Chinese Cultural Forms in The Gourmet Club: Creating Curiosity and Pleasure From Unfamiliarity

By integrating Chinese cultural forms in the description of the exotic feeling that the Chinese cuisine gives in the story, Tanizaki Junichirō seemingly make the image of Chinese cultural images more vivid, but indeed not explaining the Chinese cultural images. This way, the sense of exoticism is amplified, and the hazy aesthetics of exoticism is created.

When Count G searches for the source of the good smell he detected on the street, “a whiff of shao-hsing rice wine reached his nostrils”. By specifically calling out shao-hsing rice wine instead of just some kind of Chinese rice wine, Tanizaki Junichiro creates the beauty of exoticism: it makes readers imagine how the wine smells like, and what makes it so interesting to Count G. Without further describing or introducing shao-hsing rice wine, a mysterious aesthetics is created. The shao-hsing rice wine is later mentioned again when Count G. was exploring inside of the CheChiang Hall, when he saw “one of the diners stood up and raised a cup of shao-hsing rice wine”. The repeated mention of shao-hsing rice wine intensifies its existence, drawing attention to it. However, Junichiro did not spend any words explaining the true identity of this mysterious supposedly delicious wine, and therefore creating a mysteriousness.

Similar methods are found throughout the passage. “Scenic beauty on the banks of Western Lake, framed in the poetry of Po Lo-t’ien and Su Tung-p’o” references to classical Chinese poets by their names without further explaining who they are or what their master works are. “Pork belly cooked in soy a la Tung-p’o” excites readers’ imagination on what “a la Tung-p’o” could possibly be, as it seems to be some kind of Chinese cooking sauce. “Tea from cups made in Ching-te-chen” reminds readers of some distinct mysterious Chinese town that makes fine china cups without visually giving readers an image to think about. All these mentions of classical Chinese cultural forms all together create a veil between readers and the Chinese culture, and therefore amplifying the sense of exoticism, creating a beauty of unfamiliarity .

Different from all other mentions of Chinese cultural forms, the mention of “Bok Choi” takes the aesthetics to another level. At first, the cabbages are falsely described as a woman’s fingers, then after erotic description of A.’s experience, the “fingers” are revealed to be Chinese cabbages. It’s not until even later that the traditional Chinese name for Chinese cabbage, “Bok Choi” is used to substitute the mere vocabulary of “Chinese cabbage”. By revealing the identity of Bok Choi gradually, the erotic pleasure of A. is intensified bit by bit, and by the time that the word “Bok Choi” is used, a vivid, eerie yet fantastic image of a normal Chinese cabbage has been established. By giving Bok Choi specifically a vivid image, Tanizaki Junichirō seemingly gives readers an insight of Chinese culture. However, since the actual taste of Bok Choi is still not described in the passage, the pleasure and aesthetics of exoticism is still achieved.

By integrating Chinese cultural forms in the story, Tanizaki Junichirō vaguely gives out Chinese culture images without further explanation.  This creates a beauty of unfamiliarity and exoticism, and thus evokes readers’ excitement and erotic pleasure resulted from the sense of unfamiliarity and exoticism.


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