, Volume 51, Issue 1, pp 35–39 | Cite as

Food and Binary Oppositions in the Chinese Meal System

Symposium: Signs, Symbols, and Semiotics


As one of the most basic and accessible social codes, food has many social and cultural connotations. This article aims to offer a semiotic reading of ordinary Chinese meals. The three-meal structure and four binary oppositions (Cooked/Raw, Fan/Cai, Solids/Liquids, and Vegetable/Meat) are discussed. The laws that govern the Chinese meal system reveal how Chinese people see themselves and others, how they connect the past and present, and how they identify themselves with their culture.


Food Semiotics Binary opposition Chinese meal Identity 

Further Reading

  1. Barthes, R. 1967. Elements of Semiology (trans: Lavers, A. & Smith, C.). London: Jonathan Cape.Google Scholar
  2. Barthes, R. 1972. Mythologies (trans: Lavers, A.). London: Paladin.Google Scholar
  3. Barthes, R. 1983. Empire of Signs (trans: Howard, R.). London: Jonathan Cape.Google Scholar
  4. Davison, N. 2013. China Loves Pork Too Much, Guardian. Retrieved from
  5. de Saussure, F. 1959. Course in General Linguistics. New York: Philosophical Library. Retrieved from
  6. Douglas, M. 1972. Deciphering a Meal. Daedalus, 101(1), 61–81. doi: 10.2307/20024058.Google Scholar
  7. Douglas, M., & Nicod, M. 1974. Taking the Biscuit: The Structure of British Meals. New Society, 30, 744–777.Google Scholar
  8. Leeds-Hurwitz, W. 1993. Semiotics and Communication: Signs, Codes. Cultures: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  9. Lévi Strauss, C. 1964/1986. The Raw and the Cooked (trans: Weightman, J. & Weightman, D.). Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  10. Lin, Y. 1936. My Country and My People. London: Heinemann Education. Retrieved from
  11. Mao, Z. 1942. Economic and Financial Problems in the Anti-Japanese War. Retrieved from
  12. Roberts, M. 2012. Spanish Siesta Falls Victim to Europe’s Debt Crisis. The Telegraph. Retrieved from

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Media and CommunicationCity University of Hong KongKowloonHong Kong

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