such stories here.  If you need to know how bad people get, seek out those sources.

             By evil, I mean a very specific thing: deliberate harm to people simply because one wants to harm them, because of what they are or might be.  It is the state described by words like “murderous,” “malevolent,” and “cruel.”  Ordinary everyday selfishness is bad enough, but it is part of the human condition; most of us give ourselves the benefit of the doubt, cutting corners, being stingy, cutting ourselves some slack.  This is no doubt deplorable most of the time, but it is not what I am considering in this book; I have devoted two previous books (Anderson 2010, 2014) to the problem of overly narrow and short-term planning and acting, and need not go into it here.  Selfishness becomes more evil as it moves into violent robbery, gangsterism, and raiding.  There is obviously a transition zone.  Similarly, violence in defense of self and loved ones is not evil, and is often praiseworthy.  A transition zone exists between clearly necessary violence—resisting Hitler in 1941, for instance—and clearly excessive use of force, as when police gun down an unarmed boy and claim “defense.”  Transition zones make moral decisions difficult—“hard cases make bad law”—so I will confine this book to issues like genocide and intimate partner violence that are clearly unacceptable in functioning societies.


Part I.  Human Evil in Context

  1. Starting with Genocide

            Visiting Cambodia together, we saw the relics of genocide and the devastation it had wrought.  We resolved to study genocide seriously.

            At that time, little was known about genocide in general.  Thousands of historical sources covered Hitler’s Holocaust, and a much smaller but still important literature covered the mass murders by the Young Turks, the USSR leadership, and Mao Zedong.  Much more recent genocides, such as those in ex-Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Cambodia itself, were only beginning to be visible in scholarly sources. 

            Very few generalizations had come out of this work.  Rudolph Rummel had just written a book, Statistics of Democide (1998; see also Rummel 1994), arguing that genocide was the natural result of totalitarian regimes.  His oft-repeated conclusion was direct: “Power kills, and absolute power kills absolutely” (Rummel 1998, passim; a rephrasing of Lord Acton’s famous quote about corruption.) 

            We quickly realized that this was not far wrong, but that it was not quite true or adequate.  Hitler was democratically elected, though he committed genocide only after taking total power.  Several other notorious genociders have been democratically elected.  They usually seized absolute power in the process of killing, but often not until the killing was under way.  We thus set off on a long voyage of discovery, comparing all documented genocides since 1900 to find common themes. 

            When science reaches this stage—several teams working on a problem—one expects simultaneous discoveries, and they occurred in this case.  Barbara Harff (2012) and ourselves (Anderson and Anderson 2012, 2017), and shortly after us Hollie Nyseth-Brehm, developed broadly the same model of genocide, and James Waller, in his great work Confronting Evil (2016), has developed it further.  Gregory Stanton’s well-known list of traits (2013) is another independent invention of a similar, but more developed, model. 

It is quite a simple one.  A would-be leader wins by developing a whole ideology based on ethnic or ideological hate, but going beyond mere hate to promise a utopian world—usually, harking back to a lost golden age and promising to recall it and improve it–if we can only eliminate “certain people.”  He often flourishes only when difficult and uncertain economic times give people economic incentives to look for radical solutions, but many such leaders take power in good times; mobilizing antagonism is always available as an easy and straightforward way to win in politics.  All that is required is that the existing administration is either fighting a war and not doing well (as in Russia when Lenin took power), or widely perceived as corrupt and incompetent.  People then work for change.  Most commonly, the country in question had a long record of ethnic and political killing, but this was not always the case.

Many dictators simply rode popular movements to victory, but many were installed by large economic interests, almost always rentiers—landlords, natural resource owners, and others who make their money from controlling primary production rather than from enterprise.  Oil has been the greatest single backer of modern autocratic states, from fascist (several in Africa and elsewhere) to feudal (Saudi Arabia) to socialist (Venezuela).  We will examine this link in due course.  In the early 20th century, most dictators were puppets installed by fascist or communist regimes when they conquered countries, and in the mid-20th the United States installed or backed several genocidal fascist regimes, most notably in Guatemala and Chile (on the history of 20th century genocides, see Anderson and Anderson 2012; Kiernan 2007; Rummel 1994, 1998; Shaw 2013).  Since then, however, genocidal and autocratic regimes have come to power through coups, local wars, or, very often, elections.  Corrupt and weak regimes create conditions where many will vote for strongmen.

John Kincaid says of American far-right politics, “right-wing movements are successful when they deploy rhetorical frames that synthesize both material and symbolic politics” (Kincaid 2016:529), and this finding summarizes a fact that seems well documented worldwide.  Oliver Hahl and collaborators (2018) have shown that “lying demagogues” succeed with disaffected voters who feel disrespected by elites and cultural brokers; lying, violating norms, openly expressing widely-held prejudices, and economic populism are a particularly successful (and deadly) combination.  Trump in the United States was only one of many leaders who triumphed in the early 21st century by using this technique.

            When he (such leaders are male, so far) takes over, he quickly moves to consolidate power. He can usually bring about a brief return of prosperity, by cracking down on crime and by “making the trains run on time” (as the proverb claims for Mussolini), but the prosperity may be illusory or short-lived.  Alternatively, the leader may take over during a war, in which case he may lead the people to victory—or may simply make things even worse, as in Cambodia.  He suspends whatever democratic or institutional checks exist, and becomes a dictator or functional equivalent.  Many small genocides have taken place in democracies, but, in almost all such cases, the victims were not citizens and were under de facto authoritarian rule.  Native Americans in the 19th century constitute a prime example.

            A dictator begins by consolidating his power.  As Rudolph Rummel often reiterated, “power kills, and absolute power kills absolutely.”  Almost inevitably, a dictator begins to consolidate his rule by killing “certain people”—whether they are Jews, bourgeoisie, political enemies, educated people, “heretics,” or any other salient group that seems opposed in some way to the new order.  I term these “structural opponent groups.”  The savagery and scope of the killing sometimes depends on the number of targeted groups, which in turn depends on the extremism of the dictator.  Hitler’s indiscriminate hatred extended from Jews to handicapped people to gays to modern artists, totaling over six million dead.  The Khmer Rouge killings in Cambodia included people defined by ethnicity, education, foreign influence, and other broad variables.  The Rwandan genocide began with Tutsi, but quickly moved on to eliminate many Hutu (Nyseth Brehm 2017b).  At the other extreme are mass political killings that eliminate the opposition and anyone related to it, but at least stop there, such as Agustin Pinochet’s in Chile, which killed about 10,000 people.  These political genocides blend into the sort of mass political elimination characteristic of medieval empires.

            Usually, there is then a lull in the killing.  The leader has his power.  However, eventually, unrest challenges his position.  In some cases, he is forced out by popular movements.  Dictators often fall.  Frequently, they come to believe their own personality cult, think they are infallible and can do anything, and decline into something hard to tell from madness (Dikötter 2019).  Often, however, a leader meets the new challenge by another wave of mass murder.  The challenge is often external war, as in Hitler’s Germany and the Khmer Rouge’s Cambodia.  Sometimes it is power jockeying within the ruling party, as in the USSR and Mao’s China.  Sometimes it is civil war or revolt, as in the Indian subcontinent when successive episodes of violence accompanied the breakaway of Pakistan from India, the later breakaway of Bangladesh from Pakistan, and the failed revolution of the Tamils in Sri Lanka.

            The most important thing to note is that the people go along.  Humans are prone to anger and hate, and even the most incompetent politician can whip up hatred and direct it against enemies. 

            This simple model—exclusionary ideology, dictatorship, consolidation, and challenge—turns out to be 100% predictive.  We concentrated on genocide under the strictest construction of Raphael Lemkin’s definition of the term—actual mass murder of innocent citizens or subjects by their own government—as opposed to general killing of civilians in war.  Some of the best work on genocide has used that wider definition (e.g. Kiernan 2007, Shaw 2013). Our model does not work for this extended use of the term.  One would have to have a predictive model of all war—something that has so far defied scholarship, despite literally thousands of attempts.  Wars are notoriously multicausal; it usually takes several reasons to make leaders decide to go to war.  Economic gain (or plain loot), political power of the state or its leaders, land, ethnic and religious conflicts, maintaining warrior culture, and other factors all operate. 

            By contrast, genocide is usually rather simple: when autocratic leaders feel they are in a shaky situation, they kill.  Very often—famously with Hitler, Stalin, and Mao—they come to depend more and more on the level of hatred of their backers, and thus must whip up more and more hate to stay in power; this makes them take still more power and kill still more minorities, to provide red meat to their “base.” 

There are four ways to hate: hate upward (hating the elites), down (hating the less fortunate, from the poor to the less abled to the minorities), laterally (real enemies or social rivals), or not at all.  Bad leaders, and often even relatively good ones, move more and more toward getting their followers to hate downward—to hate the weak, the powerless, the minorities.  Even those who took power by marshaling upward hate, such as the Communists, soon find it pays better to get their followers to hate downward.

            A marginal sort of genocide is “cold genocide”:  Slow and not very sure elimination of an ethnic group by selective killing over a long time, coupled with every effort to destroy the group as a distinguishable entity possessing its own culture or ideology.  The term “cold genocide” was coined by Kjell Anderson to describe the Indonesian pressure on West Irian (West Papua).  It has been applied to the far larger and bloodier repression of the Falun Gong movement in China since the late 1990s.  This movement, a spiritual discipline that by all accounts except the Chinese government’s was utterly inoffensive, seemed dangerous to the Communist leadership, because of its size and rapid growth.  Suppression included propaganda wars, but also mass torture, imprisonment (“reeducation” in “camps”), and killing by extracting body parts for transplantation or the international black market (Cheung et al. 2018, citing a huge literature).  The Falun Gong has become the major source of hearts, livers, and other vital organs in China, a practice that may seem even more ghoulish than most genocidal atrocities. 

            The Chinese government has now expanded its reach to include the Muslim Uighurs of Xinjiang.  Approximately a million have been placed in concentration camps (“vocational training centers”) and subjected to intense pressure to acculturate to Han majority norms (Byler 2018).  Children have been removed from homes and parents, and educated according to Han patterns.  Islam is attacked in particular.  The Uighurs’ sin appears to have been agitating for minority rights guaranteed by the Chinese constitution.  The Chinese government has accused them of ISIS-style terrorism because of a very few extreme individuals.  Recently, government agencies in Uighur territory have been ordering thousands of clubs, stock probes, tear gas canisters, spiked clubs, handcuffs, prison uniforms, and other instruments of suppression and torture (SBS News 2018).  This constitutes “culturocide,” the form of genocide that involves destruction of an entire culture by restriction of personal freedoms and forced removal and re-education of children—one of the forms of genocide specifically addressed by Lemkin.

            Most genocides have been propagated by elites: ruling governments or powerful groups that whip up hatred to consolidate their power.  However, these groups may have started as small popular movements, like the original fascists.  Moreover, settler genocides are largely bottom-up phenomena, and so are many small-scale religious massacres and revolutionary bloodlettings like the French Terror.

            Mobs, genocides, and wars do not just happen, and they are not the result of blind forces.  They are invoked by individuals.  People do not spontaneously go into orgies of murder, unless some leader or leaders are profiting in important ways.  Whipping up hatred in others is not confined to leaders—anyone can do it—but ordinary people doing it at grassroots levels can do only so much damage, though if they form a large organization like Hitler’s Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan they can have devastating effects.

            Further work since 2012 has extended the models backwards, to look at the factors behind the final extreme abuse of autocratic power.  From Waller’s Confronting Evil, Frank Dikötter’s How to Be a Dictator (2019), among other books (cited below), we learn that the vast widely-targeted genocides of modern times accompany the decline of traditional societies and communities and the rise of mass communication and mass top-down society.  Links evolve from networks of local people, only somewhat influenced by governments, to top-to-bottom chains of authority by huge governments that take more and more power, even in peaceful and democratic societies.   When a dictator seizes control in such a mass society, he can quickly draw on his power, on loyalty, and on the lack of countervailing horizontal forces.  He can rapidly turn a peaceful, orderly society into a killing machine. 

            He will do it only if he has not only public but also financial support, and many genocides are enabled by specific firms or economic interests.  These turn out to be primary-production interests—extractive, often rentier, often export-oriented—in most cases (see below, part 3).  Large agrarian interests—landlords—are often involved, and more recently the oil industry has been notorious (Auzanneau 2018).  Sometimes industries come on board, as in Nazi Germany.  Some communist genocides have taken place with support from peasants and workers rather than giant firms, but some others had the support of giant state-owned economic interests.

            The dictators who invoke genocides are also a special selection (Dikötter 2019).  Many genocidal leaders fall into two types.  Most are elites, often military, but a surprisingly large number of them are marginal—subalterns or regional-derived, educated in metropoles or big cities, and educated in contexts that are also somewhat marginal, ranging from military academies (very often) to extremist mentoring by other radicals or lovers of violence (for details, see, again, Anderson and Anderson 2012; Waller 2016; this has been noted before, e.g. Isaiah Berlin noted a correlation with origin in border regions; Rosenbaum 2019:7).  The range is from Napoleon (Corsican), Stalin (Georgian), and Hitler (Austrian) to Mao (educated in Japan) and the Cambodian genocide leaders (educated in Paris with mentoring by the Egyptian Samir Amin).  Very many of the genociders have been military men: Napoleon the corporal, the Argentine colonels, General Rios Montt in Guatemala, Idi Amin in Uganda, and many more.  Leading in mass killing is, of course, the job of military officers.

            Usually, the ideologues of these exclusionary ideologies are not themselves killers.  Karl Marx dreamed revolution, but actually spent his time studying and writing in the magnificent reading room of the British Museum.  Friedrich Nietzsche for Germany and Gabriele d’Annunzio for Italy were the major thinkers behind fascism, but they led scholarly lives.  It was left to lieutenants, and lieutenants of lieutenants, to become the hard-nosed opportunistic toughs that led the movements and were also the initial followers and fighters.  They were often animated more by hatred and ambition than by attention to doctrine.

            These leaders all shared a quite specific ideology of the purity and superiority of one group over the abysmal badness of another, with the further concept that all members of each group have those respective essences.  This can be broken up into 20 specific ideas, carefully extracted from an enormously extensive analysis of the rhetoric of genocide leaders in 20 of the major historic cases by Gerard Saucier and Laura Akers:  “tactics/excuses for violence, dispositionalism/essentialism, purity/cleansing language, dehumanization, dualistic/dichotomous thinking, internal enemies, crush-smash-exterminate-eliminate


, group or national unity, racialism in some form, xenophobia/foreign influence, uncivilized or uncivilizable, attachment/entitlement to land, body or disease metaphor, revenge or retaliation language, traitor talk (treason, treachery, etc.), conspiracy, subversion, something held sacred, nationalism/ethnonationalism, threat of annihilation of our people” (Saucier and Akers 2018:88). 

            They add some other frequent themes, including “placing national security above other goals,” wanting to move fast and thoroughly, and thinking “individuals must suffer for the good of the collective” (Saucier and Akers 2018:90). They find all of these in many cases, from Hitler’s and Stalin’s rhetoric to the less widely known writings of the Serbian and WWII-Japanese leadership and the propaganda of mass murderers of Indigenous people in Australia and the United States.  Dehumanizing terms like “rats,” “cockroaches,” and “insects” appear to be universal.  One can, for instance, note the Communist Chinese leadership’s invocations against Falun Gong and dissidents as “rats” and “subversives” (Cheung et al. 2018).

            The worst genocides are usually associated with extreme ideologies: Leninist communism, fascism, extremist religion, or nationalist and ethnic fanaticism.  Extremist ideologues must be a strange combination to succeed: ideologically zealous, yet utterly amoral and opportunist in the ways they take power (Dikötter 2019 provides valuable case studies).  More pragmatic military dictators like Egypt’s, and economic hardliners like Pinochet in Chile, usually kill their opponents and anyone suspected of opposition, but do not engage in the vast orgies of extermination that almost always follow from ideologues taking power.  They too are opportunist and amoral, but they usually make little secret of it.  

            On the other hand, the people must be susceptible.  As Mao Zedong used to say, “a spark can ignite a prairie fire,” but that depends on the availability of dry grass.  Humans are easily enough turned to evil to give any credible leader a chance.  Understanding such events involves working back from the event to the direct perpetrators and their mindsets, and then on to the back stories.  The casual tendency of modern historians and other scholars to attribute causes of historical events to abstractions (“the economy,” “politics,” “culture,” “climate”) is wrong.  Marx is often blamed for it, because of vulgarization of his theory of history, but he was careful to specify that real people must lead the revolution, even if it is “inevitable” sooner or later because of economic forces.  Marx was also aware that those economic forces were themselves caused by the choices of real people.  Other thinkers from Ibn Khaldun to Max Weber and Anthony Giddens (1984) have made the same general point: structures emerge from individual actions and interactions.

There is no definite link between genocide and any particular economic system, organization, interest, or condition.  Capitalist, socialist, and communist countries have all done it.  Claims that genocide is most likely during economic downturns or is associated with deprivation do not hold up (Anderson and Anderson 2012; Nyseth Brehm 2017a, 2017b).  International war generally dominated mass bloodshed before 1945, but since then genocide has far overshadowed it, causing more deaths than all wars, murders, and crimes combined.  One suspects this has something to do with the dispensability of labor.  Kings of old could not afford to decimate their own work force.  Now, with rapid population growth and machines displacing workers, governments can deal with problems by thinning out their own people, saving the price of war.

Genocides fall into three types: settler, consolidation, and crisis genocides (our classification, but see Waller 2016 for much fuller but similar typology).  Settler genocides occur when a large, powerful society takes over land from small or scattered groups, especially when the powerful society is technologically advanced and the smaller victim groups are less so (“Whatever happens, we have got / the Gatling gun and they have not”—Hilaire Belloc; also quoted as “Maxim gun”).  The most famous cases are the United States (Dee Brown 1971; Madley 2016), Brazil (Hemming 1978), and Australia (Pascoe 2014), but the same story can be told of societies from Russia to China to Japan (Kiernan 2007).  It goes far back in time.  Ancient Babylon and Assyria exterminated captives.  The Romans and medieval Europeans exterminated rebellious subject peoples and took their possessions.  The Bantu took southern Africa from the Khoi-San with attendant exterminations.   Settler genocides depended on convincing a large part of the citizenry to kill the Indigenous peoples, and to threaten protectors and dissidents into silence.  A particularly good study of this is Benjamin Madley’s study of California in the 19th century (Madley 2016). 

This counts as genocide only if the victims had been conquered and subjected.  Extermination of enemies who are fighting back with everything they have is normal war, not genocide.  The dividing line is obviously blurred, but extremes are easy to see; the wars with the Apaches and Comanche (Hämäläinen 2008) in the United States and Mexico in the 1870s were initially fair fights with little quarter given by either side, and thus not genocide, but the extermination of the Yuki in California in the mid-19th century was genocidal massacre of helpless conquered people (Madley 2016; Miller 1979). 

Modern genocides fall into four categories: communist, fascist, military dictatorship, and random cases of rulers who lack ideology.  The last are usually military, since military men have an advantage in seizing power, but almost as often they are democratically elected politicians.  Sometimes an initially able ruler becomes more and more extreme (or even demented) with age.  The one common thread is that they come to power by marshaling hate.

Some genocides have direct corporate backing.  American corporations acting through the CIA established genocidal regimes in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Chile.  European colonial powers sometimes established murderous successor regimes in liberated colonies, or, conversely, set up a hopeless government that soon fell to genocidal rebels.  Former colony status is a fair predictor of genocide. 

Many genocidal regimes have survived and flourished despite mass murder because states support business interests that are benefited by the regimes in question.  Cases range from early fascist Italy under Mussolini to more modern states such as Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea.  The oil industry is notorious for this, but armaments merchants are interested, for obvious reasons.  One also recalls “blood diamonds,” blood coltan (columbium-tantalum ore, source of conflict in DR Congo), and other commodities deeply stained. 

Plantation slavery or serfdom is one back story.  Developed in ancient Mesopotamia, it was the first institution based on cruel treatment of disenfranchised multitudes by ruling elites.  It grew steadily, especially in the west, peaking in the Atlantic slave trade and the indentured-labor plantations of Asia in the 18th and 19th centuries. It led to a vast amount of murder. 

Consolidation genocides are the commonest and often among the worst.  They occur when a rather shaky totalitarian regime based on exclusionary ideology takes over full control of a country.  They usuallyoccur in that situation, but the kill totals range widely, from rather small-scale politicides (like Marcos’ in the Philippines and Pinochet’s in Chile) to vast mass murders like Mao’s in China.  The scale depends on the extremism of the new government, especially its exclusionary ideology.  Ideology was not a huge factor in the pragmatic (though murderous) Marcos government; at the other extreme, the indiscriminate hatreds of the Nazis led to the vast massacres of the Holocaust.

Crisis genocides occur when genocide is brought about or exacerbated by war, either international or civil.  Very minor local rebellions can serve as excuses for already-planned genocides, as in Guatemala in the 1980s (where violence continues; Nelson 2019), or international war can vastly escalate already-ongoing genocides, as in Hitler’s Germany in the 1940s.  Sometimes consolidation and crisis occur together, as in Cambodia in the late 1970s, producing the most extreme of all genocides. 

Almost all genocides fall into one of these three types.  The only exceptions are cases in which an extreme (if not downright psychopathic) dictator continues to kill whole populations without let or stay.  Stalin and Mao are the major cases in history, but other apparently demented monarchs from Caligula to Tamerlane might be mentioned.

