Historical development of Chinese dietary patterns and nutrition from the ancient to the modern society

World Rev Nutr Diet. 1996;79:133-53. doi: 10.1159/000425370.


Actually, food, diet and diet therapy germinated together with the change of meal patterns and traditional Chinese medicine from very ancient China; they appeared in an embryonic form till the Shang and Zhou Dynasties and received great importance from the governors who arranged officials to manage their diets and banquets. Moreover, food, diet and meal patterns were replenished through the Zhou, Qin, Han and Jin Dynasties and epitomized and reached thriving and prosperous standards till the Tang Dynasty. They then became perfected, developed, and formed a complete theory in the dynasties of Song, Jin, Yuan, Ming and Qing. The basis of modern nutrition was made up until the end of 19th century and the beginning of 20th century, which was the time when natural science, including microbiology, chemistry, food industry, etc. were extended into China, yet it was not fully formed until the established of the People's Republic of China. Practicing, teaching, training and research activities started regularly in 1950. With a big population and poor economy basis, the first problem that the Chinese people has now been basically solved. Chinese nutritional scientists worked hard to find out the nutritional problems and status of the people. Through the broad-scale 'Nationwide Nutrition Survey', we now understand our main problems. On this basis, RDA, dietary goal and dietary guidance have been put forward. Although the problem of adequate food and clothing has been basically solved, the Chinese are still facing both the problem of nutrition insufficiency and nutrition excess. However, although nutrition insufficiency and deficiency still extensively exist, nutrition excess and imbalance are emerging in other sections of the population. There is still a shortage of qualified nutritional scientists and technicians, and the training of nutritionists is urgent. Food supplies, including milk, beef, green vegetables and fruit should be increased, especially for some rural and remote areas. The good traditional eating habits and meal patterns should be kept, e.g., breakfast and lunch cannot be neglected, and plant protein meals and Chinese medicinal diets should be promoted. Animals fat intake and fried foods should be reduced, and exercise and fitness programs should be recommended for the overweight population. In the future, our meal pattern take on a mixed form with the advantages of both the eastern and western diets. Chinese scientists are confident of solving the nutritional problems and improving the whole nation's physical fitness and physique under the situation of gradual improvements of the economy and nutritional status of people.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • China
  • Diet / history*
  • Diet / trends
  • Feeding Behavior*
  • Food Analysis
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, Ancient
  • History, Medieval
  • Humans
  • Nutrition Policy
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Nutritional Requirements