Timeline of food and nutrition in China

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This is a timeline of food and nutrition in China.

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Time period Development summary
"In 1949 population growth and food demands alongside an inadequate food supply created a crisis. In response China implemented a series of policies to improve living standards. In agriculture the government eliminated the private land ownership and undertook a major land redistribution in rural areas, followed later by agricultural collectivization."[1] "The price system for major foods has been controlled by the government since the 1950s."[2] The policy of state monopoly for purchasing and marketing grain helped the Chinese people to survive serious natural disasters in the early 1960s."[2] In terms of calorie intake, food consumption in Chinese increases steadily since the early 1970s.[3] ". Since the late 70's and early 80’s, many Chinese medical schools have offered Chinese nutrition courses. Some have even set up Nutrition Departments. Thousands of professional Chinese nutritionists provide services in hospitals, factories, schools, and restaurants. At the same time, many new Chinese food supplements and nutrition products have flooded into the market."[4] "Since the 1980s, the nutrition transition in China has been rapidly occurring as the political and economic climates evolve."[5] Vegetable consumption declines substantially during the 1980s.[6]
" Nutritional improvement was uneven, including increased undernutrition in the 1959–1962 period and a remarkable rebound and continued improvement thereafter."[1]

Full timeline

Year Category Event type Details
1766BC–1154BC Early Shang Dynasty. People cook herbs to treat diseases. Minister Yi Yin invents cooking wares and soup and broth making techniques.[4]
1122BC–721BC West Zhou Dynasty. In the imperial palace “Food Doctors” select and prepare meals for Kings, using vegetables, fruits, grains, poultry, meats, herbs, and other ingredients. The thought is to make food that is both delicious and health preserving. At this time, “Food doctors” have higher status than “disease doctors” (Internists) and “Carbuncle Doctors” (Surgeons). Theses “Food doctors” are considered the first professional nutritionists.[4]
c.1000BC The Chinese first cultivate the wild soybean.[7]
403BC-221BC Warring States period. Doctors pay much attention to nutrition and food therapy. Chinese physician Bian Que says, "As a Doctor, one should investigate the origin of, and pathological changes created by diseases and then treat the patient with food. If food does not cure the disorders, then medicine is given." This advice would influenced succeeding generations of Physicians.[4]
221BC-220AD Chinese book on agriculture and medicinal plants Shennong Ben Cao Jing written. It is recognized as the first Chinese materia medica. The text includes references to many grains, fruits, herbs, fishes, poultry and other meats as well as minerals. Dates, sesame seeds, grapes, walnuts, lotus seeds (Lian Zi), Chinese yams, beans, scallions, honeys, and salt are examples of substances recognized as having medicinal qualities.[4]
150AD–2019AD Preeminent Chinese medical sage Zhang Zhongjing recounts his experiences in using rice and other foods with medicinal herbs in his book A Treatise on Febrile and Miscellaneous Diseases. His “angelica, ginger and lamb broth” is still popular in the 21st century.[4]
25Ad–220AD Soy milk and tofu are alrerady prepared around this time, as revealed by a stone slab with a mural featuring a kitchen scene which illustrations.[7]
670AD-907AD Literature Tang Dynasty. Chinese physician Sun Simiao lists over 154 foods in his book Essential Prescriptions Worth a Thousand Talents of Gold. He says, “Food can expel pathogens and protect the internal organs, make people happy, and benefits the Qi and blood. A good Doctor explores the origins of a disease and and its pathogenesis, then prescribes foods to treat the patient. Medicine should be used only if food therapy fails. His student Meng Xian writes the book, Nourishing Recipes in which he increases the number of foods to 241. Meng Xian's student Zhang Ding revises this book and names it Dietetic Materia Medica, the first Chinese book on dietetic therapies and actions of foods, cooking techniques, along with dietary principles discussed.[4]
960 AD–1278 AD Literature Song Dynasty. The government orders medical officials Wang Huan Yin et al to compile Peaceful Holy Benevolent Prescriptions, which lists dietetic therapies for 28 diseases. Around the same time, Chen Zhi’s book, Care of Aged Parents, lists 162 dietetic recipes for older people.[4]
1206 AD–1341 AD "Dietetic therapy reached a peak during the Yuan Dynasty (1206-1341 AD). Huo Si Hui wrote “The Principles of Nutrition and Dietetic Therapy”, Based on his experiences as a nutritionist for the emperor and his family, he described 94 courses of food including such factors as types of foods which balance each other and the order in which foods are served, 35 kinds of soup, and 29 recipes for longevity. He also discussed the toxicity of foods and dietary hygiene. This was the first complete, systematic book on Chinese nutrition and dietetic therapy."[4]