            Genocides range greatly in the numbers and percentages of people killed.  The Cambodian genocide, which killed perhaps ¼ of the total population, is unique.  Rwanda’s genocide killed 10% of the population—a million people—in only 100 days, a rate of killing calculated at 333.3 murders per hour, 5.5 per minute (Nyseth Brehm 2017b:5).  Most genocides are fortunately smaller; many are “politicides,” confined to classes of political enemies of the dictator.  Mere political killings do not count as genocides, but mass political murders by people like Agustin Pinochet of Chile and Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines threw far wider nets.  Not only actual opponents, but families of opponents, ordinary protestors, children who seemed somehow opposed to the regime, and random suspects were killed.  The scope of genocide depends on the size and range of targeted groups, which in turn depends on the extremism of the exclusionary ideology of the leaders.  Hitler targeted a huge and, at the end, almost random-looking assortment of peoples.  Pinochet narrowly targeted suspected liberals and leftists.

            Recent attacks on “social media” for being platforms that amplify hatred (e.g. Zaki 2019:146-150) made me aware of an important and previously neglected fact: the greatest genocides, the ones in which whole nations seem to have gone mad and collapsed in orgies of blood, were propagated by print media and radio.  The first, the Turkish massacre of the Armenians and other Christian minorities, was even prior to radio.  The others—notably Germany and central Europe under Hitler, the USSR under Stalin, China under Mao, Nigeria in the Biafra War, and the Indonesian, Cambodian, and Rwanda-Burundi genocides—were driven by newspapers, radio, and public appearances.  Social media allow discussion, argument, persuasion, and grassroots movements.  Radio in totalitarian societies is the ultimate in faceless, top-down communication to people who have no way of answering or commenting on any scale. Public appearances by leaders, and propaganda pictures and films, are not much better: they show the leader in crisp uniform, from a distance, generally high above the masses.  It is surely significant that there have been no huge, out-of-control genocides in societies with good social media.  The worst recent genocide in terms of mass participation by ordinary people is that in Myanmar, where access to modern media is limited.  Even TV has the value of showing the leader up close, making him look less than respectable.  But the real value of Facebook, Twitter, and the like is that allow us to answer back.  They are often compared to face-to-face encounters, to the disadvantage of the social media, but the real comparison is with the passivizing and alienating radio and its cousins.

            Genocides have become much commoner and bloodier since 1900.  Earlier genocides were largely religious persecutions (such as the Inquisition) or settler genocides.  Since 1900, genocides have targeted wider groups, often huge segments of society.  This tracks the decline of community and the rise of mass hierarchic society, as we have noted.

            Through history, genocidal regimes just kept killing till conquered by outsiders or popular movements.  Then they often returned to bad ways unless they underwent decisive political changes—sometimes forced on them by conquest, as with Germany and Japan after WWII.                       Slavery, though not genocide by our definition, is very close to it, and requires a similar mentality: the basic idea that one whole group of humans does not deserve human consideration.  By establishing that mind-set, it helped the progress to modern genocide.  The slave trade was notoriously bloody.

            Genocide and war always include far more than mere killing.  Victims are routinely tortured.  Women and girls are almost always raped.  People are burned or buried alive.  The deliberate sadism goes beyond anything an ordinary creative torturer could devise; there have been instruction books on torturing for centuries, and there are now websites on the “dark web.”  Ordinary people are as prone to do all this as the leaders themselves.  Similar findings are common in studies of warfare, criminal gangs, and perhaps above all the whole history of heresy persecution in religions.  Even domestic violence often involves unspeakable torture and humiliation of spouse, children, or other family members.

Ordinary people caught up in even the most mundane street gangs soon learn to commit unspeakable acts without second thoughts.  Psychological explanations of this range from direct explanations in terms of conformity, anger, learned hate, and social antipathy (Baron-Cohen 2011; Baumeister 1997) to the elaborate Freudian-Lacanian framework of Edward Weisband (2017, 2019).  Animal models (of which there are many in Clutton-Brock 2016, esp. chapters 8 and 13) suggest that competition for control of resources and of mates and mating bring out the worst in all mammal species, turning otherwise meek and inoffensive animals into demons.  Human domestic violence usually (if not always) turns on control and relative power issues (B. Anderson et al. 2004).  Rage over shakiness of control certainly lies behind much genocide and genocidal behavior.  Exploring the full scale of this phenomenon, and of other causes for rage, remains an urgent task for the future.

The universality of the phenomenon, especially perhaps in street gangs, suggests that it is all too normal a part of human potential, but many of Weisband’s cases (such as the Nazi death camp leaders) seem to be genuinely psychotic or brain-damaged.  Whatever the explanations, the performative sadism of human violence is a particularly horrific thing to find so universally.

            Genocide (aside from settler genocide) is a particularly interesting case because ethnic genocide is a relatively new form of evil.  Outside of religious persecutions—the real font of genocide–huge-scale elimination of vast numbers of peaceable fellow citizens, simply because they fall in some arbitrary category, is new enough that people have not adjusted to it as a matter of ordinary life since time immemorial (as slavery was considered to be).  Conforming to genociders is, or was in the early 20th century, a new way to be bad.

            The Enlightenment gave rise to ideas of peace and freedom.  War was reduced, and slavery slowly but surely was outlawed everywhere.  However, the Enlightenment was founded not only on rapid expansion of trade, commerce, communication, and science, but also on the slavery and exploitation that it eventually fought. 

            As the world filled up in the 20th century, problems of overpopulation, pressure on resources, and competition for goods became more salient.  Leaders by this time tended to be old and not battle-hardened, so they did not always deal with such problems by international war, as almost everyone had done before 1800.  Often, either during war or instead of war, the modern leaders turned on sectors of their own people, waging genocide campaigns.  Wars and slaving were partially replaced by internal mass murder.  Genocide developed from religious persecution and settler colonialist practices. 

            Genocide, like other violence, must ultimately reduce to hatred.  The government must be able to whip up mass hatred, to get support and help in its project of mass murder.  To the extent that people are hateful and angry, they are susceptible to this persuasion.  On the other hand, they may simply be “following orders” and “doing their job,” becoming callous to the whole enterprise (Paxton 2005, Snyder 2015). The genocidal leader or leaders mobilize an insecure or downward-mobile majority, or fraction of the majority, against the most salient or disliked minorities.

            Genocide seems to sum up the other forms of violence.  Like war, it is often about loot and land (Kiernan 2005).  Like intimate partner violence, it always involves some issues of control and insecurity about control and power.  Like civil war, it often begins with rebellion, driven by class or religious or ethnic conflict.  Finally, leaders of genocidal regimes are often classic bullies, a point elaborated below.

  •  Mass Killing in General

            The forms of mass killing are international war, civil war (which differs from interpolity war in causes and usual course; see Collier and Sambanis 2005), revolution and rebellion, genocide, structural violence on large scales, mass poisoning by pollution, denial of medical care, and mass starvation through refusing to take action on agriculture, welfare, or food security (on famine as mass murder, see Howard-Hassman 2016).  Large-scale human sacrifice, once a major part of religion and kingship, has fortunately been eliminated, but sacrificing millions to the cults of guns, automobiles, and oil continues.  These form something of a continuum. Genocide sometimes grows from bureaucratic neglect.

            These all have different risk factors.  International war is hard to predict and almost always multicausal.  The War of Jenkins’ Ear (1739-1748) was not just about Jenkins’ ear.  Usually, desire to capture a neighbor’s territory and resources, a desire to support one’s own military machine and sometimes one’s armaments industry, pressure by hot-headed males hungry for glory and loot, claims of wounded national pride, and ideological differences with the enemy are all involved.  Traditional or manufactured hatreds are always conspicuous.  Small incidents are typically taken as excuses.  (In the case of Jenkins’ ear, the war was a complex fight between Britain and Spain over New World territories and other issues).  Nations such as the medieval Turks and Mongols may have war as their major economic activity and even their whole lifeway.  Rivalries within families forced rivals to compete to see who could amass the most loot and glory (Fletcher 1980:238). 

War seems to have been around forever, if one counts the local raids and small wars typical of small-scale societies.  War seems to have been especially common in chiefdoms and early states.  Population growth, rivalry for land and loot, and hierarchic institutions had run ahead of peace-keeping mechanisms.  Typically, neighbors come into conflict over land and resources, but such conflicts can almost always be settled by negotiation.  When they get out of control, however, traditional rivalries may develop, as between France and England through much of history.  Then, honor, nationalism, and eventually real hatred come into play, increasing the danger.  Specific histories are almost invariably complex and highly contingent on hard-to-predict events.

            With the state, maintenance of order slowly developed.  Even so, the incidence of violence and war varied widely within tribal and early state societies.  Just as there are violently aggressive people and saintly ones, there are bloodthirsty and pacific groups.  Particularly interesting are profound changes over time.  Scandinavians changed from Vikings to democratic socialists (Pinker 2011).  English changed from Shakespeare’s blood-drenched warriors to today’s peaceable folk.  Germany changed from the most demonic country in history to leader of a peaceful Europe in only one generation.  Most dramatic was Rwanda, where gradual increase in hate and violence built up to the genocide of 1994 that killed 1/10 of the population—but then ended suddenly and was followed by amazingly peaceful, tranquil, well-regulated recovery (as shown by brief research there by ourselves, and much more detailed ongoing research on the ground by Hollie Nyseth-Brehm). 

            Lies are universal in war; “truth is the first casualty,” and George Orwell’s analyses remain unsurpassed.  People believe lies against all evidence when their political beliefs are served thereby, as several modern studies have shown (Healy 2018).  Patiently pointing facts can work, but only when the truth is inescapable and unequivocal (Healy 2018).  The endless circulation of repeatedly discredited fictions about Jews and blacks is well known.

The ability of people to change dramatically from war mode to peace mode, from bad wolf to good wolf, is truly astounding.  Recent studies have shown that this is heavily contingent on social pressure.  Michal Bauer and coworkers (2018) found that in an experimental setting, Slavic high school students in Slovakia were twice as likely to play hostile toward Roma in a game than toward other Slavic students—but only if someone started it.  They would all play peacefully unless someone made a hostile move, but if that happened all the Slavic students generally joined in.  It was easy to flip the group from tolerant to ethnically discriminatory.

            Today, a range of violent engagements are common.  International war is still with us, though current ones all grew from local civil wars.  Civil wars abound, and merge with local rebellions.  Civil wars stem from rebellion, revolution, or coup, or—very often—from breakaway movements by local regions, as in the United States’ Civil War (Collier and Sambanis 2005). 

Criminal gangs dominate whole countries; the governments of Honduras and El Salvador are particularly close to their gangs.  Gangs kill for loot, rivalry, “honor,” turf, women, and other usual causes.  Individual murder for gain, revenge, or hate blends into gang killings and then up into militias, armies, and nations; there is no clear separation.  A murder in a gang-dominated country like El Salvador may have individual, gang, and national overtones.

Finally, ordinary, everyday murders are usually over issues of control.  The commonest murders are within the family; next, within the neighborhood.  The mass murders of unknown (though usually local) victims that dominate the media are relatively rare, though much commoner in the United States than in most countries.

Genocide continues, in Myanmar, Sudan, South Sudan, and several other countries.  China is committing genocide against its Uyghur population; it has imprisoned a million and killed countless more (Byler 2018; Stavrou 2019).  China is also repressing Tibetans, Mongols, Kazakhs, and Hui, apparently for no reason other than a desire to crush religious and cultural minorities, since China’s world-leading security and surveillance system has surely established these minorities are not a security risk.  Turkish repression of Kurds and Brazilian massacres of Indigenous people have now reached genocidal proportions.  Violent, genocidal or potentially genocidal regimes now control about 1/6 of the world’s countries.  It is highly contingent.  In many cases, the dice could easily have rolled the other way.  Evil ranges in extent; Hitler had real power, his American imitators very little before 2017.  The degree of evilness is not well correlated with its success.

Today, with warfare constant and technologically sophisticated, militarism is on the increase, dictatorships are becoming common again (as in the mid-20th century), and whole societies are becoming militarized.  An important special issue of Current Anthropology, the leading anthropological journal, is devoted to this; an important introduction by the issue editors, Hugh Gusterson and Catherine Besteson (2019), details the rapid rise and current pervasiveness of the new hi-tech militaristic world and worldview.  Military bases around the world have led to virtual slavery of local hired workers, as well as dispossession of local farmers and others (see also Lutz 2019; Vine 2019).  Besteman’s article (2019) details the progressive conversion of the world into an armed camp, with the rich routinely attacking the poor nations—no new thing that, but more and more a worldwide unified effort, rather than a country-by-country issue.  Gusterson (2019) recounts the use of drones to create terror; there is no one to fight—only a strange, buzzing object that brings random death and chaos.  As Gusterson shows, drones are claimed to hit actual individual terrorists and military targets with pinpoint accuracy, but of course they do no such thing; they are used to terrorize whole populations with large-scale random strikes on soft targets.  Militarized cultures develop in zones of war and conflict, as they have throughout time (e.g. Fattal 2019; Hammami 2019).

            Another set of cases of people turning violent and destructive is provided by the well-known cycles of empire.  Every preindustrial state had cycles of rise and fall, usually at vaguely predictable intervals, with a 75-100 year period and a 200-300 year period being common.  The great Medieval Arab thinker Ibn Khaldun (1958) first isolated, described, and explained these.  Recently, Peter Turchin (2003, 2006, 2016; Turchin and Zefedov 2009) and I (Anderson 2019) have elaborated on Ibn Khaldun’s theory.  There is thus no reason to go into it here; suffice it to say that internal processes make dynastic crises inevitable, over the long run, in such societies.  At such times, rebellion, local wars, banditry, and sometimes international wars break out, and societies often dissolve into chaos.  Basically, it is a process in which a society based on positive-sum games (cooperation, law-abiding) dissolves into negative-sum games, in which groups and power brokers try to take each other out. 

On rare occasions, a whole empire may completely collapse, as Rome did in the 5th century.  This represents yet another society-wide set of cases of fairly rapid change from peace and order to violence and mass death.

  • Slavery

            At the slave museum in Zanzibar, built on the old slave quarters there, one can see the hellholes were slaves were confined, read their stories, and see many excellent exhibits with contemporary accounts, drawings, and even photographs.  The most disquieting, and the most pervasive, message is that the slave trade was an ordinary business, like selling bananas.  Hundreds of people routinely raped, murdered, tortured, brutalized, and oppressed their fellow humans, for eight hours a day (or more), simply as a regular job.  These slavers no doubt felt like any other workers—bored, annoyed by trivial problems, angry at the boss every so often, but indifferent to the subjects of their effort.  They were not singled out for being violent, or psychopathic, or intolerant; they were simply locals who happened to be available.  Anyone could do it.

            Mistreatment of enslaved people involves minimalizing them—not denying their humanity, but denying that it matters.  They can be treated brutally because they do not count.It is perhaps harder to imagine the mind-sets of people who worked in the slave trade, day after day, for a whole working lifetime, than to imagine the mind-sets of genociders.  Today, most people in developed countries are repelled even by bad treatment of farm animals.  I remember when people treated animals worse than they do today, but even in my rural youth, animals were never treated as badly as slaves were treated in Zanzibar, Byzantium, the American South, and other places where slavery occurred.  The animals needed to stay healthy to turn a profit.  By contrast, the whole goal of slaving is to reduce humans to helpless, terrified victims, through intimidation and brutalization.  Their health was a secondary concern at best.  It was easier to get new slaves than to deal with well-treated ones.

            Slavery has cast a long shadow over America, influencing American politics profoundly to this day (Acharya et al. 2018).  Many, possibly half, of Americans believe slavery was happy blacks playing banjos and occasionally picking a bit of cotton under the benevolent eyes of the plantation owners.  The rest usually think of slavery as the work of a few utterly evil men, like Simon Legree of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  The fact is that slavery involved thousands of men and women brutalizing other men and women, simply as a regular job, carried out with varying degrees of racist hate but with little thought about the whole issue.  In America the brutalizers were white and the victims black, but in most of history—and today in countries like Thailand and Ukraine—the slaves were the same race and very often the same culture and society as their oppressors.  Roy Baumeister, in his book Evil, comments on how repugnant most people find evil acts, but how quickly they get used to them and see them as routine.  There is no evidence that slavers found even the initial phases of their work particularly unpleasant.  They put in their eight hours (or more) of rape, torture, and murder with a “just doing a job” mentality.

            John Stedman wrote a classic 18th-century account of the horrors of slavery in Surinam (Stedman 1988 [1790]).  Stedman was a mercenary in the service of the plantation owners, so at first he was biased in favor of slavery and against slaves; his horror at what he saw convinced him that slavery was an evil practice.  He reports a great deal of real hatred by slaveowners of their slaves, and a great deal of torture simply for torture’s sake, often because of extreme (and not wholly unjustified) fear of slave rebellions, and the fear-driven belief that only brutality could prevent those.  His writings became foundational to the antislavery effort, first in England, then worldwide.  Most interesting, though, is his extremely extensive documentation (confirmed by every other early report) of the matter-of-fact, everyday, routine brutality.  It simply never occurred to most people of the time that this was monstrous.

            One also recalls John Newton’s conversion, at about the same time, from slaving captain to extremely repentant Christian; after years of depression, he felt divine forgiveness, and wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace,” which, somewhat ironically, became a favorite of African-American churches.  As with resisters of pressure to commit genocide, repenters of slaving are rare in the archives.

            Slavery in traditional societies (from the Northwest Coast of North America to pre-slave-trade Africa), was sometimes less murderous and torture-filled.  But it was never other than cruel and oppressive.  All records from all societies speak of rape, terrorizing, and brutalizing.  Yet, no one in history—not Buddha, not Confucius, not Jesus—opposed slavery as an institution, until the Quakers in the 18th century concluded it was against God’s law.  The tide then turned with striking speed.  Enslavement of Europeans was basically over, outside the Turkish Empire, well before 1800.  Enslavement of Native Americans was theoretically banned in the Catholic countries, and was actually reduced to a rare and local phenomenon by 1800.  Enslavement of Africans continued well into the 19th century, being legally abolished between 1820 and the 1880s.

            Illegal slavery continues today.  The Council on Foreign Relations (2019) estimates that there are 40.3 million slaves in the world.  Few are chattel slaves like those in Zanzibar; most are forced prison laborers (e.g. in North Korea), persons enslaved for debt, or sex slaves (including forced marriage sufferers).  Sex slavery, with all the attendant horrors, is carried out in the familiar spirit of “all in a day’s work,” by thugs and pimps from Thailand to Hollywood.  Reading reports of child sex slavery shows how low humans can sink, all the time thinking they are doing what culture and economics require.  As always, there is no evidence that most of these people are especially evil to begin with.  Some child-sex slavers are clearly psychopathic, but others simply drift into the life and do what they believe is necessary.  Many were sex slaves themselves. 

  • Structural Violence and Callousness

            Millions of deaths today come simply from the bureaucratic attitude that people are merely things to move around, like rocks.  One of the most chilling books I have read is The Future of Large Dams by Thayer Scudder (2005).  Scudder spent his life studying refugees from huge dam projects.  In almost every case, people displaced by big dams were simply ordered to move.  Their homes were bulldozed, their livelihoods flooded.  There were usually token “relief” efforts, but these were so trivial as to be more insulting than helpful.  Millions of refugees were left to shift for themselves, and in poorer nations that meant many of them died.  Scudder bends over backwards to be fair, which makes the stories sound even worse; one cannot write him off as biased..  The bureaucrat perpetrators are cut from the same cloth as the cold “doing my job” slavers and Nazi executioners.  There is a huge subsequent literature on dams and displacement; suffice it to cite Sunil Amrith’s Unruly Waters (2018), which puts India’s and China’s megadams in historical context while describing their social and ecological devastation.  Almost always, the displaced are poor, and often from minority groups, while the benefits go to the relatively rich: landlords, urban power-users, and the like. 

Similarly, pollution is generated by giant firms producing for the affluent, but the pollution is almost always dumped on the poor and vulnerable (Anderson 2010 covers this issue in detail).  The populations sacrificed for the greater good of the giant firms are the stigmatized ones; Erving Goffman’s classic work Stigma (1963) is highly relevant.

            Related are the horrific famines invoked by governments against their own people, as described in State Food Crimes by Rhoda Howard-Hassmann (2016) and for specific, particularly horrible cases by Anne Appelbaum (2017) for Ukraine in the 1930s and Hazel Cameron (2018) for Zimbabwe in 1984.  Not only totalitarian governments, but the British in 1840s Ireland and 1940s Bengal, and most settler societies in their campaigns to get rid of colonized peoples.  In the Irish potato famine, aid was denied although Ireland was exporting food and England was rich (Salaman 1985; Woodham-Smith 1962)  Many countries have deliberately invoked famine as a form of state policy.  The Holodomor in the Ukraine and Russia in the 1920s was an extreme case (Howard-Hassman 2016).  America’s 19th-century extermination of the buffalo was explicitly done to starve the Native Americans, and thus was genocidal. 

            Johan Galtung (1969) coined the term “structural violence” to describe destruction by the cold workings of the social system, ranging from the results of institutionalized bigotry to bureaucratic displacement and refusal to provide famine relief.  Structural violence is usually a matter of passing public costs onto those held to deserve no better, usually poor and vulnerable people.  Again, ethnic and religious hate is very often involved.  The targeted victims—selected to pay the costs of industrial development, public works, crop failures, and the like—are almost always poor, and very often from minority groups.  Robert Nixon has used the term “slow violence” for this. 

            There is, however, a range from clearly and deliberately murderous and unnecessary structural violence, such as the Holodomor and the Ethiopian famine under the Derg, down to the tragic results of incompetent and irresponsible planning.  Famines before 1900 were usually due to genuine crop failures in societies that did not have adequate safety nets, and often could not have had.  The gradation from such tragedies to deliberate mass murder by starvation is not an easy one to unpack.  There will always be controversial cases.  Lillian Li’s classic Fighting Famine in North China (2007) goes into detail on a society that was desperately short of food but did have a well-developed safety net; the famines reflected a complex interaction of crop failures, local violence, and government success or failure at deploying their extensive but shaky relief infrastructure.  Such cases remain outside the scope of this book, which deals only with cases such as the Holodomor and the buffalo slaughter, in which famine was deliberately created for genocidal reasons.  On the other hand, massive displacement of people without preparation for resettlement or rehabilitation is herein considered intrinsically genocidal, even if done—or supposedly done—for good economic reasons.

