Warp, Weft, and Way

Chinese and Comparative Philosophy 中國哲學與比較哲學

Little Fish, Little Fish, Swimming in the Water…


Daodejing (Tao Te Ching) 60 begins with:

“To govern a large state: like cooking small fish…” (治大國,若烹小鮮)

Dan Robins and I were wondering how to interpret “cooking small fish.” The first thing that comes to mind seems to be to be careful because of the fish’s delicacy. I’ve favored in the past, thinking of small fish as actually requiring less delicacy–i.e. small fish can just be tossed onto the pan and cooked whole, without any cutting or cleaning–sort of like smelt (which only helps you if you’ve ever cooked or eaten smelt). But Dan pointed out to me that at least in contemporary China and probably in the recent past, larger fish are also often cooked whole without any cutting or cleaning, as anyone who’s gone to a good Chinese restaurant can attest. So, I guess I don’t really have a compelling interpretation, unless cooking large fish whole is only a recent development. Any thoughts? Any early Chinese cuisine experts out there? Any other interesting or weird interpretations? Jump in…

Author: Manyul Im

University of Bridgeport


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