Soup dumplings and the so-called clash of civilizations

Xiao Long Bao

A London restaurant released a video clip to promote its dumplings Xiao Long Bao — a small one-bite steamed dumplings with hot soup inside.

However, it generated angry reaction as “In the clip, people can be seen viciously bursting the defenceless dumplings with chopsticks, letting the delicious soup leak out into a row!”

Many viewers said it was the wrong way to eat the Bao and accused the restaurant of “disrespecting Chinese culture” by comparing Xiao Long Bao to spots. Some even called it “racist”.

I agree that it was not a pleasant experience to watch this video, and I also do not eat the soup dumplings in that way. However, the accusations of “disrespecting Chinese culture” and “racism”, etc, have gone too far.

While we may talk about table manner or bad eating habits, some people really like to enjoy the fun (or stupidity) of eating messily. When we see something unpleasant, we need to know whether it is out of a particular individual’s personality or out of cultural divide and misunderstanding.

Even when it has come clear that there is certain disrespectful element, we need to know that it always take time for everyone to know how to appreciate foods as well as alien culture; or otherwise we may easily fall into the trap of the so-called clash of civilizations.

Samuel Huntington’s 1993 article and 1996 book on the clash of civilizations are in no doubt influential worldwide. Many peoples, including not just those in the West but also many in Asia, believe it is true and sadly inevitable. Nevertheless, some disagree. Mark Salter says that this theory is based on a “simplistic dualist structure of Self/Other” (2002: p.9).

By resorting to cultural and religious differences, it has led people to see those in the non-West world as barbarians, and created the notions of ‘us vs them’, “West vs Rest” and so on.

In the book edited by Emran Qureshi and Michael Sells, many scholars warn that the clash theorists tend to differentiate the Orientalist East as Islam and/or Confucianism from the Judeo-Christian West, and then demonize the former.

Although the concept of Western superiority does prevail on our Earth, the Third World peoples should not follow this logic. We do not necessarily feel that we are either superior or inferior to others, be they White or Black or any other skin colours.

The comment that eating dumplings incorrectly is racism is a reflection of feeling inferiority and a lack of self-confidence. Civilizations do not necessarily clash. Instead, they can co-exist peacefully so long as we embrace pluralism and remind ourselves of the merits of being tolerant of alien culture and occasionally some disrespectful acts.

There is no such so-called doctrinal way of eating Xiao Long Bao. Feel free to eat it in your own way. My style is to forget the vinegar, use the chopsticks to turn the Bao upside down and then put it into the mouth when it is not that hot. Bite it and enjoy the delicious soup flowing around my tongue. That is it.


Mark B. Salter (2002), “Barbarians and Civilization in International Relations”, London: Pluto Press.
Emran Qureshi and Michael A. Sells (eds.) (2003), “The New Crusades: Constructing the Muslim Enemy”, New York: Columbia University Press.

The opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of China Daily Mail.

Categories: Food and Beverage

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