            I hereby introduce the word “bureaupathy” to describe the associated attitude and mindset.  It is a mental state as sick and destructive as psychopathy and sociopathy.  It is quite different from greed; the bureaucrats are usually following orders or truckling to rich clients, rather than enriching themselves.  It does, however, merge into corporate murder-for-gain, which is done with similar cold-blooded indifference.  Tobacco companies continue to produce a product that causes up to ¼ of deaths worldwide, and no one in those companies seems to feel either genocidal hate or moral compunction.  Similarly, big oil and big coal preside not only over thousands of pollution-caused deaths per year, but over the creation of a global-warmed future that will lead to exponentially increasing deaths.  Unlike the innocent, uneducated rural American voters, oil executives know perfectly well that climate change is real, and what it will cost.  They read the journals and are trained in science.  Many documents, leaked or quite open, show they are aware.  They continue to produce oil and lie about its effects on health and the ecosystem.

  • Hate vs. Greed

            This alerts us to two very different kinds of harm.  Hatred causes genuinely gratuitious harm: no one benefits.  In fact, the hater usually harms himself or herself just to hurt others; suicide bombing is the purest case.  It is a negative-sum game: both sides lose.  Selfish greed, however, does benefit the doer; by the definition used here, it harms the other people in the transaction more than it benefits the doer or doers.  Big dams benefit the rich and urban, but usually hurt the displaced people and the total economy more.  The cost-benefit ratios of big dams are notoriously bad.  More pure cases of selfish greed, such as drug gang violence and medieval Viking raids, are even clearer: the thugs get some loot, but the entire polity suffers, especially but not only the looted victims.  Professional gambling is another case in point: the house always wins in the end, since it is there to make a profit.  Casino owners get rich.  They do it at the expense of victims, often nonaffluent and often compulsive, who are ruined and often commit suicide.  The total cost-benefit ratio is negative.  But the victims choose to gamble, so it is hard to stop the industry.  In this case, as in “the right to bear arms” and many others, individual liberty is traded off against social costs.

            Simple rationality—ordinary common sense—would stop hate as a motive for harm.  Stopping greed is more difficult, especially when the greedy have the power to force their will on the rest of society, as oil interests do today.  From a regulator’s point of view, there is also the problem of defining exactly where reasonable cost-benefit ratios turn to unreasonable ones.  Big dams do sometimes benefit the whole of society, or at least they have in the past.  Simple morality directs that displaced persons should be compensated, but other cases of “takings” are less clear.  If some suffer because they were selling poisons and the poisons are finally banned, should those sellers be compensated?  Or penalized for selling the poisons in the first place?  Much of politics is about such issues, which seriously problematize the whole issue of evil.

            In war, genocide, and murder that most harm is usually clear-cut.  So much, however, is due to greed—the entire tobacco economy, most of the oil economy, most of the dam-building, and so on—that looking far more seriously at cost-benefit accounting is a major need for the future.  On the other hand, the role of hate, or at least of infrahumanization, in even these cases cannot be underestimated.  The case of dams is, again, the best example: those displaced are almost always poor and rural, and thus “do not count.”  They can be ruined and even reduced to starving to death, without any of the rulers or engineers or construction bosses caring—sometimes without even noticing.  The oil industry, also, typically dumps its pollution on poor rural areas, such as rural Louisiana and the Indigenous communities of Canada.  When oil pollutes a well-to-do urban area, there are protests and political and legal action.  Moreover, oil, tobacco, and other harming industries have made it a practice to whip up hatred to get the public to oppose valid science, as will be discussed below.  Thus, hate, or at least discounting whole communities, is central to the wider and more general applications of greed. 

  • How Much Violence?

Several recent studies attempt to quantify deaths by violence in human societies.  Stephen Pinker (2011) famously concluded people kill much less than they used to.  This is apparently wrong (Fry 2013; Mann 2018), but small-scale societies kill at a relatively high rate.  Many small-scale farming societies, especially chiefdoms, are particularly bloody.  The human average seems to be about 1% dying by violence per year, but it varies from insane meltdowns like the 100 Years War, the fall of Ming, and the Khmer Rouge genocide to total lasting peace. 

            In a recent comparative study of war, Kissel and Kim (2018) define it as organized conflict between separate, independent groups.  They note that the terms “aggression” and “war” cover a vast range of very different behaviors.  “Coalitionary” killing of enemies is confined to ants and people and chimpanzees and maybe a few other mammals; only humans do it on any scale.  The genetics of aggression are as ambiguous as ever.  They note some archaeological massacres, including one in Kenya 10,000 years ago, and cannibalism evidence in many areas of the world—possibly during famines.  They see a big change after agriculture and settlement growth, but more in the size and organization of war than in the commonness of aggressive killing.  They see war as cultural.

            A recent study by Dean Falk and Charles Hildebolt (2017) finds a wide range, from small-scale societies that have essentially no violent killings to those where a large percentage of deaths are violent.  Variation is much higher than among state-level societies.  In general, it appears that small-scale societies do have a somewhat higher percentage of violent deaths than large state societies, but the margin is not great (if it exists at all).  The genocides, slaving deaths, and mass murders of modern states go well beyond Pinker’s estimates (Mann 2018).  In few societies is murder and war the norm; such a society would quickly self-destruct.  In fact, there are records of societies that did so.  Something very close happened to the Waorani, but they were persuaded by missionaries to become more peaceful (Robarchek and Robarchek 1998). There is a range in states from Afghanistan and ancient Assyria to relatively peaceful Tokugawa Japan and Yi Korea, or, today, Scandinavia and Switzerland.  Most states through history have been undemocratic and repressive, with many political murders. 

Among the Enga, one of the most violent societies in Falk and Hildebolt’s sample, powerful self-made leaders—“big men”—often whip up war for their own advantage, but may also make peace for the same reason; the oscillation from peace to extreme violence that has characterized Enga society is heavily determined by these self-aggrandizing maneuvers (Wiessner 2019).  Popular will often forces peace on disruptive young men or would-be leaders, however. 

An “average” is hard to calculate and probably meaningless, since most societies swing back and forth between war and peace, conflict and stability.  The average may be close to urban America’s less privileged neighborhoods.

            Since death is forever, the consequences of murder are irreparable, while good is easily undone.  (The same goes, in general, for environmental damage; it is rarely, if ever, fully reversible.)  A society requires countless small good acts to make up for a terminally bad one.  Human nature must average positive to keep societies functional. 

            Human tendencies to defend social position, defend the group, and defend or seize land and resources continue to keep violence at a high level in most societies.  From the books cited above, a clear pattern emerges of why people kill.  As individuals, if not killing in simple defense of self and loved ones, they kill either for gain (as a paid job or for loot) or for social control.  Most often, they kill to maintain social position: control over a spouse, “honor” in local societies, revenge on a neighbor, dominance over minority members, or control of a personal position of some kind.  Even psychopaths who kill compulsively usually wait for such opportunities.  Probably most killing is done for “defense.”  Even aggression in war becomes “preemptive strikes.”  Genocide is occasioned by extreme fear of minorities. 

            Targets change over time.  In agrarian societies, the groups were very often rival branches of ruling families, clans, or lineages.  There was also, usually, an opposition of “us” versus “barbarians,” i.e. semiperipheral marcher states or semiperipheral invasive groups.  In the west, intolerant monotheist religions powered up hatred of other religions and of “heretics,” and this tended to spill over into hate of all “others.”  Opposition of men vs women, old vs young, and rich/powerful/elite vs poor always create tension points.  Toxic conformity takes over.

            Gavin de Becker (1997) provided many accounts of psychopaths and mass murderers.  All turn on the obsessive need of the killer to control someone—the woman he is stalking, the parents who have tortured him growing up, the owner of a valued good who has tried to protect it. 

            Killers in such situations either commit suicide or are fairly easily caught, but gangsters who kill randomly may not be.  In particular, many gangs in the United States and elsewhere require a new recruit to commit a murder, as a rite of passage.  Such initiates seek out homeless mentally ill individuals who will not be missed (or even identified, in many cases) and whose death will not be investigated seriously.  This murder-for-position leads to further crime.  In the United States, a killer usually is jailed eventually, but in much of Latin America he (or sometimes she) will often be accepted by society and escape the law. 

            As groups, humans kill largely to maintain the power of the group over perceived and hated rivals.  These structural opponent groups may be traditional enemies, new rivals, or ideological or ethnic opposites.  The hatreds lead to international war, religious strife, civil war (most often between regions), ideological murders and genocides, and other types of group violence.  War for land is also extremely frequent.  This led Ben Kiernan to title his great study of warfare and genocide with the old Nazi phrase Blood and Soil (2007); he saw identity and land as the two great reasons for mass killing. Nationhood and religion, both sources of a fictive or socially constructed identity, are deadly, much more so than actual blood relationship.  I am far from the first to remark on the human tendency to kill real people in the service of vapid dreams.

            War for loot (portable wealth) seems largely limited to Viking raids, Turkic wars, Caucasus Mountain feuds, and banditry in general.  It is the moral norm, and often the livelihood, of classic “barbarians,” for whom it is a way of life rather than considered an evil or an exception. On the other hand, wars to acquire land and mineral resources, to help one’s national armaments industry, and to support its military, are universal throughout history.  Still, group hatred remains one great reason for war, just as individual social control is apparently the commonest reason for murder.  Greed, even for land, is controllable; the deadly mix of social fear, social hate, and need for social control is the real “heart of darkness” within humans.

  • People Almost All Join In

            One thing is common to all genocides and wars:  Some individual or individuals whip up hatred, and the public goes along.  Usually, the leaders are desperate for power and are not particularly restrained by morals.  The masses, however, can be almost anyone, anywhere, any time, though most sources agree that genuinely threatening and unsettled conditions make it easier for tyrants to whip up enmity.  There are on occasion mobs that spontaneously riot and destroy minority neighborhoods, but even these normally have a single instigator or small group of instigators. 

            Normally, this involves a flip from peaceful, economically rational behavior to behavior that is violent, destructive, and economically, personally, and morally irrational according to normal standards of the group and of humanity.  The bad wolf suddenly takes over.  Genocide leaders are men—they are almost all men—who are geniuses at making people do this psychological flip.  They can manipulate social fear, using a mix of charisma and exaggerated group rivalry.  They can whip up the hatred that is latent in people, and mobilize it.  They are masters of redefining groups to make them smaller, tighter, more defensive, more closed.  They can get people to circle the wagons.  They can make people see it is an “exception” when moral rules are broken to harm a rival group, something people all too often figure out without help (Sapolsky 2017, summarized p. 674).  The human ear and brain reduce their processing of ordinary peaceful messages, and become more sensitive to ominous messages and less sensitive to people or to rational considerations; people can be reduced to blind rage (Monbiot 2019).

            It is particularly clear that a certain type of narcissistic, cocksure, extremist leader can often manage to take advantage of human loyalty, religion, or ideology to reduce a whole nation to near-hypnotism, adulating him (he is always male—so far) with worshipful adoration.  Frank Dikötter (2019) has investigated this in the case of several 20th century dictators, including Mussolini, Hitler, and Stalin, and found many common threads.  All consolidated power ruthlessly and came more and more to depend on a cult of personality.  They became strongmen, above the law, above tradition, above any restraint—even the restraints of their own claimed ideologies.  The more they did, the more the loyal citizens adored them, until they miscalculated and caused actual ruin through war or economic collapse.  The sad fact is that the tendency of humans to conform with society and follow its leaders—usually useful traits, preventing chaos—can be and often is misused in the most horrific ways.

            In all genocides, the mass of the population is susceptible to messages of hate.  It is astonishingly easy to make ordinary “decent” citizens into mass murderers.  People go along with the evil leaders.  The public follows the leaders as loyally as they do in international wars or in actual defense of the nation.  The leaders are power-hungry and hateful individuals, but their followers are not; yet their followers do appalling things on command.  Detailed interviewing over time in Germany, China, the USSR, Rwanda, and other states showed that people were swept away by the rhetoric, and then strengthened in murderous resolve by the fact that everyone else was involved in the killing.  Most people simply did what they were told, or what their neighbors were doing.  They often took a sort of pleasure or satisfaction in doing it, but often found it simply a job that had to be done.  It is often pointed out that Hitler killed only one person: himself.  It was the people “just following orders” that did the real work.

            This mass conformity is very extensively documented.  (Particularly good recent reviews of it are found in Paxton 2005, Snyder 2015, Staub 2011, Tatz and Higgins 2016, and Waller 2016.)  It seems particularly common where hatreds are traditional, as with the Jews in “Christian” Europe, but it is reported everywhere.  The same is true of criminal gangs, slave procurement, police work in less lawful parts of the world, and indeed every situation where ordinary people get caught up in violence.  They almost always conform (see esp. Baumeister 1997; Waller 2016).

            Finally, the testimony of many anthropologists (e.g. Atran 2010, 2015), psychologists (Baumeister 1997), criminologists (De Becker 1997), and other experts all confirm that perfectly normal people can and do become terrorists and murderers in any social situation that puts a high value on such behavior as serving the group.  Scott Atran’s accounts of Islamic terrorists are particularly revealing: the terrorists and suicide bombers are usually young persons who have experienced traumatic events in their own small worlds.  They are not particularly violent, certainly not psychotic.  They are very often recruited through intensive influence by leaders of local extremist organizations—leaders who rarely endanger themselves. 

            Otherwise, worldwide, accounts of recruits to violent gangs often speak of neighborhoods where the only alternative to membership in a violent gang is being killed by one.  Criminals who are not part of gangs are far more apt to be genuinely demented—usually psychopathic.  Even among such loners, however, writers like Roy Baumeister and Gavin De Becker stress the number who seem superficially normal.  For the record, the pirates, smugglers, and sometime killers I knew on Asian waterfronts in my youth were largely a perfectly normal lot; they got caught up in an ugly world and had few or no alternatives.  By contrast, the one American mass killer I have known was a deeply troubled individual, bullied and treated cruelly for his obvious mental issues until he finally snapped. 

            There are, in short, some people whose inner demons drive them out of control—though they can be identified and stopped (De Becker 1997).  Far more common are ordinary individuals: we normals who have within us the two wolves, waiting for food.  The relevant works are surprisingly silent on what makes one or the other wolf take over.  The old Victorian clichés—coming from bad seed or a broken home, falling in with bad company, taking to drink—are echoed to this day in one form or another.  They have much truth, and we now know more, but there is still much to learn.

            Older literature often described such behavior as regression to “animal” or “savage” behavior, but no other animal does anything remotely close.  Nonhuman animals fight and kill when threatened or when vying for mates or territory (Clutton-Brock 2016), but they rarely kill without those immediate motives, they rarely torture (though cats and many others will toy with prey, cruelly by our standards), and they certainly do not make social decisions to starve millions of their fellows to death.

 “Savages” in the old sense of the term do not exist and never have.  The small-scale societies of the world do about the same things that modern states do, but on a very much smaller scale, and they lack the technological ability to carry out the mass tortures and murders so common now.  They could not force mass starvation on their societies even if they wanted to.  Claims of greater violence among early, small-scale societies and early states, e.g. in Pinker (2011), are based on outrageous sampling bias (Fry 2013; Mann 2018).  Pinker compares the most warlike of documented small societies with the most peaceful modern ones, which does show we are capable of being better than we often are, but says nothing about what social levels are most murderous.

            In fact, virtually anyone can be converted, rather easily, into a monster who will torture, rape, and murder his or her neighbors and even family members for reasons that no rational person could possibly accept after serious consideration.  Religious wars over heresies provide extreme cases.  In such conflicts as the Albigensian Crusade, the 13th-century genocide that gave rise to the infamous line “kill ‘em all and let God sort ‘em out,” probably not one in a thousand participants could explain the differences between Catholic and Albigensian Christianity (see Anderson and Anderson 2012).  Yet the murders of neighbors and friends went on for decades.  The same endures today, as in the persecution of Shi’a by ISIS (Hawley 2018).

            Such phenomena raise the question of how and why normal, peaceable human beings can so easily flip into genocidal states, and then back into peaceful states after the genocide is stopped.  Many of the most horrible genocides were committed in countries long known for the tranquility, peacefulness, cooperativeness, and even tolerance of their citizenry.  Cambodia and Rwanda were particularly clear examples.  On the other hand, some genocidal countries had a long and bloody history of independence and conflict.  No pattern emerged from this line of enquiry.

            In most genocides, those who resisted and worked to save victims were astonishingly few.  Tatz and Higgins (2016) have recently collected the data from the Holocaust and other genocides.  They find that even when there was no penalty for refusing, ordinary people went along with mass murder.  This was as true in the United States and Australia in the 19th century as in Hitler’s Gemany and Pol Pot’s Cambodia.  It is sobering for modern Americans to read how otherwise normal, reasonably decent, “Christian” Americans could perform the most unspeakable and unthinkable acts on Native Americans—often neighbors and (former) friends—without a second thought (see e.g. Madley 2016).  Colin Tatz’ harrowing summary of settler genocides in Australia reveals the same (Tatz 2018).  Nor did more moral citizens do much to restrain the killers.  The “Indian lovers” like Helen Hunt Jackson and James Mooney who agitated to protect Native Americans in late 19th century America were few.

            Hollie Nyseth Brehm (2017b), in a particularly thorough analysis of the Rwandan genocide, found that killing was clearly top-down-directed, with a concentration around the capital and major cities and among well-educated (and thus elite) people, but also was commoner in areas with low marriage, high mobility, concentration of Tutsi, and political opposition—especially by Hutu themselves—at the grassroots.  The areas in and around the capital, Kigali, were far more deadly than areas at the northern margins of the country.  This is the opposite of the pattern seen in settler genocides, where murder was far commoner on borders where settler populations were expanding at the expense of Indigenous people. 

            Accounts from China’s Cultural Revolution indicate that people were swept up in mass hysteria, but were also afraid of appearing to be neutral, since lack of enthusiasm in persecuting victims led to substantial trouble, up to being made a victim oneself.  A few of the many memoirs indicate that the writers were unreconstructed Maoists, but the vast majority worked under orders, from fear or social pressure or conformity.  Many repented, and write agonizing stories of their internal sufferings as well as the sufferings they inflicted and endured.

  • Anyone, Anytime, Can Turn Evil

          The alternation between peace and rage is typical of animals, especially carnivores; we see it often in dogs and cats.  Chimpanzees show it too.  Humans are different in two ways.  First, many humans are always “on the fight” or “in your face,” seemingly looking for imagined slights, threats to their honor, and excuses for a fight.  This is both individual and cultural.

          Arguably the biggest cause of slights, anger and hate is ranking out: arrogance, putting others down, open insulting superiority. This is particularly touchy if A really does outrank B and has to show it, as in the military, in hierarchic business firms, and in traditional societies with hereditary nobility.  A display of modesty can go too far, but a display of arrogance is disastrous.  Soldiers and bureaucrats have to game this.  It is a minefield, even more than romance, let alone ordinary civility.  Every day brings new outrages by minorities insulted—sometimes unintentionally—by people in power.  The sheer advantage of the priviledged, in everyday discourse, makes even “niceness” seem a putdown.  As with other forms of slight and offense, the Scottish ballads and Shakespeare’s plays are full of this: people are outraged at failures to recognize superior status, but even more outraged at having their noses rubbed in someone else’s social superiority.   

Some cultures and subcultures teach violent response to offenses as normal behavior (Baumeister 1997).  Such “honor cultures” always track societies with a bloody, unsettled, poorly controlled past.  Killing, however, goes far beyond such societies.  Humans fall into rage states not only when fighting immediate rivals for food or territory or mates, as dogs and cats do, but also over issues that do not directly concern them: war with remote enemies, malfeasance in distant countries, terrorist attacks in far-off cities, political injustices to other groups of people.  Humans specialize in offense, outrage, antagonism, and hate, and will take any excuse. 

            Antagonism is the opposite pole to Agreeableness on the Agreeableness scale of the widely used Big Five personality test.  Worldwide, people range between the two extremes, and there is a substantial inherited component, though much (I believe most) of one’s level of agreeableness/antagonism is learned.  Highly antagonistic people are, of course, heavily overrepresented among doers of evil, and are very susceptible to inflammatory rhetoric (Kaufman 2018).

            People, even quite antagonistic ones, are usually peaceful in ordinary everyday life, and even helpful, generous, and tolerant.  Many are curmudgeons, even snappish or bigoted, but at least not violently cruel.  It takes some effort to make them do deliberate harm to those who have not harmed them.

            However, it does not take much effort.  Following discovery of this fact among Nazi survivors, psychologists experimented with students, seeing how easy it was to make them be cruel to other students.  Stanley Milgram’s famous experiments with faked electric shocks, Philip Zimbardo’s with students acting as jailers and prisoners, and many subsequent experiments showed—to the horror of psychologists and the reading public—that it was very easy indeed. 

            Zimbardo’s experiment with a mock prison, at Stanford, had to be stopped within a week, because the students took their roles too seriously (Blum 2018 criticized this experiment, but has been effectively answered by Zimbardo, 2018).  This led to major reforms of experimental ethics, as well as to much soul-searching (Zimbardo 2008).  Contrary to published accounts, Zimbardo did not initially allow the “prisoners” to leave the experimental situation, and in any case privileged white and Asian young men (as these students were) hardly provide a realistic prison situation, given America’s racist and brutal prison system (Blum 2018).  However, Zimbardo’s main finding stands: people, even the “best” young men, can turn into evildoers with astonishing ease if they are following orders.

