Miniature Chinese Altar

Below is a miniature model (13 5/8 inches wide) of a Ming Dynasty altar (1368-1644) complete with offerings of food and incense and possibly vases to hold flowers. Judging from what looks to be sugar cane on the left-hand side of the table, this is perhaps a Hokkien altar. In the Hokkien tradition, the Chinese New Year has its high point on the Jade Emperor's birthday (the ninth day of that fifteen-day long celebration) and sugar cane is always included in the altar offerings in remembrance of how the "king of the heavens" answered the prayers of the Hokkien people and protected them from their persecutors by hiding them in a field of sugar cane. Other foods include what look like a calf's head and a whole carp, cakes, and dumplings. More information about the role of sugar cane in the Hokkien New Year tradition can be found here and here.

image from Christie's website

The model above, although six or seven hundred years old, looks strikingly similar to this modern-day altar, arranged for Chinese New Year in Bangkok (sans sugar cane). For anyone interested in food customs and preparations during the Ming Dynasty in general, this is a fascinating page, providing such recipes as "Stir Fried Chicken Legs with Mushrooms" as prepared by a monk in the Wuhu Buddhist Temple, who "cleaned the chicken legs and mushrooms in water . . . then added oil and wine to a wok and stir–fried . . . until they were well done."

From the webpage "Ancestor Worship in Toaism"

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  1. Even though some things related to food have changed over the years, it seems as though more things have stayed the same, as evidenced by this post.


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