Have you eaten? (吃饱了吗?)

by Patrick Liew on August 20, 2019

Have you eaten? (吃饱了吗?)

Mark, a good friend of mine told me recently that his mother was suffering from dementia.

She had repeatedly asked him, “Have you eaten?” (吃饱了吗?)

She would ask the question again and again even during a short meeting.

My friend would patiently reply her, knowing that it was one of the symptoms of dementia.

As a much older person and a good friend, I decided to take upon myself to share with him the underlying meaning of “Have you eaten?”

This is a common greeting, mainly among older Chinese, and I have heard the greeting literally all over the world and even from a Chinese stranger.

This greeting is not an invitation for a meal. There’s a deeper significance and purpose for it.

Throughout about 5000 years of their history, the Chinese have gone through many crises, and suffered many a tragedy.

They have survived an untold amount of pain and sorrow, from time past and right through to the modern age.

In many cases, many of them had to go through prolonged period of hunger and malnourishment.

It was not usual to hear stories about how they had to eat everything that seemed to be edible so as to fill their stomachs.

As a result, the Chinese, especially among the older ones, never took food for granted.

They have learned to be grateful and to value every meal.

There are jokes that the Chinese eat everything with four legs, except the table; and everything that flies except the aeroplane.

If they see anything that moves, they’ll create a recipe for consuming it.

Hence, Adam and Eve cannot be Chinese because they would have eaten the snake.

In many Chinese homes, it is not unusual for parents to insist that their children finish every morsel of food during mealtimes.

There are even superstitions created about not finishing every morsel of food on the plate.

For example, my parents would tell me, “If you don’t eat up all the food on your plate, you’ll marry an ugly wife.

“The more food you leave on the plate, the more pimples, acne, and pockmarks there’ll be on her face.”

Fortunately, I made sure my plate was squeaky clean after every meal. That was why I was able to marry a beautiful wife.

My wife on the other hand must have left quite a lot of food on her plate.

Therefore, there must be some truth to this belief.

(Are you listening carefully to me, my children?)

On a serious note, when the Chinese greet someone “Have you eaten?” – it’s a wish that the other party’s needs are amply met.

It is also an expression of concern for his wellbeing.

So I told my friend that if his mother forgot everything, she would never forget her love for him.

She deeply cared for him.

The more she repeat those words, the more she is manifesting her love for him.

Her feelings would in turn grow deeper and stronger.

My friend, the next time I ask you, “Have you eaten?” – it means I am asking you for a treat.

Just kidding.

I am saying that I love you, and I want you to do well in life.

So, have you eaten? (吃饱了吗?)


I hope this message will find a place in your heart.

By the way, I have also recorded other reflections.

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