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Culture Insider: How did the ancient Chinese keep food warm in winter?

China Daily/ANN | Monday, Nov 21, 2016

Appliances like electric rice cookers, microwaves, and electric kettles, make it easy for people to keep food warm and enjoy a comfortable winter.

So how did Chinese people in ancient times cope in winter without these mod cons?

According to historical records and archaeological discoveries, ancient Chinese people were using their own methods of heat preservation as early as the Shang and Zhou dynasties.

1. "Wen Ding", ancient rice cooker

One of the major functions of an electric rice cooker is to keep food warm. The "Wen Ding" , an ancient cooking vessel, served the same purpose, but instead of using electric energy, the ancient cooking vessel preserved heat by burning fuels like firewood and charcoal.

The "four-footed double-deck pottery Ding" unearthed at the Chaoduntou site in Nanjing in 1989 is thought to be the oldest of its kind discovered in China, dating back to the Neolithic age.

The craftsmanship of making "Wen Ding" matured in the Bronze Age.

The bronze Ding from Shang and Zhou dynasties took on different shapes and structures.

The bronze Ding with a beast mask design, unearthed at Xingan Dayangzhou Shang dynasty tomb in Jiangxi province in 1989, is a typical example. The Ding even has an interior layer to place charcoals to keep food warm.

2. "Ran Lu", ancient small hot pot

The "Ran Lu" is a small size cooking vessel made of bronze, which can be divided into three parts.

A charcoal stove forms the main structure, with a bottom tray to hold charcoal ashes, and a moveable cup at the top.

Some experts have concluded that the vessel's structure suggests it may have been used as a small hot pot and that these vessels became popular after the Warring States Period (475-221 BC).

3. Bronze You, ancient kettle

The bronze you was one of the most common wine containers during the Shang and Zhou dynasties, and it played an important role in rituals.

The you can also be used to warm wine.

For example, the bronze you with beast mask design, unearthed at the Xingan Dayangzhou Shang dynasty tomb in Jiangxi province, has a slot in its abdomen where charcoals could be placed.

Just as people today can't do without an electric kettle, the you allowed people to enjoy a hot drink.

4. Bronze Yan: ancient steamer

Although the "Wen Ding" was effective at keeping food warm, the ancient Chinese people later found that its burning process produced pollution.

As a result, the bronze yan was made with a two-tier structure and used to steam rice and other grains.

After the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD25 - AD220), further improvements to the bronze yan that led to the modern-day steamer.

5. "Wen Wan": ancient thermal insulating container

The cooking vessels mentioned above were usually used by nobles and royal families.

Its principle "Wen Wan" or bowl is simple.

By using an insulting layer to isolate the food container from the outside cold, it is able to keep food warm.

This kind of bowl is called "Wen Wan".

When hot water is poured into the interlayer, the bowl can keep food or drinks warm.

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