chapter  3
10 Pages

Bees in Chinese Culture

WithDavid Pattinson

The honeybee seems to have been nearly ubiquitous in pre-modern China. Many local gazetteers record bees and bee products in their lists of produce; sundry essays, notebook entries, and poems further attest to the presence of bees and beekeeping in many parts of China. Nevertheless, bees occupied a less prominent place in Chinese culture than this ubiquity suggests. Honeybees are distinguished from other feng and are represented more positively; even their strict discipline, which Guo Pu probably imagined was maintained by stinging those bees that fall short, was admired. Perhaps surprisingly given the Tang period’s reputation as a “golden age” of Chinese literature, little really fresh material about bees survives from between Guo’s Rhapsody and the tenth century. The idea that bees produced honey for humans may also have extended to bees in the wild.