1368 AD–1644 AD "The Ming (1368-1644 AD) Dynasties saw an even deeper understanding of nutrition and dietetic therapy developed. The great Physician and naturalist Li Shi Zhen (1518-1593 AD) wrote “Compendium of The Materia Medica” a monumental work listing many dietary therapy recipes which placed most foods in the pharmacopeia. At the same time, many nutrition and diet therapy books such as Lu he’s “A Dietary Material Medica”, Bao Sagan’s “The Collection of Vegetables” and Wang Shixiong, “A Collection of Recipes in Leisure Residence”, were published. All of theses texts discussed the properties, actions and indications of foods, and dietary structure, from different angles."[4]
1876–1879 Northern Chinese Famine of 1876–79
1928–1930 Chinese famine of 1928–30
1939 Nutrition The Committee on Nutrition of the Chinese Medical Association sets the recommended calorie requirement for an adult Chinese in a temperate climate and living not by manual labor but in an ordinary way, at 2400 per day. This is the same amount considered adequate for Europeans.[8]
1942–1943 Chinese famine of 1942–43
1949 The People's Republic of China is founded. Shortly after, a nationwide agrarian reform to abolish the feudal system of landownership is implemented over a three-year period. After the land redistribution, peasants would find great incentives to accelerate agricultural production. Both the total production and per caput consumption of major food items would increase steadily until 1957.[2] In 1949, total mortality rates, infant mortality rates, and maternal mortality rates are 30 per 1,000; 200 per 1,000; and 1,500 per 100,000, respectively. Life expectancy is only 35 years. Hundreds of thousands of people starve and die of hunger.[1]
1949–1957 "Cereal consumption increased from 1949 through 1957. It dropped to its lowest level in 1962, following a period of economic experimentation that did not meet its agricultural target and actually led to major declines in food production and nutritional status, and then slowly recovered and reached its highest level in 1982. "[1]
1952 "Cereal consumption, already high, increased from 541.2 grams per day (70.0% coarse grains) in 1952 to 645.9 grams per day (15.9% coarse grains) in 1992."[1]
1952 "In 1952, 88.2% of the Chinese population farmed. Without advanced technology and fertilizers, farming required tremendous amounts of time and labor. The major transportation mode was walking. There was no electricity, and there were no televisions, no private cars, few public buses, and few bicycles."[1]
1953 "In the early period of New China3 the level of grain production was very low, and resolving the problem of increases in demand and shortages in supply became the great challenge for the government. To solve the problem of supplying grain, especially to poor people, a state monopoly for purchasing and marketing grain was implemented nationally by the end of 1953, replacing free trade of grain and oil. The peasants' surplus grain was purchased by the government at a fixed price and then sold to urban residents and grain-deficient rural households at a low price."[2]
1955 "In 1955, the State Council formulated special policies on grain processing and instituted a rationing system (Editorial Committee of Today's China series, 1988b). According to a quota determined by age, occupation and intensity of labour by the urban individual, coupons for grain are provided each month to all urban households. This approach has been significant in meeting the essential need for grain. Moderate refining of grain has been highly encouraged in grain processing. The well-known "81 flour" (81 kg flour produced from 100 kg wheat) and "92 rice" (92 kg rice produced from 100 kg unpolished rice) are examples of maximized utilization of grain to meet the nutritional requirements of the population."[2]
1958 "After 1958, the People's Commune system was practised in rural China. Under this system, peasants within a township were organized into a commune consisting of production brigades which were divided into teams. Land, livestock and other production materials were owned collectively, and production team members usually worked together or in groups assigned by a leader. Peasants accumulated work points and were paid in food and perhaps small amounts of cash. This system seriously dampened their enthusiasm and the rural economy declined."[2]
1959–1961 Nutrition Crisis Great Chinese Famine
1961 Food Production ". In 1961, the grain output was only 143,5 million tonnes, a figure similar to that of 1951."[2]
1962 Food Consumption Cereal consumption drops to its lowest level.[1]
1971 As of date, Chinese food consumption is lower than most of its Asian neighbours.[3]
1978 The Chinese government institutes the One-child policy, as part of a birth planning program designed to control the size of the population. The only child is therefore constantly lavished with care by his or her parents and grandparents. This would result in an increased buying power enjoyed by children.[5]
1978 Food Consumption Consumption of fishery products by households starts increasing steadily because of the growing domestic supply.[9]
