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Join us for the next RAS Book Club session, where we'll discuss the book The Chile Pepper in China – A Cultural Biography.

We will host both an offline and an online session.

Offline session: 12 July, 19:30 at Garden Books

If you want to attend the offline session at Garden Books at 19:30, please click here.

We ask members to support the venue with a 50 RMB entry fee in exchange for a drink voucher upon arrival.

Non-member price: 100 RMB

Online session: 12 July, 21:00 China Standard Time (GMT +8) on Zoom.

If you want to attend the Zoom online session at 21:00, please click here.


Brian Dott The Chile Pepper in China – A Cultural Biography (Arts and Traditions of the Table: Perspectives on Culinary History) 286 pages, published May, 2020

Chinese cuisine without chilli peppers seems unimaginable. Entranced by the fiery taste, diners worldwide have fallen for Chinese cooking. In China, chillies are everywhere, from dried peppers hanging from eaves to Mao's boast that revolution would be impossible without chillies, from the eighteenth-century novel Dream of the Red Chamber to contemporary music videos. Indeed, they are so common that many Chinese assume they are native. Yet there were no chillies anywhere in China prior to the 1570s, when they were introduced from the Americas.

Brian R. Dott explores how the non-native chilli went from obscurity to ubiquity in China, influencing not just cuisine but also medicine, language and cultural identity. He details how its versatility became essential to a variety of regional cuisines and swayed both elite and popular medical and healing practices. Dott tracks the cultural meaning of the chilli across a wide swath of literary texts and artworks, revealing how the spread of chillies fundamentally altered the meaning of the term spicy. He emphasizes the intersection between food and gender, tracing the chilli as a symbol for both male virility and female passion. Integrating food studies, the history of medicine, and Chinese cultural history, The Chile Pepper in China sheds new light on the piquant cultural impact of a potent plant and raises broader questions regarding notions of authenticity in cuisine.

Please note: this is a book discussion, not a talk. The author will not be present.