            People flip easily from a normal state—mild and peaceable—to an aroused state of anger, hatred, aggression, brutality, or rage.  There is a continuum, but phenomenologically it often feels as if we are dominated by either the good wolf or the bad one—not by an intermediate, neutral wolf.  Our enemies are not always external.  Suicide is the commonest homicide. Next most common is killing family members.

            We have a choice.  We must choose to be angered, and can always choose to “turn the other cheek.”  A punch in the face is hard to ignore (though some can manage it), but by far the most anger we feel is over trivial slights that can easily be ignored, or over social issues that may not concern us directly.  I am much more frequently angered by reading about injustice, murder, or war in places I have never been and involving people about whom I know nothing than I am by threats to myself.  Reading the political literature, one realizes that some people are outraged by the very existence of African-Americans somewhere, or by the fact that not everyone worships the same way.  An excellent column by Ron Rolheiser (2018) talks with some ironic detachment about the human proclivity to moral outrage.  Humans love to work themselves up into anger, or even hysteria, about perfectly trivial issues irrelevant to their own lives.  Most of us in the scholarly world know teachers who turn red in the face at such things as bad grammar in student papers. 

            Indeed, almost all the evil discussed herein is deliberately chosen because of outrage over something that does not directly or seriously concern the chooser.  The Jews were not really destroying Germany, nor were the Tutsi causing much trouble in Rwanda, nor were the victims of Mao’s purges doing anything remotely worthy of national outrage and mass murder.  All of us have encountered a great deal of everyday prejudice, bigotry, and open hatred of people for being what they are, as opposed to what they may have done.  This too has been studied; Gordon Allport (1954) reviewed early sources.  Since then a huge literature has accumulated (see below).

            Robert Louis Stevenson’s story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is uncomfortably compelling.  We sense, somehow, that we could all go there.  Hannah Arendt’s famous phrase “the banality of evil” (Arendt 1963) is also compelling.  Indeed, evil is banal, for the very good reason that it is usually done by the kid next door, or his equivalent.

            Peace came to Colombia after more than 50 years of conflict between the government—often via paramilitary gangs—and FARC, which began as a rebel organization but became largely a cocaine ring.  The paramilitary groups were little if any better.  Both sides accommodated to and dealt with the organized drug cartels.  Thousands of people were involved, and they committed the usual torture, rape, and murder associated with such activities.  With peace came rehabilitation.  Sara Reardon (2018) investigated the process.  She quotes one of the rehabilitation psychologists, Natalia Trujillo: “I realized not all of them are sociopaths. I realized most of them are also victims.”   In fact, it is obvious from Reardon’s account that the vast majority were closer to victimhood than to pathology.  They were local people, some originally idealistic, swept up in a nightmare.  Many were forced to fight to save themselves and their families.  Most of the combatants have returned to ordinary life with varying degrees of success; some have been killed by revengeful farmers and others who were devastated or had loved ones murdered. Unfortunately, but predictably, the peace did not hold.

The way that ordinary people can be caught up in senseless civil war is clearly shown.  Similar stories from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and other civil wars, back to the United States’ own, show this to be typical. 

            In short, the vast majority of killing and harming in the world is done by people “just following orders.”  They range from people mindlessly conforming, or even hating what they do, to enthusiastic perpetrators who needed only the excuse.  Especially successful are orders to kill or oppress minorities or to ignore their suffering when displaced.  Orders or requests to care for people and help them meet far more resistance.  The United States has faced continual protests and objections over its exiguous and miserable government safety nets, but no trouble finding soldiers for wars in the Middle East, and Trump had no trouble whipping many of his followers into frenzies of violence and hate.  For better or worse—usually for worse—people are easily mobilized by antagonism, but difficult to mobilize by religious teachings of love and care for fellow humans.  People are too apt to be spontaneously antagonistic and destructive, simply due to overreaction to the negative.  They hate trivial enemies, callously neglect valuable but less-noticed people, and take too little account of the good.

The average human is pleasant, smiling, friendly, and civil most of the time, but when threatened or stressed he or she becomes defensive.  This usually begins with verbal defense or with passive-aggressive sulking.  It escalates if the threat escalates—usually matching the threat level, but often going beyond it, in preemptive strike mode.  This is a necessary and valuable mechanism when genuine defense is needed. 

The differences between people and cultures then matter.  The average human seems easily persuaded to wad up all frustrations, irritations, threats, and hurts into a ball, and throw that ball at minorities and nonconformists.  This displacement and scapegoating comes up over and over again in all studies of human evil, especially genocide. 

            The world is far from perfect.  Wars, crimes, and genocides happen.  We must deal with them.  We are rarely equipped with perfect ways of doing this.  Cool, rational action in the face of hostility requires both courage and the knowledge of what to do. 

            Failing that, action is difficult.  The most available and simple option is to follow the orders of those who do know, or to conform with cultural norms that provide strategies for dealing with problems.  The next most available option is to maintain a front of hostility: to be touchy, aggressive, or fearful.  Ideally, one can seek out the knowledge to cope better, but this requires effort and time.  One can also flee, hide, become a hermit, act as virtuous as possible in the hopes that virtue will prevail, or simply die. 

            Recognizing this choice matrix makes the victory of the bad wolf more understandable.  Facing a hostile world, people are prone to let the bad wolf roam, or to follow the orders of those who do.

The model that emerges, then, is one of ordinary people dealing with ordinary everyday frustrations, slights, trivial hurts, and difficulties, who can easily be persuaded by extremist leaders to direct their frustration at scapegoats.  Scapegoating minorities to maintain control by venting diffuse anger is the food of the bad wolf.  Violence comes from directing diffuse hate to a specific target.  This is the common theme of the books on evil listed at the beginning of the present work. 

Such violence sums up into war and genocide when human agents with their own damaged agendas are swayed evil leaders who are willing to go beyond normal social rules.  This is the human response that evil leaders from Caligula to Hitler to Trump have whipped up.  The immediate cure is minimizing offense-taking, but the ultimate cure is finding enough good in the world to balance out the offenses.

Often, though not always, these leaders, in turn, are the creatures of landlord or rentier elites wishing to maintain control over income streams and resources.  The deadly combination of propertied interests, evil leaders, and frustrated masses is the common background of modern mass killings.

Part II.  Roots of Human Evil

1. Human Nature?

            Speculations on human nature have taken place throughout the ages.  The classic Christian and Buddhist views are that people everywhere are basically good; evil is a corruption of their nature by bad desires.  The problem, according to Buddhist theology, is giving way to greed, anger, and lust.  The Christian tradition is similar; “love of money is the root of all evil,” according to Paul (I Timothy 10).  Most Confucians follow the great Confucian teacher Mencius in seeing people as basically prosocial, corrupted by bad or inadequate education.  Many small-scale and traditional societies hold that people are basically sociable and well-meaning, but must develop themselves through spiritual discipline and cultivation.  Quakers speak of the “Inner Light.”  Modern biologists and anthropologists have found it in the social and proto-moral inclinations now known to be innate in humans.

            Conversely, the commonest western-world view is probably that of Niccolo Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes and Sigmund Freud: people are basically evil, selfish, competitive, and out for themselves at the expense of others.  This view goes back to the ancient Greeks; Marshall Sahlins (2008) provides a full history of it.  Social behavior must be forced on them by harsh training.  Hobbes saw “man in his natural state” as being in a permanent condition of “warre of each against all” for resources (Hobbes 1950 [1657]:104).  Freud had a darker view:  Innate human nature was the Id, a realm of terrifying lust, murderous hate, and insatiable greed.  Both men thought “savages” showed “man in his natural state”; they believed travelers’ tales rather than real descriptions, and thought “savages” were bloodthirsty, cruel, and driven by the lusts of the moment, with no thought of the future.  In fact, even without modern anthropology, they should have known from actual accounts that small-scale societies are about as peaceful and orderly as our own. 

These dark views come from traditional folk wisdom, which incorporates a good deal of cynicism based on the common observation of people hurting themselves to hurt others more.  A worldwide folktale tells of a man who is granted one wish (by an angel, godmother, or other being) but on the condition that his neighbor will get twice what he gets; if the man wishes for a thousand dollars, his neighbor gets two thousand.  The man thinks for a while, then says “Make me blind in one eye!” 

            Machiavelli, Hobbes, Freud, and their countless followers assumed that society will force people to act decently through powerful discipline.  This is impossible.  One cannot make mountain lions form social contracts, or teach crocodiles to cooperate.  An animal that is naturally individualist, each animal competing with others, cannot create a society capable of enforcing rules.  Joseph Henrich (2016), among many others, has pointed out that only an animal with cumulative culture, natural sociability, and an innate tendency to cooperate could have social norms and expect conformity to them.  Hobbes, Freud, and others expected far too much of human rationality.  Rationality is notoriously unable to restrain emotion.  Ask any teenager, or parent of one. 

            A serious cost of the Hobbesian view is that by assuming people are worse than they are, Hobbesians excuse their own tendencies to act worse than they otherwise would.  Hobbesian views have always been popular with hatemongers.

            The other classical and mistaken view of humanity is the rational self-interest view.  The briefest look at humanity instantly dispels that.  People do not act in their self-interest, and rarely act rationally in that restricted sense (see e.g. Kahneman 2011).   The “irrational” heuristics that people use can be highly useful as shortcuts, creating mental efficiency (Gigerenzer 2007; Gigerenzer et al. 1999), but they constantly cause trouble when cool reason is needed.  Human limits to rationality are now so well documented that they need no further notice here. 

            The rationalist view is a far more positive view of humanity than Hobbes’ or Freud’s.  It does not give much space to evil; evil would occur only when it really pays in material terms, which is not often.  Unfortunately, irrational evil appears much commoner in the real world.  Tyrants may often die in bed, but they often do not.  Suicide bombers and other front-line fighters for the wrong are obviously not advancing their rational self-interest.  Straightforward shortsighted but “rational” calculation does explain some bad acting, but does not explain people going far out of their way to be hateful and cruel, or the common human tendency to resist improving themselves and their surroundings.  Over the 5000 years of recorded history, countless people around the world have chosen, over and over, to suffer and work and make themselves miserable simply to hurt others.  Technology has often developed for war.  Rational choice could be believed as a general motive only because hate, vengefulness, overreaction to slights, and irrational hate of nature are so universal that they are not even noticed, or are considered “rational.” 

             The contrasting view also goes back to the ancient Greeks, who wrote of human abilities to love, cooperate, and found democracies.  Christianity later built on a view that people could love each other; the line “love thy neighbor as thyself” goes back to Moses.  However, few could see humanity as innately good, or believe in virtuous utopias.  There were always a few, but on the whole belief in a “noble savage” view is largely a straw man.  Rousseau did not believe any such thing (the phrase actually comes from John Dryden), nor do most of the others accused of having it.  In so far as it is taken seriously, it does not survive the many accounts of war in small-scale societies.  Even relatively “noble”-believing sources (e.g. Fry 2013) cannot gloss over the frequency of killing in almost all societies.

            A more realistic, but still dubious, take on humans comes from the Zoroastrian-Manichaean tradition.  This tradition sees correctly that people are a mix of well-meaning, helpful, prosocial good and cruel, brutal evil.  It further holds, less believably, that the good comes from the immaterial “spirit” realm, evil from the flesh.  This view, which entered Christianity with St. Paul (see his Letter to the Romans), lies behind the extreme Puritanism of much of western society—the view that sees sex, good food, good wine, and dancing as Sins with a capital S.  Everything of the flesh tends toward corruption.  Good sex is the door to hell.  “The fiddle is the devil’s riding horse,” according to an old American saying.  I was raised in a time and place when this view was widespread.  The social revolution of the 1960s cut it back sharply, but it keeps resurfacing.   Yet, a great deal of human good comes via those “sins.”  Condemning these is regularly used to distract people from the real sins: cruelty, oppression, gratuitous harm, selfish greed, hatred.

            A deeper problem with the Manichaean view is that people are usually neither saintly nor demonic.  They are just trying to make a living and then get some rest and relaxation.  Their forays into proactive goodness or proactive evil are extensions from ordinary low-profile getting along.             This leaves us with the Native American folktale: the two wolves, like the “good and bad angels” that folk Christianity took over from Manichaean belief, are symbols of the prosocial and hostile sides of humanity, of working with people versus working against them.

In this sense, people are not bad or good; they are good to kin and culturally constructed fictive kin, bad to rivals, and neutral to everyone else.  There is a very slight positive bias, enough to have saved the human race so far.  But people will kill vast numbers of distant strangers without thinking much about it, as King Leopold of Belgium did—indirectly—in the Congo.

In general, people are far better than the savages of Hobbes and Freud, but not as good as idealists or rationalists assume.  The hopeful dreams of “positive psychology” and “humanistic psychology” have turned to dust.   Ordinary everyday human life is full of minor slights and disrespects, and of misfortunes interpreted as personal attacks when they were not meant as such.  It is also full of minor kindnesses and helpful moves.  From this constant low-level evil and good, it is easy to move suddenly and unexpectedly to much greater evil or good. We are always poised near the edge of flipping into violence or heroism.  Everyday hurt and disrespect can be exploited by evil leaders who whip up hate and deploy it against their victims—usually the weak.  Everyday good and care can be stimulated by situations or by moral suasion, and people can be heroic. Often the contrast is between “realism”—the cynical realism of evildoers—and hope, often the unrealistic idealism of the best. People must often choose the ideals or be lost to the cynics.

            At worst, intergroup competition leads to cruelty, viciousness, nastiness, greed (here defined, recall, as hurting others by taking their goods for oneself, without fairly compensating them), and other vices.  We are still not sure how much these are inborn tendencies—like minimal morality—and how much they are learned.  Most authorities think they are learned.  Others concentrate on the learned aspects.  However, broad capacities to fight, hate, and destroy are clearly innate in all higher animals.  Humans seem to have more of these innate cruel tendencies than do other animals, at least as far as “proactive” violence goes.  But real wolves—as opposed to the ones inside us—have their own fights; normally peaceful and calm, they erupt into violence when a new wolf threatens an established pack, or when a bear or human or other enemy attacks (Clutton-Brock 2016).  Dogs, domesticated descendants of wolves, still engage in “resource guarding”; an otherwise peaceful dog, especially if leashed, will attack anyone that seems to menace its owner.  We are a predatory mammal; we can be expected to act accordingly.

            We are gifted by our mammalian heritage with the ability to love, care, fear, hate, and fight.  These we share with all higher mammals.  We are also gifted with the uniquely human ability to form complex, diverse social and cultural systems that construct care, fear, aggression, and other natural drives in ways that can amplify both good and evil out of all bounds.

            People are abjectly dependent on their societies.  We live in stark terror of rejection and ostracism.  They therefore overreact, negatively, to any challenge to their social standing.  Therein lies the problem of the human condition.

2. Evolution?

            Any animal must divide its attention between avoiding threat and getting necessities of life.  Thus, all animals have a fight-flight-freeze response repertoire for dealing with the former, and ways of dealing with the latter to obtain food, shelter, territory, reproduction, and other needs with minimum danger.  They may be jealously protective of mates and homes.  Animals compete for these, and social animals compete for place in the group.  Humans, with far more complex social lives than other animals, add socially constructed identifications with groups, their basic principles, and their identifying flags (from skin color to religious beliefs). 

Overreaction to threat is selected for; thinking a poisonous snake is a rope is far less adaptive than thinking a rope is a snake (to use the classic Indian example).  Failure to find food in a day means a better hunt tomorrow, but failure to identify a deadly threat means no tomorrow ever again, for oneself and often for one’s genetic investment in young.  Even plants react with fear; a chainsaw can end in a few minutes a few centuries of investment in growth.  

This is the ultimate biological substrate of human reactions, including the human tendency to overreact to perceived (and even imagined) threat.   Humans seem about half dedicated to crushing opposition, from criticism to competition, and half dedicated to peacefully obtaining what they need and wish.  Feedback in perceived threat—deadly spirals—is made probable by the need to react to even mild threat as potentially serious.  Contingent variation in personal, situational, and cultural factors prevents better prediction than a rough 50-50.

It is now well established that humans are innately “moral,” in the sense that they have natural predispositions to fairness, generosity, tolerance, welcoming, acceptance, sociability, friendliness, and other social goods.  (There is now a huge literature on this; see e.g. De Waal 1996; Bowles and Gintis 2011; Henrich 2016; Tomasello 2016, 2019.)  It is basically a rediscovery of what Mencius knew in the 4th century BCE.  People are naturally interested in the world and the other people in it.  More neutral are anger at real harms, and desire to satisfy basic wants, including a desire for pleasure and beauty.  Bad traits that appear universal, but possibly not inborn, include hatred of nonconformists and structural opponents, a tendency to grab desired stuff from others, a tendency to resent real or imagined slights, and above all weak fear. 

Excessive need for control is notably a part of the picture, especially in intersex violence.  In many species of mammals, will kill other males and even their own female companions to maintain it (Clutton-Brock 2016: Heid 2019 for applications to humans).  Intraspecific aggression and violence are universal in higher animals, highly structured, and shaped by evolution (Clutton-Brock 2016). Even meerkats, regarded by many humans as particularly cute, are murderous to rival groups; females will hunt out and kill pups of neighboring packs (Clutton-Brock 2016:303). The rapid transition from harmony, empathy, playfulness, and cooperation to cold-blooded murder of weaker “others” is not confined to humans, or even to large predators like wolves.

A few recent writers have made important contributions to the study of human nature as producing good (prosociality and cooperation) and evil.  Two stand out in particular for very recent work: Michael Tomasello and Richard Wrangham.

Michael Tomasello, in A Natural History of Human Morality, postulates that morals evolved in three steps.  First came natural sympathy, developed from the loving emotions that all higher mammals feel for their mothers and siblings; these are extended to other kin and ultimately to any close associate, in human society.  Infants display this from birth.  Second, as humans evolved cooperative hunting and foraging, they learned to respect, help, share with, and support their partners.  Apes do not do this; they may co-hunt but they do not share or cooperate more than minimally.  Wolves and meerkats do, however.  Third, and uniquely human, all social groups have cultural moral repertoires.  They have long lists of “oughts,” almost always said to be divinely sanctioned. 

Tomasello follows almost everyone in arguing that the human tendency to cooperate evolved in foraging.  Cooperative animals could hunt big game, find isolated honey trees and share the news, and work together to catch fish.  A bit of evidence he misses is the parallel with wolves.  Canids scaled up from fox-like animals to hunt big game.  However, their need to run fast denied them the chance to develop the formidable claws that allow cats to be solitary hunters of big animals.  Wolves thus learned to cooperate to chase and bring down large animals.  This skill is seen today in the incredible skills of herding dogs at coordinating their efforts.  They not only have to know exactly what each other dog is thinking and planning; they have to put themselves in the positions of the humans and the sheep.  I once watched two shepherds and some muttish sheepdogs negotiate a herd of sheep through a difficult traffic intersection in the Pyrennees.  The shepherds did almost nothing; the dogs had to work together, trusting each other to keep order in a deadly environment, while understanding what the shepherds wanted and what the sheep would do.  They managed this three-species balancing act perfectly. 

A good Kantian, Tomasello looks to abstract rules founded on basic principles of cooperation and mutualism.  Tomasello is fond of citing Christine Korsgaard for this approach, and she does indeed argue powerfully for the Kantian view (Korsgaard 1996).  Kantian “deontological” ethics deduce rules from basic principles.  In contrast, utilitarian “assertoric” ethics hold that ethics are practical solutions to everyday problems (see e.g. Brandt 1979).  It is fairly clear, ethnologically, that both these methods of creating moral rules happen in the real world, and every culture has a mix of high abstractions and pragmatic rules-of-thumb.  Moral philosophers tend to emphasize one or the other.

No other animals have anything remotely like cultural rules that regulate whole large groups that are not only not face-to-face but many involve millions of people who never meet at all.  As Tomasello points out, children raised in human families learn these rules very early, but family pets do not (Tomasello 2016:154, 2019; pets do learn to act differently in different cultures, but only through simple training).  Tomasello admits that he emphasizes conformity and cooperation and that people are frequently immoral (Tomasello 2016:161), but does not take into account the actual alternatives within moral systems that allow people to murder each other for purely moral reasons, from Aztec human sacrifice to capital punishment.  In a later publication (Tomasello 2018) he admits that conflict must have had something to do with shaping human moralities.  Tomasello’s Rousseauian view keeps him from addressing hatred, but one can assume, from his work, that nonhuman animals can’t really hate; it takes too much long-view and abstraction.

Tomasello sharply contrasts apes and human infants.  Even before they can talk, human infants show a vibrant sociability more complex than chimpanzees.  By the time they are three, children have reached not only a level of social sensitivity that outdoes the ape; they also can thnk morally, reason according to what they see others doing and thinking, and react on the basis of knowing that others will expect moral or conventional or socially appropriate responses.  Apes barely do anything like this; they show awareness of others’ thoughts and fear of punishment and domination, but they do not understand abstract social rules.  By the age of six, human children are rational, reasonable beings who know how to apply the moral and pragmatic rules of their cultures (Tomasello 2019).  

In fact, going Tomasello one better, those of us who have raised children in other cultural settings are aware that children know by three that there are other sets of social rules, and by six they are masters of language-shifting, rule-shifting, and norm-shifting depending on what group they are with.  It was almost spooky to watch my young children quickly learn that a mass of undifferentiated words must be separated into “Chinese” (tonal, rhythmic, spoken with those outside the family) and “English” (a very different-sounding language used with the family and a few friends). 