1978 "The People's Commune system existed until 1978, when it was replaced by a rural household production responsibility system. This system allows each rural household to use a piece of land and provide grain to the local government at the state-ordered rate according to the household's contract. The household can dispose of remaining produce as it wishes. This new system placed agricultural development on a more positive track,"[2]
1979 Food Policy The Chinese Government starts implementing major land, social, and economic reforms. The country’s economy and agricultural productivity would change greatly after this time.[1]
1979 Food Forestry, animal husbandry, fishery and associated production increase remarkably in relative importance, accounting for 41,9 percent of the total value of agricultural output in 1984 compared with 32.2 percent in 1979.[2]
1980–1996 Food Consumption Poultry per capita at-home consumption triples from 0.76 to 2.44 kilos in the period, while its share in total meat consumption doubles, from 7.2 percent to 14.2 percent. Egg output grows from 2.6 million tons to 19.5 million, while per capita at-home consumption increases from 2.04 kilos to 5.03 kilos. Beef's share of total meat consumption rises from 2.5 percent to 5 percent.[9]
1980–2014 "Malnutrition, previously a persistent problem under the leadership of Mao Zedong, has declined from 30% of the population in 1980 to less than 12% in 2014."[10]
1981 " In 1981, the State Council announced that "prioritizing grain production and actively promoting a diversified agro-economy" would be the principle for adjusting the structure of agriculture. The importance of coordinated development of forestry, animal husbandry and aquatic production in association with agriculture was emphasized. Land that had been inappropriately developed for crops was returned to other uses. The area planted in crops decreased from almost 115 million hectares in 1981 to about 113.5 million hectares in 1990; the rate of decrease was 1.3 percent. "[2]
1981–1990 The area planted in crops decreases from almost 115 million hectares to about 113.5 million hectares in the period, a 1.3 percent rate of decrease.[2]
1982 Nutrition "Overweight emerged only after 1982"[1]
1982 "Cereal consumption increased from 1949 through 1957. It dropped to its lowest level in 1962, following a period of economic experimentation that did not meet its agricultural target and actually led to major declines in food production and nutritional status, and then slowly recovered and reached its highest level in 1982. "[1]
1982 "The national average intake of energy slightly decreased from 2485 to 2328 kcal/caput/day between 1982 and 1992 and this is probably due to the more sedentary lifestyle of the population. "[11]
1982 China has about 500 milk processing plants with a daily capacity of 4,000 tons and an annual output of 997,000 tons.[9]
1982–1992 "Between 1982 and 1992, there was a reduction in the intake of all major food groups except for meat, fish, milk and milk products, eggs and oils and fats. As a consequence, there has been an increase in the share of protein and fat in total energy intake from 10.8% to 11.8% for protein and from 18.4% to 22.0% for fat."[11]
1982–2017 Food Production "Total grain output increased 74% from 354 million tons in 1982 to 618 million tons in 2017, surpassing the growth of its population by about 34%"[12]
1985 Food Floods, droughts and other natural disasters in major agricultural provinces lead to a sharp decline in food supply.[3]
1985 Food Policy The Chinese Government ends the unified food purchase and supply scheme, which indicates the growing role of the market in the regulation of food supply in the country.[3]
1985–1988 Food Production The Chinese population grows by 3.3 per cent in the period, although the output of rice, wheat and corn declines by 4 per cent, 0.6 per cent and 0.6 per cent, respectively.[3]
1985–1996 Nutrition Intake Per capita total meat consumption (pork, beef, mutton, poultry, and fish products) increases 15 percent for urban households and 33 percent for rural households.[9]
1986–1996 National total animal protein output reportedly triples, from 38.1 to 118.3 million tons.[9]
1987 "Since 1987 the government has followed a strategy for agricultural development known as "promoting agriculture by sciences and technology". A large number of scientists have been sent to the countryside to offer technical assistance in the use of advanced methods for production of grain, cotton, edible oil, livestock and fish (He, 1991). The state increased the utilization of chemical fertilizer, agricultural machinery and irrigation, trained agricultural technicians and popularized advanced techniques. It is estimated that 30 to 40 percent of the total increase in agricultural production is attributable to science and technology."[2]
1988 Food A national project to promote the production of non-staple food and secure the market supply (known informally as the "Food-Basket Project") is proposed by the Ministry of Agriculture of the People's Republic of China and approved by the State Council. The project is implemented nationwide and remarkable improvements in production, marketing and consumption of non-staple foods would be made.[2]
