Wholeness (全, quan) is an important concept in Chinese culture. The symbolism can be seen in holidays, celebrations, food, family, and every day life. When something is whole, it is complete and seen as in harmony and balanced. If something is not whole, it is broken and can be seen as unfinished and undesirable. Think of a chain with a broken link. You most likely wouldn’t use that chain to keep your bike safe from being stolen.
Wholeness can be seen during Chinese New Year. The year is started in good spirits at the “New Year Day” celebration and the “Closing Out the Year or Reunion Dinner” celebration always happens to complete the year with good spirits.
The symbolism of wholeness is seen in many Chinese foods. Have you ever been to a Chinatown and seen meat hanging in the window with its head, feet, and tail still attached?
Or have you ever wondered why the Lobster Cantonese dish comes to your table with the head? Even though there is little to no meat in the head, feet, and tail, they must be included so it is whole and complete.
During family gatherings there is an importance for everyone to come together. Growing up, my family always tried to eat dinner together. We would even try to wait for everyone to be home at the same time before we ate. At large celebrations like Chinese New Year, Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, my grandparents expected all of their children and grandchildren to gather together. When there is a gathering and someone is missing, there is a feeling that the family is not complete. Recently, my small family (Grouchy Husband + two little girls) had plans to go to the Arthur Ashe Kids Day and my younger daughter caught the Coxsackievirus and could not go. Even though we were looking forward to going to this fun event, it didn’t feel right to go without her, so we decided to all stay home together.
As I learn more about Chinese symbolism, I have come to admire how integrated it is into celebrations, food, and life. When my extended family (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc) come together to celebrate holidays, everyone is there unless there is a special circumstance (like they live in a different country and just came to Thanksgiving the month before), and we eat whole chicken with head and feet, whole fish with head and tail, lobster with the head on the platter, and tangerines with stems and leaves. The whole family being together is important we don’t always get together on the holiday day. One year we celebrated Christmas with my in-laws in the middle of January.
Do you eat whole foods at your celebrations also? Would love to hear about it.
The Dumpling Mama xo