Tomasello continues to see humans as basically cooperative, helpful, generous, and moral (according to their societies’ codes, but never normalizing hurt or cruelty).  They show astonishing levels of fairness by three years of age, in contrast to apes, who simply grab anything they want from weaker apes.   He has plenty of evidence, and has shown that such virtues are universal among children.  However, much of his sample derives from child-care centers in college towns, and this gives it a rather irenic balance.  We who grew up in what my wife calls “the real world” are aware of less harmonious child environments.  They force children to choose right from the start between the two wolves.

            Recently, Richard Wrangham has brought this issue to the foreground in his book The Goodness Paradox (2019).  He contrasts reactive aggression—ordinary anger and rage leading to violence—with proactive aggression, which evidently started out as hunting, but was retooled far back in our evolution to become planned, deliberate, often cool-headed violence.  Compared to other primates, humans have much less reactive violence.  We are far less violent than chimpanzees, in particular.  Even the peaceable bonobos rival us.  On the other hand, we display far more proactive violence—our raids, wars, genocides, organized crimes, and the like are at least planned and premeditated, at worst truly cold-blooded rather than passionate. 

He then questions how we could have evolved to do this.  His answer lies in our ability to cooperate to take down excessively violent individuals.  Even chimpanzees do this to some extent.  Humans do it quite generally.  Anyone reading old ethnographies and accounts is aware of the extreme frequency of stories of a psychopathic or hyperaggressive man (it is almost always a man) being quietly eliminated.  Often, four men will go out hunting, three will return, and no questions are asked.  Wrangham follows Christopher Boehm (1999) in seeing this sort of take-down of a dominant or domineering individual as basic to traditional societies.

Wrangham hypothesizes that this happened enough to influence human evolution.  It selected against reactive aggression, but selected for proactive aggression.  Other factors, such as the needs of foraging and food preparation, selected for cooperation.  Once cooperation was established and used in proactive aggression, it was available to allow a group to devastate the neighboring group that shows less solidarity in war. 

This theory is neat, consistent, and plausible, but there is no real evidence for it.  No one has counted the number of males eliminated by cooperative execution.  Moreover, Wrangham weakens his argument by showing that cooperative execution is very often—perhaps usually—invoked against nonconformists, often meek and innocent ones, rather than against bullies and psychopaths.  In fact, it appears from the accounts that bullies and psychopaths very often invoke the violence themselves, and execute the weak—especially weak potential competitors.  This would select for violence, not against it.  It seems that we will have to get better data, and to explore other possibilities.

In any case, Wrangham seems to have at least some of the story.  Truly inborn is a strong tendency to form coalitions that act against each other and, in the end, against everyone’s best interests.  Samuel Bowles and others have explained this as developing in feedback with solidarity in war.  Those who stand together prevail, wipe out the less cooperative enemy groups, and leave more descendants (Bowles 2006, 2008, 2009; Boyer 2018; Choi and Bowles 2007).  This is known as “parochial altruism.”  Individuals may not be locked in “warre of each against all,” but groups very often are.  Richared Wrangham (2019:133-134) dismisses this, finding too little evidence of self-sacrifice for the group or large-scale pitched battles in hunter-gatherer warfare.  This is not exactly relevant.  The only requirement is for groups to be solidary and mutually supportive; individuals do not have to go out of their way to sacrifice themselves.  Moreover, Wrangham has not adequately covered the literature.  There is much evidence for large-scale raiding, small but bloody battles, and defensive aggression among hunter-gatherers (see e.g. Keeley 1996; Turney-High 1949).  Serious and dangerous war is found in all the well-studied sizable nonagricultural groups, such as the Northwest Coast, Plains, and California Native peoples.  Wrangham was apparently misled by his focus on tiny hunter-gatherer bands that do not have the manpower to support large wars.

A different view is provided by Samantha Lang and Blaine Flowers (2019).  They begin from the other extreme: the phenomenon of individuals caring for others who have terminal dementia and thus can never pay back any debts (material or psychological) to their caregivers.  The vast majority of such caregiving is within the family—60.5% from children, 18% from spouses, most of the rest from other relatives—but even this is “irrational” in economic terms, and even in biological terms, since it costs the caregivers and prevents them from investing more in their children.  Moreover, the residual 5% of care is often given by devoted volunteers, who simply want to help others.  They note that all this can simply be seen as an “exaptation” from inclusive fitness—if we are selected to care for kin, we have to care for all kin—but also note that no nonhuman animal is known to do this (though there are some anecdotal records of group-living predators supporting disabled members).

Yet another view comes from work of Oliver Curry, Daniel Mullins, and Harvey Whitehouse (2019).  They hold that people evolved through cooperation, and that cooperation was then constructed as morality.  In their “morality-as-cooperation” theory, there are seven basic values:  “Allocation of resources to kin (family values)…, coordination to mutual advantage (group loyalty)…, social exchange (reciprocity)…, contests between hawks (bravery) and doves (respect) [that is two things]…, division (fairness)…, possession (property rights).”   These they break down into a list of specific values that are very widely held; for instance, family values start with “being a loving mother, being a protective father, helping a brother, caring for a frail relative,” (Curry et al. 2019:54).  They look at 60 societies around the world, finding all that are well reported have some form of all these, except for fairness, which is spottily attested.

To a biologist, the only reasonable explanation is that selection originally operated as it does in all higher animals, through inclusive fitness:  mutual care is deployed among families to maximize genetic success over time.  This then can be extended along ever-wider kinship lines, and to increase in scope to include in-marrying spouses (typically women, in traditional human societies, though in many agricultural societies it is the men that move).  Then further increase of scope takes in whole communities, perhaps via in-laws and distant cousins.  The defining moment (or long period) in the history of humanity was when we extended kinship to include culturally constructed relatives.  This in turn derives, at least in critical part, from the need to marry out—not only to prevent inbreeding but to build solidarity with neighbor groups. 

By this time—the time in the past when kinship extended so widely—the link with genetics is essentially lost.  The huge groups characteristic of modern human societies can form.  We can freely adopt strangers’ children, marry people from other countries, and devote our lives to helping humanity.  However, perhaps the most universally known social fact is that we continue to privilege close family members, and to build solidarity by self-consciously using family terms: Bands of brothers, church fathers and mothers, sisterhoods, fellow children of Adam and Eve.  A very widely known proverb (I have heard and seen it in countless forms) summarizes the normal human strategic condition: “I against my brother; my brother and I against our cousin; my cousin, brother, and I against our village; and our village against the world!”  The closer we are to others, the more solidary we feel with them.  Aggregating along kinship lines allowed Genghis Khan and his followers to build world-conquering armies by widely extending kin claims and tolerance of difference.  On the other hand, the closer we are to others, the more they can hurt and anger us.  They are around us more, and we are psychologically involved with them.  Their opinions matter, and their help is necessary.

            Solidarity in the face of attack by an enemy group is a human norm.  It is probably an evolved behavior, selected for by that situation occurring frequently over the millions of years.  Samuel Bowles (2006, 2008) held that it came from the tendency of larger groups to kill out smaller ones.  Since these groups had cores of relatives, kin selection operated, and gradually wider and wider circles of kin would be solidary, as people evolved or learned the ability to demand loyalty, detect disloyal members, and punish them.  By that model, violence against outgroups would have evolved along with detection and punishment of nonreciprocity within groups.  So long as it is actual defense against an attacking enemy, group loyalty in violent confrontation is a matter of necessity. 

            Most groups are peaceful internally but often at war with neighbors.  These are impossible to explain from old, simplistic models of human behavior.  How could Hobbesian savages or Freudian ids differentiate so cleanly?  How could virtuous “noble savages” be so bloody to their neighbors?  The only view of humanity that allows it is one in which humans are usually living ordinary low-key lives, but can easily be motivated to support their group in conflict, and somewhat less easily motivated to be peaceful and proactively helpful. 

            This makes evolutionary sense.  Groups need to exchange mates, to avoid inbreeding.  This means that selection cannot totally favor one’s own genetic investment all the time.  In fact, there is a paradox: one can maximize one’s own genetic advantage only by having children with a genetically quite different mate.  The classic arguments for genetic determination of selfishness all founder on this rock.  On the other hand, groups also compete for scarce resources, such as hunting grounds.  If there is enough food, larger groups will outcompete smaller ones, and will also have enough genetic diversity within themselves to allow endogamy.  The ideal group size seems to be around 50-100, which, in fact, is the size of the usual human face-to-face group (Dunbar 2010).  Such groups tend to be parts of larger associations, typically around 500, a figure consistent from the number of speakers of a given language in hunting-gathering societies to the number of Facebook friends that a moderately sociable person has; very often, the groups of 50 are exogamous, but the groups of 500 are largely endogamous (Dunbar 2010). 

            In modern societies, groups cross-cut each other, and an individual may have one reference group that is “neighbors,” another for “workmates,” another for “religious congregation,” another for “hobby,” and so on.  This makes it possible to shift groups and loyalties, a point highly relevant to genocide, where an individual can suddenly change from highlighting “neighbors” to highlighting “ethnicity” and killing such neighbors as are suddenly shifted from one to the other.  Such individuals often shift back after the genocide.  This is notably attested for Rwanda (see e.g. Nyseth Brehm 2017a, 2017b).

            Recently, Mauricio González-Forero and Andy Gardner (2018) set out to test what model fit best with what we know of the evolution of the human brain, which more than tripled in size in a mere 2 million years—incredible speed for the evolution of a basic organ.  These authors needed to take into account the origin and dispersal of humans from east Africa between 150,000 and 70,000 years ago.  Their enterprise was highly speculative, involving assumptions that may be wrong, but at least they had considerable data on the genetics, dispersal rates, and behavior of the humans in question.  They conclude that conflictual models of human evolution are not supported.  Conflict is too costly.  Animals that fight all the time would not develop large brains—in fact, they probably would not survive at all.  Human conflicts are indeed costly, reducing cooperation even against the others (Aalerding et al. 2018; see also De Dreu et al. 2016). 

            Simple sociability as a cause of complex behavior is even less well supported.  They found that highly social animals generally have smaller brains than closely related, less social species.  Care substitutes for thinking.  They conclude that only ecology can account for it.  A positive feedback loop exists between finding more and better food and having a bigger, better brain.  More brain enables us to find, select, and prepare highly nutritious food.  Humans have adapted increasingly over time to seek out rich patches of good food. 

            Graeber and Wengrow (2018) hold that humans probably evolved in larger and more complex groups than usually thought, and that problems of equality and conflict are endemic to such groups, which then develop ways to cope.  Such coping may be successful or may not be.   As I have pointed out (Anderson 2014), an animal that can find rich patches of food can support a large group.  Best of all, we can talk, and thus tell the group that there is a dead mammoth behind the red hill, or a lion in wait beyond the stream.

            González-Forero and Gardner have not explained how humans became so violent.  The obvious answer, avoiding the high costs of conflict, is that humans evolved to move rapidly into new habitats, displacing smaller groups they found in the way.  The resulting gains would outweigh the costs of conflict.  This has happened countless times in history; it surely happened countless times in prehistory.  Human hatred of opponent groups and disregard for nature must come in part from predatory expansion.

            People also have rather poor innate controls on killing off their food supply.  Most human groups have learned how to manage sustainably, but they often overshoot, and in any case the learning was originally done the hard way, if local myths and stories are any guide.  Traditional peoples usually have tales of overhunting and then starving.  Children are told such stories with the morals clearly spelled out.

            The nearest to a common thread in the evolution of human badness is “my group and I at the expense of others.”  One’s group usually comes first.  Cross-cutting and nested allegiances make groupiness problematic, however, affording hope for more solidarity.

The imperative human need for society—without which we cannot normally survive—makes ostracism and rejection the most frightening of possibilities.   People become defensive at the slightest hint of it.  Antagonism, aggression, and stark fear result.  Anger and insecurity lead to defensiveness and sour moods.

3. Human Variation

All humans must satisfy basic physiological needs, including genuine physical needs for security, control of our lives, and sociability.  Beyond that, people are highly variable.  They vary along the now-classic five dimensions of personality—extraversion, openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and neurosis—from total introverts to total extraverts, from rigid closure to expansive risk-taking, and so on.   Some of this is known to be highly heritable.  Much is caused by culture and environment.  Early trauma actually changes gene activity (epigenetics).  Even gut microbiota are credited for affecting behavior.

From what has been said above, one would expect the most relevant variation to be in weakness, insecurity, and tendency to anger, and that is what we find.  The combination makes people defensive.  They become the people who “have a chip on their shoulder” and “have an attitude.”  Being weak and insecure makes one highly reactive to threat or harm, and apt to be passive-aggressive about it.  Being insecure and angry leads to the barroom brawler and similar folk characters.  Being weak, insecure, and angry, whether dispositionally or situationally, leads to overreaction: escalation of defensive behavior, often to violence. Note that “situationally”; individuals can be very different at different levels of threat and harm.  Yet disposition always matters.  Some people have enough strength of character to stay unbroken in tyrants’ prisons.  At the other extreme, the tyrants themselves are often living proof that a weak, insecure, hostile person who has assumed total power will still be weak, insecure, and hostile.

Beyond that, whether they are violent are not depends on what they have learned—culturally, socially, and personally.  Individuals violently abused in childhood very often become violent adults.  Mass murderers and major bullies are virtually 100% certain to have been abused physically (see Batson 2011; Baumeister 1997; Zaki 2019; and other sources on the good).  Similarly, cultures constructed by people who have long been weak, insecure and subject to abuse (and thus anger) naturally put a high value on defensiveness and “honor.”  Such is the history of the border-warrior cultures at the fringes of old and oppressive civilizations, of oppressed subcultures within dominant cultures, and of subcultures of anomie and alienation. 

Conversely, the more people are self-confident, secure, and self-controlled, whether dispositionally or situationally, they can damp down responses to challenge, and react rationally and coolly.  The human average seems to be toward the more weak, insecure, and angry end, if only because we all start that way as infants.  Self-efficacy (Bandura 1982) must be learned and developed. 

Competitive distinction is challenged easily, and social disrespect and slighting become pretexts for revenge up to and including deadly force.  Anti-intellectualism follows when people insecure about their own lack of self-improvement and education are rendered really uncomfortable about it, either by direct insults or by seeing better-qualified but “inferior” people rise.  Much of America’s all too well-known anti-intellectualism and anti-“elitism” comes from people in dominant groups who see people from less prestigious groups moving up the educational and cultural ladders.

Deviation from the mythical-average person described above occurs because of cultural and social teachings, specific insecurities, general perceived level of threat, and personality traits such as openness, conscientiousness, and agreeableness.  More specific learned themes, such as how to show anger, how to be violent, and whom to hate, then come in as the final stage of shaping the bad and good wolves.  

            A few resist the pressures to kill during mass genocides.  They have strong internal controls on aggression.  Others are less constantly moral, but most humans have a great deal of innate empathy—abilities to feel others’ emotions and sensations, understand them, and act accordingly (Denworth 2017).

            Some few, on the other hand, seem genuinely evil.  They seem almost incapable of acting without harming someone.  These are generally called sociopaths or psychopaths:  people who appear to have been born without a moral compass and without a way of acquiring one.  Others seem moral enough most of the time but apt to lapse into uncontrollable violence.  These are not insensitive individuals.  Unlike autistic people, who are usually well-meaning despite lack of social abilities, psychopaths and hyperaggressive persons often seem to have preternatural social skills.  “A person with autism spectrum disorder has little ability to assume the perspective of someone else.  Psychopaths, on the other hand, understand what others are feeling but have a profound lack of empathetic concern” (Denworth 2017:61; cf. Baskin-Sommers et al. 2016).  They may have anomalies in neural connections in the brain.  Serious killers may be far more troubled than ordinary psychopaths.  The one mass murderer I have known was both mentally deficient and severely disturbed.  By contrast, people I have known who killed in war were perfectly normal.  They were also traumatized by the experience. 

            Sociopaths seem residents of a different world.  They lie without a second thought, and, even when it clearly is against their better judgment, they seem to prefer dealing treacherously and unfairly with others.  Ordinary rational self-interest simply does not work for them.  I have known several who regularly wrecked their lives by wholly gratuitous betrayal.  They simply could not understand why betraying others brought outrage. On the other hand, one of the sociopaths I knew was a prominent politician, and—though rather notorious—has never been singled out as being worse than many colleagues. 

            Psychopaths and sociopaths are, in fact, notoriously successful in business and politics.  Published descriptions of genociders make many of them seem psychopathic, but tests are obviously lacking. 

            There are also extremely aggressive individuals, sadists, and others who verge on psychopathy; most have a background of brutal abuse in childhood, by parents and peers, or of major trauma.  Some may simply be “born that way,” others appear made by environment; a harsh, hostile, critical environment worsens all.  

            Mass shooters are so common in the United States that profiles of them have been assembled by researchers.  The shooters are very often white supremacists targeting ethnic minorities (Cai et al. 2019).  Jillian Peterson and James Denaley (2019) report a more specific set of findings: “First, the vast majority of mass shooters in our study experienced trauma and exposure to violence at a young age.  The…exposure included parental suicide, physical or sexual abuse, neglect, domestic violence and/or severe bullying….Second, practically every mass shooter…had reached an identifiable crisis point in the weeks or months leading up to the shooting.”  This included things like job loss and relationship failure (often, I take it, related to progressive alienation of the shooter).  Third, most of the shooters had studied the actions of other shooters”—they were diligent students.  “Fourth, the shooters all had the means to carry out their plans.”  They could get guns, including illegal guns, though most simply bought guns at the store or used ones already in the home.  “Most mass public shooters are suicidal, and their crises are often well known ot others before the shooting occurs.  The vast majoirty of shooters leak their plans” but are not taken seriously, nor are they reported to authorities. 

            Most people, however, are peaceable, empathetic, and reasonable most of the time.  We can arbitrarily guess that at most 10% of humanity are deeply evil—not always acting badly, but doing evil on a regular enough basis to produce serious net harm to their communities.  This 10% figure is supported by crime rates, vote totals for extremist candidates, and common experience.  Others show social dominance orientation (see e.g. Altemeyer 2010; Guimond et al. 2013), looking favorably on high levels of social and economic inequality in society and to patriarchal social organization.  Dominance is not a human need, but certainly is a widespread want, and the simple desire for it is a major source of evil.  Most mammals have dominance hierarchies.  Humans are notably lacking in innate tendencies in that direction (Boehm 1999), but very often develop them anyway, especially via top-down hierarchic systems.

            These dubious actors can be balanced by the best 10% or so:  the individuals who never say an unkind word, are unfailingly sensitive and considerate, give gifts and donations freely and save little for themselves, and devote their lives to careers in healing, teaching, charity, and aid.  The sad evidence of the genocide literature suggests that even such people can be corrupted, though only with difficulty.  The reasons for such variation in mentality are partly unknown, partly developmental.  The latter shall be discussed below.

            The other 80% (approximately) of us are the people within whom the two wolves constantly compete.  Common experience suggests that there is a straight and unbroken continuum from the most evil through the bloody-minded to ordinary middling souls, and then to the 10% who are near sainthood.   There are continua from acceptance to rejection of groups, from positive to negative-sum gaming, from laudable ambition to power-madness, from necessary defense against enemies to defensiveness based on cowardly fear.  It is hard to cut these continua. 

Defensiveness attenuates as it moves up toward actual strength and reasonableness, the cures.  It also attenuates if people collapse into total fear.  It moves outward to callousness and then thoughtlessness.  The core mood is more or less that of a child’s temper tantrum:  a mix of violently negative emotions from which fear, anger, and rage slowly differentiate as the child grows or as the adult gets better control.

            The common ground is simple: wanting social and economic security, especially in social acceptance and position.  What matters is how rationally and cooperatively one seeks to satisfy those wants.

            One might think of a continuum from a clearly demented psychopath (like Mexico’s drug-gang leaders) to an ordinary criminal gangster, then to a schoolyard bully grown up to be a spouse abuser, then to an ordinary person who grumbles and scolds and occasionally fights but rarely harms anyone, and then onward to a basically good and honorable soul who loses her temper on frequent occasions but does no worse than that, and finally to a truly virtuous individual—say, the leader of a charitable medical group.  I have observed this continuum everywhere I have been, and through literature and psychological studies we can be sure it is essentially universal.  People everywhere range from very bad to very good, as they range from passive to active and from weak to strong (the classic three dimensions of agentive evaluation; Osgood et al. 1957). 

            Common experience also teaches that those of us in the 80% tend to weasel good and bad.  We drive too fast.  We eat at cafes that underpay their staff.  We take advantage of cheap deals when we know there is some dirty game on.  We skimp on public commitments.  We spend too much time giving nibbles to the bad wolf while trying to serve the good one.  We shirk, laze, dodge responsibilities, and commit the “deadly sin” of sloth.  We are, in short, frail and fallible humans—and require strong social standards backed up by law to keep us on the straight and narrow path (as discussed at length in Henrich 2016).  Religious and moral ideals must be enforced by social conventions.  Most of us have experienced life in communities where traffic laws were laxly enforced, and have seen ordinary “good” people slip into more and more dangerous driving until accidents make the police take better note. 

Allow that people are, on average, 50% good and 50% bad.  (Again, these are guesses.  We have no real measures.)   The worst 10% can win by mobilizing the 40% who are worse than average but not totally evil, and then getting enough of the relatively good to make a majority.  In fact, Hitler was elected with a bare plurality, not a majority, and the same is true of many elected evil leaders.  Trump was elected by 25.7% of the voting public, with almost half of registered voters not bothering to vote at all.

Half good, half bad predicts the institutions we see in societies: they are meant to preserve the good, and to redirect the bad to fighting “the enemy” rather than the rest of us.  And they never work perfectly.

            People vary from best to worst along several dimensions.  The most important of these from the point of view of explaining evil are agreeableness vs. hostility, tolerance vs. hatred, peacefulness vs. violent aggression, help vs. gratuitous harm, reasonable vs. unreasonable, open-minded vs. closed, and charity vs. greed.  Behind these are deeper continua: Individual to group; weak to strong; attacking weak to attacking strong; courageous to cowardly; greed to defensiveness; rational to irrational.  People can hate those richer and more powerful, or—more usually—the weaker.  They can be cold and callous or savagely furious.