1988 "Because of escalating production costs, the purchasing price of farm and farm-related products was raised systematically so that the purchasing price index had risen by 14.5 percent by 1988. "[2]
1990 "In 1990 the total amounts of meat, eggs, milk and fish produced were 28.57, 7.94, 4.75 and 12.37 million tonnes, respectively. These outputs represent increases of 48,3 percent, 48.6 percent, 64,2 percent and 75,5 percent, respectively, over 1985 production (State Statistics Bureau, 1991). The increases allowed a substantial improvement in the dietary patterns of urban and rural people. The annual per caput supply of meat, eggs and aquatic products was 13 kg higher in 1990 than in 1984"[2]
1990 "n 1990 the grain output was 446.2 million tonnes, or 393.1 kg per caput (State Statistics Bureau, 1991)."[2]
1990 "In 1990, the State Council set up a national specific grain reserve to improve the system gradually at the national, provincial, municipal and autonomous-region levels. All the farmers' surplus grain (that remaining after the contracted purchase) that is not absorbed by the market is purchased. A protective minimum price is established for the benefit of the peasants (People's Daily, 1991). A leading group is responsible for the overall planning and managing of national specific grain reserve matters, and the Bureau of the Grain Reserve was initiated for national grain management. This system allows the state to purchase grain through the specific reserve as well as contracting and solves the peasants' problem of selling surplus grain after a bumper harvest (People's Dally, 1991). Because of this specific grain reserve, the supply of staples was basically guaranteed for areas of China that were flooded in 1991."[2]
1990–2000 Vegetable production in China increase from 67 to 141 kcals/capita/day in the period.[6]
1991 The National Program for Ten-Year Planning of the National Economy and Social Development and the Eighth Five-Year Plan are issued by the Chinese Government. These point to goals for the year 2000: "Based on the increase of income of the inhabitants, the food consumption of urban and rural people will be further raised in both quality and quantity, and the consumption of meat, eggs, milk, aquatic products and fruits will rise to some extent..." Nutritional status is officially incorporated into the national economic and social development plan.[2]
1991 The price of grain and edible oil on ration is readjusted by a large margin for the first time since the mid-1960s. The price of grain is raised by 70 percent, and the price of edible oil almost doubles.[2]
1991–1997 Nutrition Intake Mean intakes of energy decline from 101.8 percent of the Chinese recommended daily allowance to 95.2 percent, with means below the RDA in rural (92 percent) but not urban (102.7 percent) residents. In the same period, mean intakes of dietary fats increase from 21.8 to 27.7 percent of energy. Mean intakes of animal foods (meats and poultry, fish and eggs) increase by about 25 percent, from 105.6 to 131.6 g/day.[6]
1992 Cereal consumption increases to 645.9 grams per day, of which 15.9% are coarse grains (e.g., corn, millet, oatmeal), down from 50.4% in 1978 and 70.0% in 1952.[1] "The findings from the 28 provinces surveyed in 1992 showed that the average daily per capita energy intake varied from 1913 kcal in Hainan to 2720 kcal in Anhui."[11]
1992 Daily energy intake of urban residents amount to 2,395 kilocalories per reference person, which is 101 kilocalories higher than that of the rural population.[13]
1995 The central government delegates the primary responsibility of maintaining the regional balance of food supply, demand and reserves to provincial governors.[3]
1995 Urban households allocate about a half of their living expenditure to food, 23 percent of which is spent on red meat and poultry, while 7 percent is spent on aquatic products.[9]
1995 Food Literature United States environmental analyst Lester R. Brown publishes book Who Will Feed China?. Brown announces that if China can not feed its population, its food problem would potentially result in a global starvation.[3]
1995 Food Production China reaches its target of 95 per cent food self-sufficiency.[3]
1995 Chinese exports account for more than 11% of the world aquatic market.[9]
1995 A policy asks schools to emphasize physical education as well as classroom learning, to promote higher levels of activity and help reduce early obesity.[6]
1995–1999 Food Imports of French fries from the United States increases tenfold in the period.[6]
1996 China has roughly 700 dairy processing plants.[9]
1997 Nutrition Intake It is reported that more than 50 percent of adults living in all urbanized areas have high-fat diets.[6]
1997 Nutrition Program launch A National Plan of Nutrition Action is developed, involving intersectoral cooperation between policy-makers in the health and agriculture ministries, as well as other institutes involved in nutrition and food hygiene.[6]
1997 Food Production Milk supplies in the country are greater than demand and serious overstocking occurs.[9]
