Chinese imperial dishes can be traced back to the Xia (ca.21st-16th century BC), Shang (ca. l6th-11th century BC) and Zhou (11th century-221 BC) dynasties and lasted to the Qing Dynasty, with a history of 4,000-5,000 years. The cooking techniques of the Chinese imperial dishes have reached the world's top. Thanks to the constant study and improvement, the imperial dishes have become a unique cuisine style, which occupies a position in the Hundred Flower Garden of the Chinese Culinary Arts.
To argue that Chinese cuisine is the best or most popular cuisine is pointless and irrelevant in this context but to state that it's the most complex cuisine is doubtless. Culture and ingredients come through as the two most important aspects. Chinese cuisine is ordered on the Eight Great Traditions — regional styles that form the foundation of most differences in Chinese cooking.
The Chinese have studied and commented on their foods for centuries and have a very comprehensive list of all foods that can be eaten. There are lists of reserves that are referred to in times of hardship such as famine and in fact during one of the phases of the Cultural Revolution, famine was a reality. Food was prepared with reference to these manuscripts and books and the use of products that will never be seen in restaurants, for some were life sustaining. An eyeopening example was given in Jung Chang's "Wild Swans" where a fungus was cultivated in human urine in the homes and then prepared for consumption
The balance of foods is extremely important in Chinese cuisine with two distinct lines being grain (fan) with meat & vegetables being (ts'ai). The two are treated separately, they may be combined but not mixed homogeneously: an example being dumplings with their wrappers ( there are exceptions that come to mind). The philosophy of Yin and Yang and the balance associated with good health extends to food as foods also can be described within the Yin and Yang philosophy. Many imbalances are treated with supplemented Yin or Yang foods. Likewise an imbalance in the Yin and Yang diet can also be a cause of illness and must be adjusted to equilibrium.
Frugality is another feature of Chinese food philosophy and gluttony being such a sin as to cause the loss of favour of dynasties with Heaven. In such cases of excess dynasties have collapsed.
The Chinese are exceptionally food oriented beyond any other society. Even Confucius implied that perhaps one of the most important qualifications of a Chinese gentleman was his knowledge and skill pertaining to food and drink. . . . and finally a modern commentary with reference to Chinese food culture wraps it up "....China has shown a greater inventiveness than any other civilization"