Encounter with Dongpo in Hainan

By Xu Sizhe / HICN / Updated: 18:46,26-February-2023

Su Shi (courtesy name: Dongpo) was a Chinese calligrapher, essayist, gastronomist, pharmacologist, poet, politician and travel writer during the Song Dynasty (960–1279). The author of some of his era's most famous poems, lyrics, prose and essays, he is widely regarded as one of the most accomplished figures in classical Chinese literature. Exiled several times during his political life (including to modern-day Hainan Province's Danzhou and modern-day Guangdong Province’s Huizhou), and the Dongpo Academy in 1098 was built on the site of his residence in Danzhou.

With the island as one of the important places he lived during his lifetime, Su Dongpo can be seen as an enlightener of culture for Hainan. More than 900 years ago, he gave lectures and teachings to the people, sparked the blossoming of the humanities on the island and left behind a precious and vibrant cultural environment.

Why was Su Dongpo so important for Hainan’s education? A great writer and scholar, his presence alone changed the cultural education landscape. Giving the people their first taste of literary education, he also took an active part by doing things such as building the Dongpo Academy (Hainan's first institute of higher education). To many people of his era—prior to Su's exile here—the island lacked any kind of cultural environment. Once he arrived and helped with the educational environment, the island quickly produced its first Jinshi and Juren (successful candidates in the imperial examinations at the national and provincial level). According to the Brief History of Hainan Island in Ancient Times, from 960 to 1905, the island produced 767 Juren and 96 Jinshi.

Separate from his role as the spark which lit the flame of enlightenment for Hainan culture, would you believe that Su also had a deep influence on Hainan’s food culture?

Dongpo Grilled Oysters

Hainan island is surrounded by the sea and is correspondingly rich in seafood. Hainanese people love to eat seafood.  After Su Dongpo was banished to Hainan, he came up with two new ways of cooking oysters. As a foodie, he even told his son not to share this recipe with others, or there would be fewer oysters left for himself! Even today Danzhou Grilled Oysters are still a specialty in Hainan’s night markets.

Dongpo Zongzi

“Danzhou Zongzi” are a kind of sticky rice dumplings closely linked with Su Dongpo. According to legend, Su Dongpo taught the locals to wrap beans, shrimp, and salty egg yolks into zongzi during the Dragonboat Festival. In honor of him, later generations named it “Dongpo Zongzi". In 2016, Danzhou Zongzi became Hainan's only national-grade geographically protected food item, and Danzhou was honored as one of China's "Hometowns of Zongzi."

Dongpo Cake

People in Danzhou are very fond of the round golden Dongpo Cake. These crispy cakes have a legendary story related to Su Dongpo. One day he saw an old lady selling cakes and, feeling pity for her poor success in business. He then wrote a piece of poetry about how tasty they were. This was then hung on the door to attract more customers. Descriptions of the cake in the poem were so vivid that they made people's mouths water and locals renamed them "Dongpo cakes."



Having questions about living or working in Hainan? Leave it below. 

Our Privacy Statement & Cookie Policy

By continuing to browser our site and use the services you agree to our use of cookies, Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can change your cookie settings through your browser.

I agree