The Legacy of Ancient China in Dim Sum Yuvan Das

For my living color project, I chose to experience none other than a traditional dim-sum meal in the heart of chinatown. This experience was a very enjoyable one, and I was able to see many different real life examples of the legacy of ancient china. What we did was sit in tables of around eight people each, and experienced dim sum the way it was meant to be. There were many people pushing carts full of food around, and we also had to respect all the different traditions and customs that came along with dim sum (or in general with a group meal). I could see many connections to a few religions, some subtle, while others blatantly obvious. I would definitely recommend experiencing this to any future eighth grader for their Living Color Project.

Confucianism and Daoism

There were both connections to Confucianism and Daoism that were both present in throughout the course of the dim sum. Confucianism is a much more strict and controlled religion, whereas Daoism is much more free-flowing and flexible. The center of Confucianism is education, where it is believed that a strict model of education is the key to success. In Daoism, however, it is believed that you must only learn things when the time comes, and you must live life your own way, without being forced or restricted in any way by any systems or models. It is believed in Daoism that there is a way to everything, and nature will guide you along the path that you are meant to take, unless you do something to attempt to alter the path of nature. In Confucianism, however, people are judged on their level of education, and also on their morals, and how much of a Junzi, or gentleman they are. Confucianism is based on education and morals, and it is a much stricter and restrictive religion than Daoism.

Connections to Confucianism

While the restaurant was definitely heavier on the Daoist side of things, there were still many aspects of it that were unmistakably Confucian. However, I have narrowed down to two separate aspects that I think the restaurant really shined with. Those are the Five Great Relationships, and Li.

The Five Great Relationships

The reasons which I believe that this restaurants depicts somewhat the five great relationships are mainly because since dim sum is meant to be enjoyed as a group, there are a lot of different types of interactions between people. First and foremost, the most prominent relationship was the relationship between friends. Since everyone was of relatively the same age at every table, this made the conditions spectacular for this relationship to truly shine. Another of the five relationships that appeared, although a bit more subtly, was the relationship of ruler and subject, although in this case it was more of a customer to staff relationship. The relationship between us diners and the staff of the restaurant was definitely not to be overlooked. Since in the pairing of ruler and subject, we would be the ruler, the staff was very kind and respectful, as were we to them, and they tried as best as they could to fulfill all of our wishes, and to make the experience as pleasant as possible for us. Another relationship that was shown through the dim sum was the relationship between husband and wife. In two separate areas of the restaurant, in big golden kanji, the words happy newlyweds were pasted onto the walls. This shows how dim sum can also be used in a wedding, and how it can also signify the unification of a husband and wife, essentially making that relationship come into being.


Li is essentially the idea of following traditions, customs, and rules. It is the concept of acting the way you should be in the different contexts that you are in, and always behaving in a way that is perceived as good and respectful. This definitely applied to the restaurant, as there was so much etiquette to learn beforehand. There were many rules and customs that we had to learn, as there are many things that are considered disrespectful or bad luck that may not be obvious. Someone who shows good Li is someone who is aware of all the different traditions and protocols, and who respects them fully. The "rules" of eating dim sum covered a wide range of topics. For example, it is bad luck to stick two chopsticks upright into a bowl of rice. This is because it is seen as a sign of death, as in funerals, people put two incense sticks into a bowl of rice. Also, putting down the teapot in such a way that it's spout points to one of the members of the table is essentially saying that you wish bad luck upon them. This is because pointing is considered rude in China. Also, you must try to avoid using any utensils other than chopsticks and spoons, as forks and knives can be seen as weapons, and it is bad luck to bring anything that is harmful to the table. These are some examples of the customs and traditions of dim sum, and also how to exhibit good Li at the table.

Connections to Daoism

While the restaurant did exhibit some Confucian traits, the restaurant as a whole was more of a representation of Daoism. Although there are many different aspects of Daoism that are present, there are three of them that I found to be the most prevalent. They are wu-wei, yin and yang, and opposing the rectification of names.


The literal definition of Wu-wei is the "non-doing". It essentially means connecting to the path of nature, and letting your life take you wherever it takes you, without struggling or fighting against it. This was very prominent in the dim sum for various different reasons. First of all, in the way dim sum is served. Rather than ordering off of a menu, in dim sum there are people coming around with little carts full of many different kinds of items. Whenever a cart passes, you take what you want, they write it down on a slip of paper, and move on. This completely relates to wu-wei, as you are simply taking whatever comes around, whenever it comes around. There is no control over what can come around when. You are essentially doing nothing, except waiting to see what will come next. Also, since wu-wei correlates with the course of nature, depictions of nature also are a representation of wu-wei. For example, the table we were at was under a huge chandelier in the shape of a lotus flower, and also, bordering the walls was an artist's depiction of bamboo. There was also a very interesting piece of art on the wall, which showed an octagonal shape, and inside of it were many geometric shapes. Although all the shapes inside of it were different shapes and sizes, they all fit perfectly into the outer octagonal shape. This is yet another connection to wu-wei, as it shows that your life is unpredictable, and there are many different things that will happen, but everything will soon enough fall into place if you just follow the way that nature sets forth for you.

Yin and Yang

The concepts of Daoism rely heavily on the balance of the world, or essentially Yin and Yang. Yin and Yang were very present throughout many different aspects of the Dim Sum, first and foremost, through the array of food. In each cart there were different types of food. On one cart, there could be fried foods, while on another, there could be dumplings, and on a third one there could be sweet desserts. These carts go around the restaurant at different times, almost ensuring that every table will have each cart pass by them at least once during their stay. This means that it is very likely for you to have a balanced meal when you eat dim sum, as there are many different types of food that you will most likely be eating. Another depiction of Yin and Yang is through some decorations on a wall. There were big golden sculptures of both a dragon and a phoenix, each on other sides of the room. These are considered to be direct representations of Yin and Yang. The phoenix, radiant with feminine energy, represents the Yin, while the strong dragon portrays the masculine, Yang. Together, they are seen as true love, and can strengthen any relationship. They are the perfect example of Feng Shui.

Opposing the Rectification of Names

The rectification of names is a very confucian idea. It essentially states that you must always act the way you are supposed to, according to your status and appearance. Now, this goes directly against Daoist principals, as Daoism encourages you to follow the way wherever it takes you, no matter your name, age, or background. One such example of something that opposes the rectification of names that was present at the dim sum was a set of dumplings. Now, at first glance, one might not even notice that they are dumplings. And that is because they don't appear as such. Rather, the dumplings take the form of none other than bright orange carrots! This completely defies the rectification of names, as the dumpling does not taste like carrot, or even contain any carrots. The rectification of names that if it looks like a carrot, it should taste like a carrot. However, these dumplings exhibit more of a Daoist property, showing how anyone can be anything, depending on where the way takes them.


Overall, I believe that attending the Dim Sum was a very educational, enriching, and fun experience. While it was really nice to taste all the new foods and flavors, the real richness of the experience came from being able to see different aspects of the restaurant, and to be able to connect them to the legacy of ancient China. You can learn about many different traditions and morals of Confucianism and Daoism, such as wu-wei, the five great relationships, and many more. However, the real eye-opening lesson that this has taught me is that you really can relate anything you see to the legacy of the ancient world, from the simple, to the extremely complex.

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