All these are related.  All are consistent with the “Big Five” and “Hexaco” personality theories.  The Big Five personality dimensions—extraversion, openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and neuroticness—are predictive: individuals low on agreeableness and high in neuroticness are more apt to do evil than those who are the reverse.  People very low in openness become conservatives, and thus often involved in fascism; those very high in openness may become left-wing rebels.  There are, however, good or evil persons who are at the best or at the worst ends on many or all measures.  Social pressures as well as personality are determinative.  The Big Five (or Six) do not directly predict levels of violence, aggression, competitiveness, or hatred.  Genocide and other extreme mass-level evils come from hatred, so it must be considered the worst of the lot, and though it is probably commoner among the less agreeable and more neurotic it is well distributed over the human species.  Degree of scapegoating, and targets of scapegoating, are also hard to predict from basic personality factors; they are social matters, largely learned, though the tendency to scapegoat others seems part of human nature.

            Greed is often regarded in the US as the worst of sins, a belief going back to Paul on love of money.  However, selfish greed succeeds in mass politics only when it marshals support through whipping up hate.  The few rich must have the support of millions of less affluent; these can be persuaded to act and vote against their self-interest only by making them sacrifice their own self-interest out of intemperate hate.  We have seen this in every genocidal campaign in history, as well as in almost all wars, and many political and religious movements.

            Moreover, greed is often a social hatred issue; it is not really about material wealth, but about rivalry for power—for control of people and resources.  The normal expectation if one wants a material item (for itself) is to cooperate with others to work for it, or at least to work for others in a peaceful setting.  Smash-and-grab is not the normal or widely approved way to get goods.  Neither is crime, ordinary or white-collar.  The rich who desire endless wealth are not after wealth; they are after social position and social adulation. 

            Really extreme, high-emotion evil thus usually comes from social hatreds—whether due to psychosis, greed for position, “honor,” extreme defensiveness, extreme need to control others, extreme sensitivity to slights, or—most common and deadly of all—displacing hatreds and aggressions onto weaker people or onto defenseless nature. When not feeding from those troughs, the bad wolf tends to go to sleep, leaving the field to the good wolf.

            In other words, people will kill in competition for goods, but more usually negotiate; they kill for land in wars, but tend to negotiate there too.  They kill in competition for power, which is more dangerous since positions of power are necessarily limited.  Above all, they kill for reasons of social standing and honor.

            Genocidal killing goes further: it is usually focused on religion or political ideology—givers of fundamental morals and of security.  Where ethnicity is more the source of basic values, ethnicity is the ostensible cause.  A pathological leader, or indeed almost any dictator, will be sure to stress the links, identifications, group memberships, and reference groups that provide the best opportunity for stirring up hatred and violence.  This is the secret to extremist leadership: make the most deadly links the most salient.  Recruiters for jihad, for instance, stress the Islamic, and specifically Wahhabist, identification of people who might otherwise see themselves as French, or Moroccan, or factory workers, or soccer players, or any of the other cross-cutting loyalties we all have.  A genocidal leader will also do best to appeal to a majority that feels itself threatened or downwardly mobile.

            The reasons for violence and evil are, in order, security, power, greed, prestige/standing, and psychopathy (or basic aggressiveness), plus the critical ingredient: violence and/or cruelty as preferred coping strategy.  Anger and hate are the mediators, and hatred is generally defensive.  Even callous bureaupathy has to start with someone who makes a deliberate choice to destroy poor people to give more money to rich people.

Personal factors involved are concerns of power, control, social place, and greed and other wants.  The social and cultural contexts are all-important, telling individuals whom and how much to hate.  The worst individuals seek out each other.  They also seek out the worst cultural and social values and attitudes.  This produces a strong multiplier effect, highly visible in right-wing social movements.  Cowardly defensiveness, gain (not just greed but even routine jobs), power and control needs, and innate aggression levels all play into such attitudes.

            The same individual who is an angel of help and mercy within his or her group can be a formidable soldier, a suicide bomber, or a crazed killer when group defense is involved.  In fact, the same individual can be alternately angel and devil to his or her own significant other, as many stories of domestic violence tell us. 

            Revenge is often the most terrible of motives.  People tend to be at their very worst when thinking they are revenging selves for slights, disrespect, or actual harms.  This is when they cheerfully torture and murder.  Thus all genociders wind up focusing on a story of their group being victimized by the opponent group or groups.  This is absolutely key to understanding genocide and extreme violence.

            Revenge is often for betrayal.  Betrayal is another common response of the human animal to threat and fear.  Suspected betrayal can bring about real violence.  A vicious cycle can be established, as in Shakespeare’s Othello.

            Finally, different forms of violence seem to accompany different personality profiles.  Mass shooters are typically alienated young males, usually right-wing.  Domestic violence is associated with high control need, as noted.  Bullying, as we have seen, is associated with glorification of physical strength and devaluing of intellectual qualities as well as weakness.  Sheer aggressiveness can be a separate personality trait, as can the closely related “oppositional personality disorder.”  Spread over these types are the general qualities of alienation, excessive control need, excessive antagonism, resort to violence as first resort, and brooding or ruminating about real and imagined wrongs.  These are the real foods of the bad wolf—the human qualities that we must address to give the good wolf a chance. 

4. Cultural Variation

            Cultures also vary.  “Culture” is a general term for learned, shared knowledge and behavior within social groups, above the family level.  Cultural knowledge is constructed over time by interaction between group members.  It can change rather fast, as when a particularly violent period such as WWII forces people to confront issues they often try to avoid. 

Since humans will inevitably compete for scarce resources, conflict is inevitable.  All societies know theft, violence, and treachery.  All condemn these and have mechanisms for coping with them.  Especially touchy are issues with affection, social support, and control.  These may or may not really be limited, but people often perceive them so.  Power is particularly problematical, since there is less and less “room at the top” as one ascends a hierarchy.  Conflicts, especially over power and control, tend to escalate, creating fear and stress.  These in turn make people defensive, leading to still more conflict.  We need not be Hobbesian to see that conflict is likely in the human condition. 

This being the case, all cultures include a great deal of shared and often widely-accepted knowledge about anger, violence, conflict, conflict resolution, and other relevant matters (Beals and Siegal 1966).  All cultures include canonical rules for dealing with conflict and violence.  All cultures have storylines and plans about these matters.  All cultures include stories people tell to provide models of how to deal with violent conflict.  Children are raised on stories explaining how to defuse a fight.  Adults go on to Homer’s Iliad, Shakespeare’s history plays, China’s Three Kingdoms Story, Japan’s Tale of the Heike, and on down, from these epic works to the latest Hollywood action movie.  People constantly refer back to these model cases.  Genocide stories, especially the story of Hitler’s Holocaust, have become part of the world’s knowledge pool. 

            Knowledge from one realm is freely adapted to others.  We draw on knowledge of ancient history to understand modern war.  We draw on knowledge of animal conflict to understand the deepest roots of our own.  Drawing with the best judgment on the widest set of data is an ideal to strive for, but biases—often culturally constructed—interfere.  Clearly, changing cultural plans for dealing with violence, dissent, and conflict is basic to understanding such processes (Beals and Siegal 1966).

A pattern broadly visible in eastern Asia is one in which both individuals and societies can flip from extremely peaceful to extremely violent and back to peace.  Chinese dynasties exhibit this pattern: during times of strong government, they were very peaceful and orderly, but in dynastic breakdown periods, violence became universal and appalling.  Japan had similar flips, for example from the rather calm Ashikaga shogunate to the civil wars of the 16th century and then the peaceful and orderly Tokugawa shogunate.  A modern case is Cambodia.  The Cambodians were famously peaceful.  They dropped rapidly back to peaceful behavior after the meltdown in the 1970s that killed some 25% of the population.  Rwandans moved from genocide to peace and order with surprising ease.  Like Cambodians, they are usually gentle and tolerant people, far from the western media stereotypes of “savage tribal Africans.”

            Still other societies have chronic low levels of violence, fluctuating but never very high.  Still others, especially in the Middle East and northern Africa, have fluctuated over time from constant low-level violence to major outbreaks.  Some few, such as the Waorani of South America, are or were almost continually violent.  Clayton and Carole Robarchek studied the Semai of Malaysia, among whom violence is condemned and virtually nonexistent, and then for comparison studied the Waorani, who were rapidly killing themselves out until missionaries persuaded them to be more peaceful (Robarchek 1989; Robarchek and Robarchek 1998).  The societies turned out to be strikingly similar in economy, child-rearing practices, and other behaviors; they differed in that the Semai dealt with conflict by flight and avoidance, the Waorani by almost immediately escalating to violence. 

            Mountainous borderlands tend to be famous for violence.  Think of the Caucasus and the Appalachians.  Fertile plains are more easily pacified, both because farmers have more to lose and because control is easier to exert.  People in any setting may change.  The Scottish borders that were once infamous for violence—immortalized in some of the world’s greatest ballads—are now among the most peaceable places on earth.  We have already noted the example of the Vikings, to say nothing of the now-peaceful Waorani.  When threats from stronger neighbors were constant, and internal problems could not be solved because of constant trouble, these societies were violent.  When security within and without was possible, they pacified.

A different way of looking at society and culture concerns the form of economy.  Overall, rentier societies, especially those with servile labor, produce right-wing politics; ones dominated by secondary and tertiary industries and hopeful workers often produce left-wing activity.  The United States has generally been hopeful, so votes progressive in bad times, but often right-wing in good times, to keep taxes low and industries growing.  The rise of southern-style politics in the United States, and its spread to the northern midwest, tracks the rise of primary production and declining but still powerful heavy industry, and the rise of giant firms vs decline of small ones. 

In short, cultures and societies, like individuals, respond to insecurity by becoming more defensive, and to physical threat by becoming more violent.  With confidence and security—from strength and from secure leadership—they can and will change rapidly in more peaceful directions.  Of course, such facts deal a death blow to the myth of “human nature.”  If Hobbesian devils can convert to Rousseauian angels in a few years, and if whole societies can suddenly become violent and as suddenly stop, where are the primal drives?

Societies must also find ways to deal with the formation of sub-societies with different rules: feuding, mafias, corruption, etc.  Then there are two variables: how well the society can enforce the rules, and how well its members want to.  The rich and powerful are above the law to some extent in most societies, and they may be perfectly happy to let mafias terrorize the general populace.  On the other hand, a society as totally at the mercy of gangs as El Salvador and Honduras are today, or as riven by religious and tribal conflicts as Afghanistan, cannot long survive with a crisis.

            Social differences are often in the cultural construction of bullying, power-jockeying, and hatred.  These can become idealized and culturally taught, via religion and other ideologies.  Nazism is the most obvious and extreme case of a culture constructed from such bases, but it is only the most extreme of many movements.  World religions eventually construct power via hierarchies, initiations, and other institutions.  All cultures construct aggression through ideas about war and defense.  Religion usually includes peace, harmony, and nonviolence among its ideals, but it is also the source of foundational beliefs and foundational morals for many or most societies, and the most important source of security for many believers.  Devout believers who depend on religion for both certainty and security often feel deeply and directly threatened by challenges to their faith.  The same goes for true believers in any comprehensive ideology, from communism to fascism.  Gods are usually either benign or a human-like mix of creative good with all-too-human foibles (like Zeus and Coyote), but all religions also postulate a vast host of evil spirits who mean nothing but harm: demons, devils, bad winds, ghosts, demiurges, and countless more.  These projections of human fear and hate into the supernatural realm fit Durkheim’s view of religion as the collective representation of the community (Durkheim 1995 [1912]); they are the community’s worst—and most often hidden—feelings, displaced outward.

            Many of the cultural groups that committed the worst genocides were famous for their obedience to authority: Cambodians, Rwandans, Chinese, Germans, Indonesians…the list is long.  Many warlike and independent groups also became genocidal, but the link with obedience is clear enough to be thought-provoking  The great genocides—ones in which the populace in general seems to have gone mad with blood—were generally in such societies, though the Turks and several other exceptions can be mentioned.

            Since overreaction to negatives is the general problem, it follows that culture can establish the idea that one should overreact.  This regularly occurs in cultures of “honor” (Baumeister 1997; Henrich 2016).  Defensiveness can seem moral in highly unstable societies.

            Cultures provide scripts and storylines and schemas for action.  These cultural models (to use the technical term) provide canonical ways to deal with or adapt to life.  Most of them are adaptive and valuable, but every bad type of action has its model too.  Hitler’s anti-Semitism drew on centuries of pogroms and massacres, well scripted and following a set of plotlines.  Contemporary Islam provides accessible models for suicide bombing.  In the United States, there is now an all too well-known cultural model for mass shooting, followed in one form or another by hundreds of alienated, angry, often sulking individuals—most of them young men and many of them white supremacists or similar right-wingers (Cai et al. 2019).  There is another cultural model for spouse abuse; similar models of mistreatment exist in most other cultures.  Other cultural models exist for criminal gang behavior, robbery, suicide, and other violent acts.  A desperate person needs only to activate the model.  He or she will learn what weapons to use, how to obtain them, how to deploy them, and what to do next.  Planning is simple and kept to a minimum.

            We have also seen above how social and cultural pressures act on everyone—even the least alienated, and indeed especially the most conformist and well-socialized—to get the vast mass of individuals to go along with genocide.  Here, direct social pressure, including threats of ostracism or worse, is added to the cultural models.

            In ordinary everyday violence, the bad wolf wins when a particularly susceptible individual—aggressive, alienated, or simply angered beyond bearing—is subjected to social pressure to act violently, and has an available cultural model of how to do it.  In war and genocide, everyone is expected to join in and do their bit, and almost everyone does.  In bullying, terrorism, and domestic violence, only some do; they are alienated or desperate for control, and they nurse their sorrows until an available cultural model becomes salient.  Terrorists are usually persuaded by intense pressure from their social group.  In all cases, violence depends on a prior development of anger, hate, and need to assert control.  Individuals get into a tighter and tighter spin of negative emotions.

5. Inevitable Conflicts

An agent-based approach (in the tradition of Ibn Khaldun and Max Weber) allows us to see that humans do not just reflect their culture.  They balance family, cultural group, subcultural group, father’s people, mother’s people, spouse’s people, immigrant neighbors, and last but not least their own interests as individuals.  People are constantly faced with moral choices of whom to go with and how much to cheat selfishly. 

The hardest problem is how to deal with social criticism and disrespect.  The descendant of territorial defensiveness in animals is human defensiveness about social place and social position—“honor,” “face,” etc.  (Humans are not territorial in the sense most mammals are.  We socially construct space in all manner of free-form ways; see Lefebvre 1992.) 

The great Greek tragedies, the best of the medieval epics, the Scottish tragic ballads, and equivalent literature around the world (including many Native American tales), reveal people in crisis situations, where they are forced to reveal their deepest selves.  In the crises when ordinary life is disrupted, individuals are forced into extreme good and evil behavior.  Many of these dramas turn on inescapable conflicts between two loyalties.  Often, as in Scottish ballads and many Native American stories, the drama turns on loyalty to true love versus loyalty to family.    The heroes and heroines are powerful, but have the costs of their virtues, the fatal flaws that comes with their power. 

These stories may be the best ways to understand humanity and its conflicts. Great literature strips off ordinary everyday conformity and reveals the bare human in full glory or vileness.  Greek tragedies do this.  So do Medieval epics, Chinese classical stories, and other great works.  Folk literature always contains such stories. 

They are critically important for understanding humanity.  First, they show that people are agents, not mindless slaves of genes or culture or society; everyone has to deal with and, hopefully, resolve such conflicts.  Second, they show that cultures are not homogeneous, and mindless conformity cannot work indefinitely.  There are cultural models of different loyalties: loyalties to different groups that often come into conflict.  There are tradeoffs between long-term and wide-flung interests and short-term narrow ones.  There are conflicts over allocating resources.

            An inevitable conflict often recorded in song and story is between security and advancement.  Advancing in society requires taking some risks.  People usually and naturally act to minimize risk for maximum advancement, but there are plenty of exceptions, and they are often the leading entrepreneurs and inventors.  Managing to try to make advancement opportunities more secure is a major part of economic behavior for many of us.  Cutthroat competition is thus stressful.

            The conflict most relevant to the present book is the one between loyalty and morality.  When dictators whip up their populations to commit genocide, this conflict becomes agonizing.  Most people choose loyalty, as we have seen.  Many are perfectly happy with it—they wanted to eliminate the minorities anyway—but many are not at all happy, and have to be steamrolled into it.  Already noted is the inevitable conflict over rank and the resulting problems with arrogance, humility, ranking out, and insult.

            These songs and stories turn on courage and on failure, on individuals against the world, and on opportunity and challenge.  They are the corrective to dismissing and devaluing people.  The hero powerful against the storm, especially if the hearer or reader can identify with that hero, is humanity in compelling form and inescapable predicament.

            In modern society, traditional folk and elite societies, communities, and cultures are thinned down or extirpated.  People are left to the tender mercies of vast, impersonal governments and firms.  This not only disempowers them; it also robs them of those canonical stories that once modeled behavior in conflicted times.

 This out-of-control inequality, and above all the sheer bigness, makes people feel weak, out of control of their lives, and lacking in self-efficacy.  They become timid, and succumb all the more easily to toxic conformity and obedience.  Lost are such empowering and strengthening cultural forms as great art and literature, and even ordinary civility and decency.  Weakness and fear makes people desperate for security, including material security; the result can look like greed, but is actually cowardice.

6. Explaining It:  Fight, Flight, Freeze

            People are usually sociable, but react to threat as all large, strong animals do, by fighting back.  They are stressed not only by direct threat, but by threat to their social position, and their sense of control of their lives (Bandura 1982, 1986; Langer 1983). 

            The fight-flight-freeze response is wired into the nervous systems (Sapolsky 2017, 2018).  Faced with superior strength and an escape route, an animal will flee; with no escape, it will freeze; if it is cornered and attacked, it will fight, even against superior strength.  This response is mediated through the ancient limbic system in the lower back part of the brain.  A threat is first processed by the amygdala, which recognizes and catalogues it (the amgydala being also a center of memory, as well as the center of much emotionality).  A message goes to the hypothalamus, where the center of the fight-flight-freeze response occupies a small group of nuclei that release aggressive behavior, including speeding up the heart, raising blood pressure, and directing blood toward appropriate muscle and nerve systems (thus away from functions like digestion).  This area sends messages down to the pituitary gland, attached to the bottom of the hypothalamus.  Hormones are released from the anterior pituitary, and circulate through the body, stimulating—among other things—release of adrenaline and cortisol from the adrenal glands (Fields 2019).  Adrenalin and the bone-derived hormone osteocalcin drive the actual physiological responses that are the core of the fight-flight-freeze response (ScienceBeta 2019).

All this is under varying degrees of control from the frontal and prefrontal cortex—very little in a lizard, a great deal in a well-socialized human.  In a human, “the frontal cortex makes you do the harder thing when it’s the right thing to do” (Sapolsky 2017:45, emphasis his).  That can mean doing what is reasonable (foregoing a reward now for a bigger one later) or what is social (foregoing a theft because it is morally wrong).  Conversely, stress disorients.  Sustained stress and fear lead to chronic biologic responses that impair judgment and lead to heightened responses (Sapolsky 2017:130-1360).

Under such conditions, animals and people can flip almost instantly from peaceful, calm behavior to extreme violence.  This is the biological substrate of the change from good wolf to bad wolf. 

Humans have considerably complicated the response. We are faced, more than other animals, with a tradeoff between reacting emotionally and rationally.  The medial frontal cortex, home of social emotionality, dominates empathetic and sensitive choices, and—with other regions—cognitive empathy (Kluger et al. 2019; Lombardi 2019).  The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is more involved with “cool, utilitarian choices” (Kluger et al. 2019:12).  The ventromedial prefrontal cortex integrates many of these, and processes morality and its social applications, as well as cognitive interaction choices.  It is conspicuously absent in reaction of psychopaths to others’ pain (Lombardi 2019:20).  More interesting, in psychopaths, is their lack of connection between the reward processing center of the brain—the ventral striatum—and the center for examining outcomes and consequences, including emotional ones, in the ventral medial prefrontal cortex (Lombardi 2019:29). A quite different situation is found in people on the autism spectrum, who may be socially challenged but are generally well-meaning, trying hard but often failing to be social; damage to the anterior cingulate cortex is suspected.  It seems that differences in brain regions and connections lie behind a great deal of human good and evil.  This does not explain why the same individual can transition so rapidly from one to the other.

In people, because of the necessity to prioritize dealing with threat, hate is all too often stronger than love, viciousness stronger than caring, defensive resistance to change stronger than greed or desire for self-improvement.  Chronic threat and stress crystallize the fight response into hatred, the flight response into escapism, and the freeze response into conformity or apathy.  One result is that polls often mispredict how people will act: people generally answer that they want more wages, or better health care, or other positive things, but then vote or act their hate.  This led to massive misprediction of the 2016 election results. 

Flight can thus be into video games and daydreams, freezing can be labeled “depression” or “laziness” by psychologists or judgmental peers, and fighting is usually verbal rather than violent.  Still, all the limbic responses are there, underlying the prefrontal plans and cultural instructions that introduce the complexity.  (Much of what follows is derived from, or at least agrees with, Beck 1999 and Staub 2011; Gian Caprara [2002] has critiqued Beck’s model for being too narrow and not covering a wide enough range of situations and contexts, so the model is somewhat expanded here, following Caprara.)

