Chinese dishes are classified in two ways: One is by region. One of the regional methods defines four major cuisines based on the eating habits of the people in different regions. They include Sichuan, Guangdong, Shandong and Huai – Yang cuisines. Another regional division comprises nine schools. They are the Beijing, Shandong, Sichuan, Guangdong, Fujian, Huai – Yang, Hubei, Hunan, and Jiangsu – Zhejiang cuisines.
The second classification is based on the origin of the dishes. This system includes the palace, officials’, common people’s, mountain and forest temples’, and ethnic minorities’ dishes, and dishes of foreign countries. This second classification is very old. It was based on the rigid stratification of China’s feudal society, which lasted for thousands of years and forced different ways of living upon the people. The differences in the stratification of the foods were recorded in the Unofficial Annals of the States in the Spring and Autumn Period as follows: “The emperor ate ox, sheep; officials ate pig; scholars ate fish; and the common people ate vegetables.” Feudal ethics and different living standards among the differing strata resulted in Chinese food being classified into the palace, officials’, and common people’s cuisines.
Officials’ cuisine, also called the cuisine of the officialdom and literati, included the famous dishes of the wealthy people. The standards for the officials; cuisine were lower than for palace food, but remained far superior to the common people’s cuisine. Official’s dishes were created by working people, but were eaten only by feudal bureaucrats, aristocrats, and the rich.
Many bureaucrats and aristocrats ate luxurious food. Huang Sheng of the Tang Dynasty “cooked three catties of venison from dawn to sunset every day, and said with joy: ‘It is well done now!’ He did this for 40 years.” Lu Mengzheng of the Song Dynasty had chicken tongue soup every day, the result being that chicken feathers were piled up like a hill. The family cook of Cai Jing, a prime minister of the Song Dynasty, killed 1,000 quail every day.