1999 Food Policy The food market further liberalizes, with only limited government regulations, including the food purchase price guide and prescribed quantities of food reserves, remaining in force.[3]
2000 Nutrition Literature Chinese anthropologist Jun Jing publishes Feeding China’s Little Emperors, a collection of papers exploring the dietary patterns of children growing up in the post-Mao transition to a market economy, where children dictate up to 70% of a family’s spending. For the first time in Chinese history, children are able to express preferences for different foods instead of merely accepting what is presented to them on the dining table. Local and foreign food companies start to target both youths and the financially secure parents who want to give their children the best. Many children in wealthy urban areas develop preferences for fast foods and processed foods instead of the traditional Chinese cuisine, leading to an increased prevalence of childhood obesity.[5]
2001 Food Distribution Supermarkets account for 48 percent of urban food markets in China, an increase beyond 30 percent level in 1999.[6]
2003–2005 About 120 million Chinese from poor areas are estimated to be undernourished in the period.[14]
2004 Food Intake Based on the annual grain output, food consumption per capita reaches 350 kg in the year.[12]
2005 Food Production Aquaculture: China reports harvesting 32.4 million tons, more than 10 times that of the second-ranked nation, India, which reported 2.8 million tons.[15]
2008 Food China becomes a net importer of grains (namely sorghum, corn, distiller's dried grains with solubles, barley, wheat and rice).[3]
2010 Food Production Based on the annual grain output, food consumption per capita reaches 400 kg in the year.[12]
2011 By this time, the average Chinese per capita daily calorie consumption is higher than that of Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Also, China's levels of plant-based calorie consumption are marginally lower than those in the United States, but animal-based calorie consumption still trails by 30%.[3]
2012 Food China becomes the largest global importer of food and beverages.[3]
2013 By this time, the average Chinese person consumes approximately 57kg of meat per year, of which 71 per cent is pork.[3]
2013 Food China uses 364kg of fertilizer per hectare of arable land, higher than other major agricultural countries, including India(158kg/ha), the European Union (156kg/ha), Brazil (175kg/ha), the United States (132kg/ha), Canada (88kg/ha), Australia (51kg/ha) and Argentina (36kg(ha).[3]
2013 Food Administration The State Food and Drug Administration is upgraded to ministerial level and renamed the China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA).[3]
2013 Food Administration The third plenum of the 18th Congress proposes policies to strenghten land rights in order to increase rural incomes.[3]
2014 Food Production Over 300 chinese farming enterprises have investments across 46 different countries.[3]
2015 Food Production Based on the annual grain output, food consumption per capita reaches 450 kg in the year.[12]

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  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 Du, Shufa; Wang, Huijun; Zhang, Bing; Zhai, Fengying; Popkin, Barry M. "China in the period of transition from scarcity and extensive undernutrition to emerging nutrition-related noncommunicable diseases, 1949–1992". PMID 24341754. doi:10.1111/obr.12122. Retrieved 11 September 2019. 
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 2.18 "Food consumption and nutritional status in China". fao.org. Retrieved 11 September 2019. 
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 3.16 Tubilewicz, Czeslaw. Critical Issues in Contemporary China: Unity, Stability and Development. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 4.9 "The History Of Chinese Nutrition". koosacupuncture.com. Retrieved 11 September 2019. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 "Nutrition Transition in Chinese Communities". todaysdietitian.com. Retrieved 11 September 2019. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 Globalization of Food Systems in Developing Countries: Impact on Food Security and Nutrition (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations ed.). 
  7. 7.0 7.1 "The Story of Soy: From Wild Vine to Soy Burger.". eatingchina.com. Retrieved 11 September 2019. 
  8. Simoons, Frederick J. Food in China: A Cultural and Historical Inquiry. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 9.7 9.8 China Situation and Outlook Series 1998. 
  10. "The hungry and forgotten". The Economist. 13 June 2014. Retrieved 3 March 2019. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 "China". fao.org. Retrieved 11 September 2019. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 Cui, Kai; Shoemaker, Sharon P. "A look at food security in China". nature.com. Retrieved 1 November 2019. 
  13. Riskin, Carl; Renwei, Zhao; Shih, Li. China's Retreat from Equality: Income Distribution and Economic Transition. 
  14. "China: Improving nutrition and food safety for China's most vulnerable women and children". mdgfund.org. Retrieved 11 September 2019. 
  15. FAO Fact sheet: Aquaculture in China and Asia