            The most basic root of aggression is fear (on which see LeDoux 2015).  Any animal capable of fighting will fight when threatened or attacked, if there is no alternative.  Animals also fight for resources:  for mates above all, but also food, space, and other necessities.  This may involve fear of loss of necessary resources, but often—especially with mates—it is simply fighting to win desired goods.  Sheer discomfort—sickness, hunger, loss—can also make most animals more aggressive or fight-prone.  The order is:  Stressors; feeling of inadequacy or frustration; defensiveness; then, if the bad wolf wins, hatred and aggression.

            Grief can also be a source of stress and thus of violence.  The role of grieving in motivating suicide bombing has been addressed by Atran (2010).  In many cultures, from Appalachia to New Guinea, grief over previous killings leads to revenge, and is expected to do so.   

            The human difference is that humans are compulsively and complexly social (Henrich 2016).  They live by, through, and for their social systems: families, communities, neighborhoods, networks, and—in the modern world—states.  Humans feel fear when these communities are threatened.  Even humans not at all involved in a community will often feel fear or anger over seeing it attacked.  People willingly die for their communities.  We routinely observe the heroism of soldiers sacrificing themselves in war, parents dying to save children, suicide bombers blowing up supposed enemies (Atran 2010; Bélanger et al. 2014), and even gutter punks dying for their drug gangs. 

            Such fighting, fleeing, and freezing are structured along social lines.   The usual human condition, socially constructed on the innate bases described above, seems to be kind, friendly, and warm to one’s in-group, hospitable to strangers, hostile to opponent groups in one’s own society, and deeply hostile to individuals in one’s own society who seem to be a threat to one’s control or to society’s most fundamental beliefs. The real problem is threat to social place and position, which can lead to anything partner abuse to international war, depending on the scale.  Threats to social beliefs lead to savage persecution of “heretics.”  Heretics and minority religions are the victims of many of the very worst massacres.  They usually live mixed in among the orthodox.  Perhaps the intimacy is related to the extreme violence of such persecutions.  Cognitive dissonance can make people act worse than they might.

            It is also universally known that people are most easily united by being confronted with a common threat, especially a human threat—an invading army, looting gangs, or simply those “heretics.”  Leaders and would-be leaders thus tend to seek or invent enemies.

            Existential threat—simple fear of death—also exacerbates hatred.  In a fascinating study, Park and Pyszczynski (2019) found that making fear of death salient to experimental subjects made them become more defensive about their group identification and core values, and more intolerant and antagonistic toward others.  They found, moreover, that mindful meditation could reduce this, and eliminate it in practiced meditators, providing a rather unexpected and potentially important weapon against hate.

            Thus, natural human tendencies to deal with fear by fighting or escaping can be mobilized by leaders.  All they need to do is mobilize fear—whether it be fear of war, or economic problems, or change, or minority groups getting ahead, or any other stress—and convince an increasing sector of the population that this problem can be handled by removing some group.  Typically, people will redirect anger they feel against targets unsafe to criticize, or even just anger from stubbing their toes or having problems with the house, into hatred.  Hate of the strong is unsafe to act out, so it is displaced onto the weak.  Scapegoating—hating people or groups through displacement—is the most cowardly of the defense mechanisms.  Intolerance is a close second.  Denial, rigidity, and low-level escapism are among others.  

            Doğan and collaborators (2018) have found, studying modern Ethiopian societies, that war is much less likely in egalitarian groups, because everyone is at risk and no one gets a huge chunk of the spoils.  In hierarchic societies, the leaders are less at risk (young men do the dying) and yet get disproportionate shares of the loot, as well as increased power.  So they are happy to invoke war.  The current world situation, where national leaders are not only safe from fighting but often have never served in the military, is an extreme case of this.

            There is a whole decision tree in the fight-flight response.  Responding to stress, people must decide—at some level, usually preattentive—to fear it or not.  They then decide which of the three possibilities to choose, and at what level of response—from verbal confrontation to murderous attack.  They must then decide where to direct their efforts.  If they fight, they can direct action against actual enemies, as in war and revolution, or displace action against weaker parties instead of against the actual threat.  This is a strikingly common response among some animals, notably baboons.  It is clearly related to human bullying, and thus to the hypertrophied bullying that is genocide. 

            The basic principles of a cognitive-emotional explanation of evil can be summarized as follows.  First (and in this case going back to Freud’s defense mechanisms), people tend to blame other people—not fate, not the structures of the economy, not the weather, and most certainly not themselves—for whatever goes wrong in their lives.  The root of much evil is the belief that we can fix our problems by controlling or eliminating other people, rather than by rational means.  This is particularly true of people who have weak confidence in their control of their lives and situations.  (See especially Bandura 1982 on self-efficacy, and the rational-emotional psychology of Albert Ellis, e.g. 1962; the cognitive-behavioral work on evil of Aaron Beck 1999; also Baumeister 1997; Maslow 1970.) 

            Antagonism is the general cover term for the usual sources of evil.  It is usually mindless, coming from culture, conformity, or orders.  Its natural basis is the normal “fight” response to threat, but it is increasingly distorted by weak fear, especially when weakness is part of cultural norms.  The daily kibble of the bad wolf is frustration, resentment of trivial or imagined slights, everyday irritation, rejection, disempowerment, harassment.  This is especially true if one assumes the slights and minor rejections are due to malignant intent (Ames and Fiske 2015).  The raw red meat that gives it strength and power to take over is social hate.

Political anger—which appears to be the main anger in modern societies—is most certainly decided on: one learns who to hate and persecute and how angry to get, and one must decide to follow the leaders in this.  The steps one’s mind goes through in dealing with stress involve decisions at every point.  First, one must identify something as a threat.  Then one must decide whether to react with flight or fight.  One must decide how much flight or fight to apply. 

This requires attention to what is actually causing the threat.  If one is being chased by a bear, no questions need be asked, but dealing with widespread social problems is something quite different.  Reasonable alternatives include distancing oneself, resenting silently, turning the other cheek, being as pleasant or fearless as possible, and just bearing hardship.  From there, the next step is to actual caring: helping, enjoying, working.  

A more important realization is that we are dealing with two phenomenologically different kinds of emotionality.  The fight-flight-freeze response, and the fear and anger that are part of it, are normal.  Quite different is the weakness and consequent out-of-control fear that comes from personal lack of confidence, lack of support, and lack of courage.  Cowardly emotions differ from these normal equivalents.  Honest fear in the face of a real threat is not the same as irrational panic in the face of a trivial one.  Real anger—wrath at actual injury—is different from the fearful anger of a person who has no confidence in his or her ability to control a situation, and therefore hysterically overreacts.  Carelessness from sheer inattention to detail is not the same as defiant sloppiness or toxic irresponsibility.  Love is not the same as dependence and controlling clinginess, especially since the latter competes psychologically with real caring interest in the other person.

In violence in general, but especially in genocidal movements, these play out in different ways.  The initial leaders and revolutionaries are hard-nosed fighters, animated by hatred and opportunism but not scared of anything.  Very often they have been devalued through no fault of their own: they are poor, or from marginal regions (Napoleon’s Corsica, Hitler’s Austria, Stalin’s Georgia), or they are short or disfigured, or something of the sort (cf. Dikötter 2019 for several cases).  Far-right-wing acquaintances of mine (I have known hundreds, over a long life) follow a pattern: they arr males, from the dominant reference group (white in the US, land Cantonese in Hong Kong, and so on), but neither affluent nor well-educated nor very successful.  Accounts suggest that this is typical.  Such people, from Napoleon to my acquaintances, become resentful toward society, and make up in anger and oppositional stance what they lack in social prestige.  They are anything but weak and fearful.  (This compensation theory of problematic behavior has a long history and literature.  It has been abundantly qualified and nuanced; the simple form is not a total explanation.  See our usual sources, notably Baumeister 1997, Beck 1999.)

The vast majority of genociders and other killers, however, are weak and defensive—low in self-efficacy, in Albert Bandura’s terms.  (See the thorough and insightful discussion of such matters in Bandura 1982, 1986.)  They are the conformists who require only social pressure from the leaders to turn murderous.  Individual sense of weakness is much less of a problem if the self-doubting person feels he or she has family or community support.  This should be obvious, but requires some reflection.  The kind of support, the areas in which one is supported or not, and the people doing it (family or friends or the wide world), all matter greatly.  We all are weak at times, and defensive at times.  Most, perhaps all, of us feel weak and defensive in the face of overwhelming threat or stress.  It always sets a limit on our coping.

An important and thoughtful recent study by Robert Bornstein (2019) puts this in real-world situational perspective.  Studying domestic abuse (my prime model for genocide), Bornstein found sky-high rates in two mutual dependence situations.  First, when a man is dependent on a woman for personal validation and she is dependent on him for emotional and financial support, he feels a powerful need to control her and she finds it very hard to escape.  Second, when adult children are dependent for financial support on an elder who is dependent on them for physical care, elder abuse is highly likely.  In these cases, the problems of lack of control and desperate need to assert it become obvious.  

My sense is that the real back story of genocide and similar mass killing is precisely this weak defensiveness.  Ordinary fear and harm lead to the ordinary fight-flight-freeze responses.  Weak defensiveness leads to a quite different cluster of behaviors:  above all scapegoating and bullying, of which more below, but also to passive-aggression, taking extreme offense at trivial or imagined slights, extreme jealousy and envy, petulance, silent resentment, and similar mechanisms.  Brooding about these is the real food of the bad wolf.  If I am right, the back story of mass violence is the ability of strongman leaders who brag of being above the law to mobilize latent weak defensiveness, resentment, and frustration, and turn it against scapegoats.  They are the constituency that votes for such men, the passive citizens that allow coups by such men, and then the obedient subjects of such men. 

The worst of it is that the more overwhelming the situation, the more weak and defensive we all get.  Hard times and strongmen bring out the weakest and most defensive side of people.  This is the key reason why they are so easily mobilized to break from passivity to hatred of scapegoats. The break point where the good wolf gives way to the bad wolf, in every studied case of large-scale genocide and mass murder, comes when the leaders get enough power and social visibility to exploit weak defensiveness and other hatreds to flip the masses into genocidal mode.  As so often, Rwanda provides a particularly well-studied case (see Nyseth Brehm 2017a, 2017b, and references therein).

This explains the rarity of people like Oscar Schindler standing firm against genocide.  It requires a level of self-confidence, self-control, and community-supported morality that very few of us have.

This is one half of the explanation for political extremism.  The other will be discussed below: the conflict between groups that feel they are downwardly mobile and those that are moving up.  This classic Marxian conflict drives much of world politics today.

7. Power and Control

            It is notoriously easier to unite people against a perceived enemy than for a good cause (Bowles 2006; Henrich 2016).  Thus, evil tends to win, in the “real world.”   The larger the organization the more dangerous this tendency becomes.  An empire or a giant firm will attract the power-hungry, and they will often rise rapidly, since they are unencumbered by the scruples that restrain most of us.  Since people follow their leaders, history shows that people are considerably worse in aggregate than they are as individuals.

People often unite more easily against good others than against evil ones, because it is easier to go after weaker and milder than against the powerful and brutal.  Moreover, being good tends to be a small-scale, personal activity, while hatred gets extended to whole classes of people.  The weaker, more salient, and more physically and socially close perceived enemies are, the easier to go after them.  So evil often starts with domestic violence.  Even more often, it starts with attacks on weaker neighbors or on oppressed minorities.  Actual enemies are often the last to be attacked, since they will fight back.  It is easy to unite people through conformity to exclusionary norms (Henrich 2016).  Tolerance and openness, however, are a bit of a psychological luxury; they sharply decline when people feel their mental energy is exhausted (Tadmor et al. 2018).  Still more of a luxury is actual enjoyment; one must be out of threat zone to relax enough to cultivate the arts of life.

            The worst problems occur when power-mad people figure out how to use morality to sell their drive for power.  Religious hatred is the commonest way, but nationalism, militarism, and communist and other revolutionary ideologies have done as well.   In the United States we have seen hatred justified by opposition to illegal immigrants, by appeals to law and security, and even by opposition to “hate speech,” which seems always defined as strong speech by one’s opponents. 

            The rich often want power and status, not money per se.  (What follows is a skeletal outline of material on power reviewed in Anderson and Anderson 2012, 2017; see also Traverso 2019.)  They thus will play zero-sum and negative-sum games with the rest of us, because they want relative positions.  They want to be powerful more than they want money (not that they mind having more of it also).  Critical is that Success, or Power and Control, or Wealth and Status, is their whole life involvement, not just one thing they want. 

            Thus we may say that evil is usually done for four reasons:  callousness toward people who “don’t count”; anger toward people who do count—very often loved ones and family that one wishes to control but cannot control; hatred toward specific groups, almost always scapegoated minorities; and hatred of actual enemies.  Greed as a factor may lie behind these, but it generally acts through them; the selfishly greedy dehumanize or disregard their victims.  This produces some ambiguity.  In a war, one must maximize killing of the opposition, including civilians and ordinary unfortunates drafted by evil but personally safe overlords.             

            Another major background factor in evil is negative-sum gaming.  This often involves seeing the world as steadily declining, such that one can do better only by taking from others.  It views resources as limited.  This view tends to come from a focus on social power and status, where positions really are limited and one is controlling or controlled; economic welfare is more easily spread or increased for all, but it too often involves competition over limited goods.  Often, people who feel the world is getting worse see themselves as hopelessly downward-bound; they see no way to slow this except by taking more and more from weaker people and groups.  This was visible in much of the voting for Donald Trump.  His backing was concentrated among people who saw their groups as downwardly mobile.  They saw their best hope in getting what they could, while they could, at the expense of other groups.  Fear is abundantly obvious in such cases.  The resulting policies are hardly helpful; taking oneself down to take others down even more—the suicide bombers’ logic—is ruinous in the long run.

            Hate is successful at unifying society, blinding people to ripoffs and corruption, getting otherwise unmotivated people to fight for their exploiters, and otherwise allowing evil people to get the mass of ordinary people on their side.  The main generalization is that the more deeply important a social identification is, the more hatred it can mobilize.  Religion so often leads to especially irrational and extreme violence because it is about basic issues.  Yet, far less important matters can cause fighting; even sports team rivalries may lead to war (Anderson and Anderson 2012).

            The range of behaviors goes on to touchiness about “honor,” overattention to negativity, holding people to ridiculous standards, rage, overcontrolling, dominating, domineering, general antagonism, inimical attitude, and finally violence and murder.  Common or universal is an attitude that everyone’s bad traits are what count; their good does not.  People become rigid and judgmental.  Minor slights become cause for murder.  These can be at individual or group levels.  Mass shooters fit the profile: alienated, usually young, males, dealing with threats to personhood or social place by indiscriminate murder-suicide.  Ability to think rationally or morally suffers in proportion.  Ability to enjoy and love suffer too (Bandura 1982, 1986). 

            The common ground here is insecurity leading to irrational levels of harm to the “threatening group” or “the competition.”  The worst and commonest reason is direct threat to one’s personhood.  Following that come desire for wealth, power, control, prestige, status, lifestyle. 

Always, in group hate, there is either a massive devaluing of certain groups or a general defensiveness, and usually both.  The front story is actual evil or good; the mid story is the emotions and feelings that motivate; the real back story is destructive competition versus cooperation.  The ultimate back story is individual defensiveness, weakness, neurosis-psychosis, and other psychic factors.


The basic axioms of authoritarianism are:

Since I’m in power, I’m better than you.

My first need is to keep you under control.

Your differences from me—especially in such basic matters as religion and ethnicity—are bad: threatening, inferior, inappropriate, offensive.

You must be kept weak.

Since raw fear is the easiest and most straightforward way to do this, torture and cruelty are central elements of power and discipline.
But, since those attract resistance, in time they must be softened by an ideology of “good” and “ideals” plus development of a socio-political-economic structure that keeps the weak down. 

The rulers, or would-be rulers, are the Chosen People.  “Progressives” are often as bad in this regard as other bigots.

I’m more powerful than you, so I make the rules.  This holds all the way from “I’m the mom, that’s why” up to the dictator level.

            If people learn rational or common-sense ways of coping with fear and threat, they are less likely to fall into hatred and toxic conformity.  If they do, however, they may become authoritarians.  The “authoritarian personality” created by Freudian mechanisms (Fromm 1941) has not stood the test of time, but “authoritarian predispositions” leading to an “authoritarian dynamic” are now well attested and studied (Duckitt 1994, 2001; Stenner 2005).  They are called up or exacerbated especially by normative fear: fear of the breakdown of the social norms that give what the authoritarian mind considers necessary structure to society.  These norms typically involve norms that keep minorities and women “in their place,” and otherwise create a rigid top-down order.  Learned helplessness (Peterson et al. 1993) often leads to toxic conformity.

            Authoritarian predispositions and behaviors may include devotion to strongmen, hatred and fear of homosexuals and other norm-benders, love of stringent punishment for lawbreakers (especially those low on the social scale), militarism, and similar conditions.  There is, however, a great range of ideology here, from the near-anarchist violent right wing to the genteelly hierarchic older businessmen of a midwestern suburb.  It seems likely that we are dealing with several different responses to weakness in the face of threat, the common denominators being a need for a strong-man leader and a need for underlings to blame and oppress.  Authoritarianism is surprisingly common within societies and surprisingly widespread over the world (Stenner 2005).

            This rests on several observations about human responses to threat and stress.  Three other important ones deserve attention:  People hate in others what they dislike in themselves (especially if they feel guilty about it); they like in others what they want for themselves; they use their strengths to make up for their deficiencies.  These are all involved in bullying and authoritarianism.  Bullying can have permanent negative effects on bullied children’s brains (Copeland et al. 2014).

            The problems usually follow from cowardice and hostility, which reinforce each other.  In an isolated person, they come out as giving up, or as setting oneself against the world.  In the far commoner case of a social person, they come out in displacing aggression against the weak.  Fear forbids aggressing against actual offenders (if there are any); antagonism is displaced downward, to scapegoats.  This usually leads to bullying them.  Of course, as Robert Sapolsky points out, “You want to see a kid who’s really likely to be a mess as an adult? Find someone who both bullies and is bullied” (Sapolsky 2017:199).  That probably describes virtually all serious bullies.

Bullying involves belittling them: regarding them as low or worthless.  Underlings use malicious gossip to get back at powerful bosses. “I’m better than you” and “I’m worse than you” are bad enough, but the worst is “I’m worse than you, so I have to pretend I’m better, and if in power I have to bully you.”  The classic bully is resentful toward the world at large.  He attacks both the weak (“contemptible”) and those in authority; he revels in breaking laws and conventions (Sapolsky 2017:199).  Bullies resent civility; it interferes with their activities, and they brand it as “weakness.”  They resort to lying and “gaslighting” as routine methods of manipulating others, and to insults.  They tend to be violent and unpredictable.

            A standard bullying routine is to insult the victim, then take any response as an “offense” and “slight” that justifies attack.  Imagined slights are quite adequate.  The genociders’ version of this is the attribution of all manner of horrific but imaginary sins to the targeted group; Hitler’s claims about the Jews are the most famous in this regard, but all genociders—at least all those with a recorded history—do it.  Genocide is bullying writ large.

            Another very common aspect of bullying is that bullies are adulated as “strong” and “independent” by those who would love to be bullies but are too personally weak.  They become groupies, followers, toadies.  Women who are afraid to be violent themselves, but would love to be bullies, find male bullies irresistible, leading to a remark attributed to Henry Kissinger, “power is the best aphrodisiac.” 

            Evil people, from ancient Greek demagogues to Hitler and Trump, can most effectively get the least competent of the tier-just-above-bottom to hate the bottom tiers.  Failing that, they can always whip up nativistic hate of foreigners, especially immigrants. 

            Most movements that end in authoritarianism and genocide start by recruiting bullies and haters, then gather momentum.  Not until they win, and succeed in turning the polity into a dictatorship or turning a local community into one defined by hate, can they recruit the vast mass of ordinary people.  However, there are cases in which many followers are genuine idealists, not bullies, and then the picture is complicated by the restraint introduced by the idealists.  Stalin in the USSR was infamous for purging his movement of these idealists, leaving only those who were either bullies or saw repression as simply a necessary job to do.

            Following, again, Baumeister (1996), Baron-Cohen (2011). Beck (1999) and others, we can identify several subtypes of persons who despise or hate downward.  The widest and most general category is those who simply believe in the necessity of hierarchies and of maintaining those hierarchies through keeping those below firmly in their place (as described by Haidt 2012, and argued, in effect, by Aladair MacIntyre 1984, 1988).  An extreme form is the strongman philosophy that argues for rulers being above the law, or being the law, and often acting outrageously simply to show they have the power; this was the classic attitude of European royalism, and is similar to the politics of modern strongmen.  At the other end of power distribution are the weak and timid souls who desperately try to maintain their position by keeping firmly down anyone that seems to be below them.

            Opposed to these views are two types of philosophy.  First comes abjuring all anger and negative judgment, as advocated by many religions.  The second is directing one’s anger against the powerful, especially the powerful and lawless or harming, as advocated by revolutionaries.  This latter allows anger to be directed upward rather than scapegoated downward in a social hierarchy.  This is not necessarily a good thing, as we know from the sad ending of many revolutions. 

            We have now come to the core of what feeds the wolves.  The bad wolf is fed by fear socially channeled into scapegoating and bullying; by culture and society based on top-down power that is poorly restrained; and by personal grievance and offense coming out in hate and irrational harm.  This may be deployed in the service of greed, sadism, defense, or “honor,” but the basic animal is the same.  The good wolf is fed by the opposite: dealing with problems as rationally and peacefully as possible, in a society where equality and tolerance are values.  This too may be deployed for gain or defense or any other purpose.  The rest of this book will be dedicated to unpacking that simple formula.

