The Female Chef and the Nation:
Zeng Yi’s Zhongkui lu (records from the kitchen)

By Jin Feng

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 28, no.1  (Spring 2016), pp. 1-37

Zhongkui lu (Records from the kitchen, 1907) written by Zeng Yi (1852–1927), a female poet and doctor in the late Qing dynasty, is the first Chinese cookbook published by a female author, but excluded from both male-dominated Chinese gastronomic literature and discourses of modernization in early twentieth-century China. Born of a particular historical encounter, it illustrates the fluid, albeit fraught, relationship between the nei and wai, or the inner and outer quarters, in gender-inflected discourses of Chinese modernization of the time, stretching though not completely breaking the boundaries of gender norms and practices. The book enabled Zeng Yi to transform the acts of cooking and writing about cookery into technologies of identity formation, gender definition, and nation building, seen in the contexts of Chinese modernization at the turn of the twentieth century and of her corpus of works. Ultimately, Records from the Kitchen also performs Chinese feminism in a form worthy of further examination.