The Humble Cabbage: A Valuable Vegetable in Chinese Culture
Happy World Cabbage Day! Every Feb. 17 people everywhere celebrate this leafy vegetable, but in Chinese culture, it’s lauded regularly. Here are a few things you might not know about this crucifer.
It symbolizes wealth
“Cabbage and Insects,” attributed to Xu Daoguang
While the cabbage might seem humble, in Chinese culture it actually represents prosperity. That’s because its name — “bai cai” or white vegetable — is a pun for “100 wealth.”
It’s a treasured staple in parts of China
Not only does the cabbage symbolize wealth, it’s valued as a food source as well. During the harsh winter months in northern China, you might see stockpiles of bai cai. That’s because it’s a hearty vegetable that keeps for a long time: even when the outer leaves wither, the inner leaves are still good.
It’s also versatile and can be cooked in myriad ways, from stir-fry to dumpling filling to hotpot. Hence, the Chinese saying, “Bai cai is better than a hundred vegetables.” Finally, it’s dirt cheap! The phrase “bai cai price” refers to any crazy good deal.
One of Taiwan’s cultural treasures is a cabbage made of jade
By peellden (CC BY-SA 3.0)
If you find yourself in the National Palace Museum in Taipei, you’ll definitely want to check out the Jadeite Cabbage. (Jadeite, by the way, is a valuable variety of jade. A lesser type is nephrite. You can learn more about jade in our post.) Small yet exquisitely detailed, it was carved by an anonymous artist during the Qing Dynasty in the 19th century and was first displayed in the Forbidden City in Beijing.
While cabbages in general stand for abundance, this particular rendering symbolizes purity and fertility. The white of the leaves equal virtue while the leaves themselves mean fertility. The locust and katydid? Children of course.
By Asiir (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Accompanying the cabbage is another food-themed treasure called the Meat-Shaped Stone. Carved from jasper, it depicts a delicious piece of Dongpo pork, or braised pork belly. Leave it to Taiwan to have food-related cultural treasures!
China has at least two enormous cabbage statues
In case you couldn’t tell, cabbage is a big in China -- literally so, at least in Liaocheng in Shandong province and Handan in Hebei. The cities are home to colossal bai cai statues clocking in at over 30 and 65 feet, respectively.Want more about food in Asian culture? Check out our posts on noodles, spongecakes, lucky foods to eat during Lunar New Year, and more! You can also get your very own jade (colored) cabbage!