            Fear and fight lead to three overarching social vectors: ingroup versus rival group; general level of hostility; and minimizing.  These are called “othering” today, and often considered to be a part of human nature.  This is not correct.  The actual direct causes of evil appear to be cowardice, hostility, and minimizing or infrahumanization.  The first two are overreaction (overemotional reaction) to fear, threat, and hurt, with structural opponentship (not just difference) seen as a threat.  The common ground is seeing people, or some people, as bad or unworthy.  All or some people are to be bulldozed, dominated, or preyed oneven family and friends, let alone real opponents. (On discrimination, see Kteily, Bruneau, et al. 2015; Kteily, Hodson, and Bruneau 2016; Parks and Stone 2010; Rovenpor et al. 2019.) 

            The third is failure to consider people as fully human, or even failure to consider people at all.  People become Kantian objects (Kant 2002): mere numbers on a spreadsheet, dirt to be bulldozed out of the way of construction projects, or underlings to be disregarded.   

            Such minimizing can be aggressive.  It can be cold and calculating. It can be simply mindless—just not thinking of the problems of the servants or workstaff.  It involves devaluing people: maintaining that they are unworthy of attention, concern, or care.  Sometimes it involves not noticing people at all.  It tends to go with callous indifference, as opposed to hostility and anger.  Anger shows at least some respect for the opponent; the opponent is worthy of being noticed and hated.  Not infrequently, the opponent is even considered superior, as when revolutionaries attack the state, or a David goes up against a Goliath.

            Othering without much hostility is typical of traditional people; they know the “others” are different, but have little to do with them.  Usually, strangers and travelers are welcomed, often very warmly.  My wife and I have traveled the world and almost never run into hostile reactions, nor have our students of all backgrounds and economic situations.  Exceptions are neighboring groups, often traditional rivals for land and resources.  Hostility without much othering—without displacing it to an outgroup—produces gangsters and aggressive loners. 

            The human norm seems to be occasional anger and aggression against even one’s nearest and dearest, great aggressiveness against structural-opponent groups, and indifference to the rest—the unknown multitudes out of one’s immediate ken.         One consoling lie that such people tell themselves is that we live in a just world (Lerner 1980), in which people get what they deserve.  The poor are lazy, the rich worked for their wealth.  People displaced by dams somehow deserve to be displaced.  Genociders come to believe fantastically overstated lies: the people they hate are truly evil, subhuman, the sources of all ills.  Thus, to the totally other, evil is done from callousness: coldly planned aggressive war, bureaupathy.  There is then a continuum through “different” members of one’s own society—internal others—to family members.  The closer people are socially, the more hatred is necessary, or at least usual, before harm is done.

            The most clearly established fact is that infants are born with some degree of innate fear of strangers, and the more different those strangers look and act from the parents, the more the fear. Thus, some degree of “othering” on the basis of appearance and voice sound is normal.  On the other hand, infants show acute interest in other people, especially faces, toward which they orient (Tomasello 2019).  They seem innately primed to recognize the more universal emotional expressions: smiles, angry looks, and so on.  Moreover, people differ at birth in how shy they are and how aggressive they are.  These vary independently, apparently. 

Infants react quickly to smiles, reassurance, gentle touch, and other marks of friendship, and react in the opposite way to frightening stimuli like shouts and rapid, dramatic movement.  Infants also look to their parents for signs of how to treat the stranger.  They are extremely reactive to parental moves and voices; the parents may be completely unaware of how strongly they are signaling the infant.

            From birth, people can react along a whole spectrum of ways, from initial fear but quick reassurance and friendliness to initial fear made worse by scary stimuli.  This is rapidly exacerbated by the reactions of parents, siblings, and soon other family members and friends.  Culture enters in right from the start, by conditioning the reactions of all these important people in the infants’ lives.  By three or four, children already know that certain recognizable groups are liked while others are disliked.  They learn gender roles, clothing associations, and other quite complex cultural messages to a striking degree (Tomasello 2016, 2019).  Much of this was learned quite unconsciously, with no one intending to teach, and without the children realizing they were learning.

            This means that any group of people will show a variety of reactions, not notably predictable.  The most predictable thing is that every group will have its structural opponent groups: groups that they feel are competing with them for power, land, jobs, resources, social recognition, political sway, poetry, art motifs, foods, and anything else that people compete about.  The word “rival” literally means “sharer of a river bank” (Latin rivus, riverbank), in recognition of the universality of arguments over water, especially for irrigation; in the western United States, “whiskey’s for drinking, water’s for fighting,” as Mark Twain said.  In the United States, the classic divide has been white vs black, and in much of the US today “race” and “diversity” means, basically, that antagonism.   In Canada, the same “worst structural opponent” attitudes are white vs Native American (First Nations to Canadians). Blacks in the US and Native Americans in Canada are notably overrepresented in “hard case” stories in the media.  (This struck me when I compared Seattle and Vancouver, BC, newspapers in the 1980s.)  Stories of substance abuse, crime, and welfare dependence often feature photographs of them, even where they are a very small percentage of such “hard cases.”

            Going back in history, one recalls the love-hate—mostly hate—relationship of England and France, of France and Germany, of Germany and Poland, of Poland and Russia, and so on forever.  And throughout Europe the Roma are victims of vicious prejudice; they are often the ones in the hard-case stories in the newspapers, even when they are a microscopic percentage of the national population.

            To my knowledge, every culture has prejudices like this.  Moreover, as we all know, different stereotypes go with different groups.  To white racists, blacks are “inferior” and “dumb,” “Mexicans” (by which they generally mean anyone with a Latin American heritage) are “rapists” and “criminals,” and so on.  To many American blacks, all whites are suspect and all or almost all are racist and dangerous.  These views are variously nuanced.  We have probably all encountered racists who hate “blacks” but sincerely like their close friends and neighbors who happen to be black: “He isn’t really a black guy, he’s old Joe.”

            One reason for such self-contradictions is the degree to which “old Joe” conforms to local norms and morals.  A complex field experiment in 28 German cities showed considerable bias against helping hijab-wearing women, but the same woman without the hijab but still obviously a Middle Easterner got about as little hate as a clearly native German woman. Moreover, and more importantly, if the hijab-wearer helped protest littering (by a confederate of the experimenters, of course!), she was helped in turn at the same levels as the non-hijab-wearers (Choi et al. 2019).  The general conclusion is that foreigners who mark their “difference” from the host society are accepted if they mark their “similarity” to the host society by proactive behavior. 

            Typically, individuals who regard a group as low or despicable put up with its members as long as they “keep their place,” but not when they try to assert equality or rights.  Racists who tolerate “old Joe” do not tolerate Al Sharpton.  Misogynists may love their docile wives (in a patronizing way), but hate feminists.  When I worked with fishermen in Hong Kong, I found the same phenomenon: fishermen were regarded as lowly by most of the rest of society, but were tolerated unless they tried to assert full equality.  The psychology seems essentially universal in stratified societies.

            Relations of power notoriously exacerbate hatreds.  This is so extreme, so obvious, and so universal that no one misses it.  Less obvious is the effect of specific kinds of power.  Blacks are notoriously in a particularly bad place in American society because they were enslaved.  “Mexicans,” however, are the structural opponents who are most devalued by South Texas white

racists, because of Texas’ history of breakaway from Mexico and later oppression of Mexican workers.

            Hard times sometimes make hatreds worse, but sometimes draw the country together and thus make hatreds recede somewhat; the Depression gave us Hitler in Germany and the New Deal in the US.  Good times can make hatreds worse, especially if a large percentage of the majority is left behind watching a tiny group get richer and richer, as in the US in the 1920s and since 2016.

            This being the case, it is inevitable that politicians invoke hatreds and usually do everything possible to whip them up and make them worse, the better to “lead” the “people” against the “foe.” 

To foreigners from realms too distant to be actively stereotyped, most people worldwide are welcoming and friendly.  There is a range from incredibly hospitable to quite suspicious and unfriendly.  The former is usually found in stable, secure communities.  The latter response is common in highly ingrown communities like the stereotypic European peasant villages, but also in highly unstable and insecure communities

            A common claim is that religious hatreds are often the worst.  This seems true especially in the monotheistic “Abrahamic” religions, though it is more widespread than monotheism.  In so far as it is true (it seems to be untested), the reason probably is that religion is about the most basic values, hopes, dreams, and beliefs that people have.  (It is not about how the world started!  The world-origin stories are there just to provide some validation.)  In China and historic Central Asia, much less intolerance was observed, because religions were not given such narrow and dogmatic interpretation, and value sets existed independently of faiths.  On the other hand, many of those who are extreme in religious hate are not deeply knowledgeable about their religion (see e.g. Atran 2010 and Traverso 2019 on Islam), and may fight only for meaningless tags instead of content, as Edward Gibbon accused Christians of doing in the war between homoousia and homoiousia.

            A final generalization is that othering relationships and stereotypes change fast.  We have observed immigrant groups to the United States get stereotyped by the media within a few years.  We have observed the rapid demonization of Muslims in the US. 

The common theme of all these matters, and of all evil, is rejection of people simply for being what they are.  In Paul Farmer’s oft-quoted remark, “the idea that some lives matter less is the root cause of all that is wrong with the world.”  (This line is very widely quoted, but I have not found a source citation.) They are condemned simply because they are poor, or Jewish, or female, or black-skinned, or rich, or any of the other things that give hateful people an excuse to dismiss whole categories of humanity.  However, extreme rage and hate are very often deployed against wives, husbands, children, parents, close friends, and other loved ones.  Family violence seems, in fact, to be a strikingly accurate small-scale model of genocide.  Assassination is even farther from Farmer’s general case; it involves targeting people because they are important.  Thus, while usually the targets of evil are downvalued, sometimes they are targets specifically because they are highly valued.

            Othering takes many forms.  One recalls the British stereotypes of “foreigners” and “savages” in the days of the British Empire: French ate frogs and snails and were effeminate, Germans drank beer and were big and dull, Italians were dirty and noisy and smelled of garlic, and so on for every group the British contacted.  American stereotypes of the 20th century were usually similar, though less well defined.  Children’s books reveal these stereotypes most clearly, and were one of the main ways they were learned.  Political cartoons often trade on them to this day.

            The same general rules apply to hate and disregard for other lives—for animals and plants.  Cruelty to animals and destruction of nature are common.  The mindset seems to be the same: either uncontrolled rage at the familiar, or displacement of hate and fear to weak victims, or sheer indifference backed up by social attitudes.  The Cartesian idea that animals are mere “machines” that have no real feelings has justified the most appalling abuses. 

            Summing up, evil occurs in four rough attitudinal clusters:  negative stereotypy; callousness (cold indifference, selfish greed, cold callousness, etc.); anger, rage, and hate, variously directed; and psychopathy-sadism. 

10 Groups and Group Tensions

            A final part of the back story is that humans everywhere dislike foldbreakers—people who conspicuously resist conforming to basic social rules.  Even people who are unusually good may be disliked because being so good is “different” (Parks and Stone 2010).  Usually, enforcing conformity serves to make cantankerous or poorly-educated people fall in line.  Very often, however, it simply makes people hate anyone conspicuously unlike the herd.  Individuals (including geniuses and artists) or groups (Jews in Christian countries, black people in white countries, and so on) are targeted.   A further cost is that members of devalued groups lose their sense of autonomy in proportion to the level of devaluing and repression of the group (Kachanoff et al. 2019).  They become less able to help themselves, precisely when they most need to do so. 

Groups cope with foldbreakers by trying to covert them, by ostracizing them, or by learning to live with them (Greenaway and Cruwys 2019), but all too often by killing them (Wrangham 2018).  The group may even break up, if foldbreakers form a large faction (Aalerding et al. 2018; Greenaway and Cruwys 2019).  All groups experience conflict, all have conflict resolution mechanisms (Beals and Siegal 1966), but when mechanisms are ineffective genocide often results.  Intergroup competition makes for solidarity—in fact it is famously the best way to develop that—but intragroup competition is deadly to solidarity, and must be resolved for a group to function, so available methods are sure to be used—even if fatal to minorities.  Intragroup deviants can be hard to spot, which makes them particularly frightening to the more sensitive group members (Greenaway and Cruwys 2019).  Particularly in danger are highly salient groups that seem relatively wealthy or successful to majorities, especially if the majorities feel themselves stressed or downwardly mobile.  Jews in Depression Europe, Tutsi in Rwanda in the difficult 1980s and early 1990s, and any and all educated people in Cambodia in the 1970s serve as clear examples.

The level of sensitivity to intragroup variation varies enormously from person to person, society to society, and culture to culture, something little studied.  Anthropologists have documented intolerance to deviance and consequent occasional breakup of communities among the Pueblo tribes of the southwestern United States, among small southeast European villages, and among Middle Eastern village societies, among others, while high levels of tolerance are documented for some—not all—urban trading and commercial communities.  More confusing still is a pattern, notable among some religious communities, for extreme tolerance of many kinds of behavior but extremely rigid observance of defining traditions of the group.  Intragroup deviance is a matter that needs more theoretical attention. All religions attack the major evils, but people do evil and then claim their religions made them do it.  There are always excuses.  Morality is never enough.  But, with laws, people can create peaceful communities.  Evil is not necessary.  It can be reduced to low levels. 

            Critically important is awareness that there is a continuum from good to evil, and specifically from actual enmity to utterly unprovoked genocide: from treating people with antagonism, as enemies, because they actually are so, to treating them as enemies because they might really be a threat, to treating people as enemies because they seem different and numerous enough to seem a threat to fearful leaders, to treating any different group as a threat simply because its difference is obtrusive or because it is in the way of settlement or “development.”  This tends to correspond very closely with the continuum from courageous fighting against attacking force to increasingly cowardly displacement of aggression to ever weaker targets. 

            People may believe that a currently weak group is secretly powerful, or might become so, and could be a threat.  Preemptive strikes then occur.  The Jews were a small, innocent, relatively defenseless minority.  Hitler directed against them all the anger stirred up in Germany by the loss of WWI and the Depression, and then revived and greatly extended the old image of the Jews as all-powerful and all-destroying. 

            A more local example is intimate partner violence.  This almost always involves a man, usually the physically stronger of the pair, beating a woman because he feels that he is somehow losing control of her (B. Anderson et al. 2004).  Very often, he feels generic anger against the world, or against stronger people in his life, and takes it out on the most vulnerable available person: wife, child, older parent.  Domestic violence is extremely close to genocide—it might even be called the individual-level equivalent (Anderson and Anderson 2012, 2017). 

11 Self-esteem and “Moral” Evil

            Roy Baumeister, in his book Evil (1997), documents at length the unexceptional nature of people who do evil things.  He also documents the degree to which they self-justify: they think they are doing the right thing, or the reasonable thing, or the expedient thing.  They rationalize to avoid guilt, and they use carefully disinfected language.  Most commonly of all, they think or say that they are only doing what everyone does.  In genocides and slave camps, they are right; everyone in their situation is indeed doing it. 

            Baumeister demolishes the old idea that evil people are those with low self-esteem; it appears that the worst problem in that area is with people who have “high but unstable self-esteem” (Baumeister 1997:149; his emphasis).  They are often bullies, because they think highly of themselves but are insecure enough to be wounded by challenges.  People need some degree of self-esteem and self-regard, so they concentrate on their strong points and minimize others’ lives and endowments.

            He also debunks the idea that evil people dehumanize their victims.  They most often see their victims as fully human—just not deserving of normal consideration.  In recognition of this, Castano (2012) suggests the term “infrahumanization.”  Baumeister runs through the standard explanations for violence (“greed, lust, ambition…” on p. 99—the classic land, loot, women, and power—as well as sadism and psychopathy), only to show how inadequate they are; crime rarely pays much, lust turned evil does not feel particularly good, and ambition served by evil rarely ends well.  Greed to the point of ripping others off, or crushing them, is not usually profitable in the long run.  It is normally done when society forces people into evil ways of making a living, such as raiding in Viking days or slaving in the 18th century.  He sees “egotism and revenge” as more important (Baumeister 1997:128-168).  People committing evil are often showing off their ability to maintain their power.  “Threatened egotism” (Baumeister 1997:377; Baumeister et al. 1996) is the deadliest of the factors he lists. 

            This, however, results from two things: basic predisposing factors of personality (threatened egotism, sadism, psychopathy) and immediate triggering factors (greed, idealism).  Moreover, “greed” is not desire for material goods; it is willingness to get material goods at the expense of other people, harming them in the process.  The same goes for social position, social acceptance, and even desire for power and control.  They are not bad in themselves, because they can be, and often are, used for good.  They become evil and cause harm when they are won at the expense of others.  

            Those triggers do not cause evil in people who are not in a state of hatred, bullying, or overcontrolling others.  In people who have fed the good wolf, desire for material goods is satisfied by working with others for the common good, or at least by healthy competition of the Adam Smith variety; desire for social acceptance and approbation is satisfied by being nice enough to be genuinely liked; desire for power and control is satisfied by being a good leader and administrator.  We all know people who are not particularly nice or pleasant people, but who make good administrators anyway, simply because it is the reasonable thing to do.  People are notoriously sociable, and do not need Immanuel Kant to explain that good social strokes are, in the end, more rewarding for most people than inordinate wealth or power.  We are left no closer to an explanation of why ordinary people without the basic personality factors of a psychopath become genocidal or become slavers.

            Baumeister also points out that much evil is done in the name of good—of idealism.  He is, like Ames and Fiske (2015), far too quick to believe that murderous “good-doers” (from the Inquisition to the Khmer Rouge) believe what they say.  My rather wide experience of those who talk good but do evil is that they are usually, and consciously, hypocrites.  At best, their willingness to do real harm in the name of imaginary good is hardly a recommendation for their morals.  Idealism that involves little beyond torturing people to death hardly deserves the name of idealism.  It is not an explanation for evil; it simply raises the question of why people sometimes think that torturing is idealistic, or that idealism can reduce to murder. 

            On the other hand, idealism that necessarily costs lives but really is for the greater good, like the fight against fascism in WWII, can be genuine.  Similarly, defensive war against invaders is often a good thing.   Of course, idealism can get corrupted fast, as in the French and Russian revolutions.  The boundary between good and evil is the point at which a reasonable person, independently judging the situation, would judge that there is clearly gratuitous harm occurring.  Rationality is hard to achieve in this world, but necessary in this case.  (Influence by Immanuel Kant, esp. 2002, and John Rawls, 1971 and 2001, is obvious here; I am following them on “rationality” in this context, thus avoiding the need to explain it.)

            Acting reasonably good seems the default option for most people most of the time.  It is even difficult to make people into killers.  Not only the Nazis, but also armed forces everywhere, have always had trouble accomplishing this (Baumeister 1997:205-212). 

            However, even the most trivial differences in feeding eventually allow the bad wolf to take over from the good one.  The strongest desire of humans is social belonging; therefore, people feel strong needs to conform to social norms and to whatever social currents are flowing (see e.g. the studies of Kipling Williams [2007, 2011] on ostracism).  The currents are not always good ones.          

            Albert Bandura’s book Moral Disengagement (2016) points out that evil is often done for alleged moral reasons (as in religious persecutions), or for openly immoral ones (as when a sadist psychopath kills), but most evil involves some degree of moral disengagement: minimizing, excusing, or justifying what is done.  Bandura covers the individual agency involved in this, and also the way society magnifies that by marshaling euphemisms, blaming others, playing the “you do it too” card, minimizing damage, dehumanizing or partially dehumanizing victims, personally disengaging and becoming callous or escapist, causal displacement, attribution of blame to the victims or to the wider society, and above all justifying one’s behavior by claiming a higher morality.  Bandura covers recent newsworthy events: gun violence and gun culture, terrorism, banking crimes, pollution and environmental damage, capital punishment, and others.  He thus spares us (most of the time) the citing of Hitler that tends to let moderns off the hook. 

            Moral disengagement, victim-blaming, and self-justification are indeed typical of almost all human activities that do harm and of almost all humans that harm others.  The problem with Bandura’s book is that he lumps evil morality (fascist ideology, Communist extremism) with disengagement, which is surely wrong.  Still, Bandura has done an extremely important task in covering with great thoroughness the ancillary mental gymnastics that allow people to harm and kill without much guilt.  Moral disengagement leads to bureaupathy.

            Alan Fiske and Taj Rai (2014) have argued that almost all violence is moral: it is justified by the moral teachings of the society in question.  They point out that violent behavior such as blood revenge, horrific initiation rites, war, raiding, human sacrifice, brutal discipline, and physical punishment have all been considered not only moral but sacred duty in literally thousands of societies around the world.  Steven Pinker (2011) reminds us that revenge killings, duels, killing of one’s own disobedient children, rape and killing of slaves, and many other forms of mayhem were not only accepted but approved in western society—including the United States—well into the 19th century.  Disapproving of such behavior is very recent.  Antiwar sentiments are also recent.  Taking over land by exterminating its occupants was universal, and broadly accepted, until the mid-19th century. 

            Fiske and Rai see societies as displaying relational models.  These come in four kinds, which can all be combined in one society:” communal sharing: unity… authority ranking: hierarchy…equality matching: equality [Rawlsian fairness]… and market pricing: proportionality” (Fiske and Rai 2014:18-21).   There are six “constitutive phases” of moral violence: “creation [of relationships]… conduct, enhancement, modulation, and transformation [again of relationships]….protection; redress and rectification…termination…mourning” (sacrifices, self-mutilation, and the like as mourning rituals) (Fiske and Rai 2014:23-24).  Violence follows the models: a result of group solidarity (usually against other groups) in unity-driven societies; keeping people in their place in hierarchic ones; maintaining equity in egalitarian societies; and “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” in market-driven ones.  Complex societies can be expected to have all four types of relational models operating inside people’s heads and in the cultural spaces, and thus to have violence for all those reasons and more. 

            Genocide, as we have seen, is moralized as necessary to eliminate the loathesome and hated groups within society.  Aggressive war is moralized by a felt need for land and loot—Hitler’s lebensraum, Ameri