The Chinese have traditionally believed that all the laws governing mankind and human society are an expression of the Tao. Lao Zi, the founder of Taoist philosophy revealed, “Man follows the earth. The earth follows the heavens. The heavens follow the Tao. The Tao follows nature.” The Tao literally means “(right) way.” It can be understood as the absolute principle underlying the universe signifying the way, or code of behavior, that is in harmony with the natural order.
Throughout our lives, we exchange matter with nature through what we eat. Ancient Chinese people long held a profound appreciation for the Tao of dietary intake, emphasizing, "Tao follows nature," and incorporating the principles of proper human conduct into their diet. Lao Zi once said, “Governing a big country is like cooking a small dish,” illustrating that the highest principles of every action or thought corresponds to the Tao. The dietary and culinary principles, once exercised to the optimum, also encompass paramount principles governing heaven and earth.
“It is hard to know oneself, but harder yet to know true taste,” said Wang Xiaoyu, resident chef for the renowned food connoisseur Yuan Mei of the Qing Dynasty. The concept of Harmony is an important standard in Chinese traditional culinary arts. This balancing and apportioning principle can be subdivided into complementary meats and vegetables, appropriate collocation of cold and hot dishes, and different combinations of foods from different seasons. The ability to blend various flavors is called “sweetness,” as in “sweetness is amenable to blending” found in The Book of Propriety, one of the Confucian classics. This means sweet flavors are relatively easy to work with. The Tao of culinary arts is expressly reflected through how the flavors are handled, requiring one to “know the flavors well.”
China has enjoyed a rather long history of development in culinary arts, and has formed several distinct regional styles, which have been passed down through generations of master chefs. The most influential cuisines come from Szechuan, Shandong, Huaiyang, Canton and the Northeast, and they represent the best of traditional Chinese culinary artistry complete with color, aroma, flavor, and cut.