How corn ended up in China from the Americas

Aug 07, 2018

Corn is a pretty common sight in China, where sweet corn is often used in dishes, and maize supplies go to everything from livestock feed, to biofuel.

But corn isn’t natively from China. For that, China has the Philippines and Macau to thank, when the former was a Spanish colony, and Macau was under the Portuguese.

Maize, which originated in Central America, was one of the first crops traded by European colonialists in the east. From their other mesoamerican territories, the Spanish and Portuguese also brought crops such as yams, tomatoes, guavas, papayas, and aubergines to China in the mid-1550s.

Corn hanging to dry over a farmer's house in China.
Corn hanging to dry over a farmer's house in China. / Photo: Shutterstock

The Spanish traded with the southern Chinese province of Fujian, via the Philippines. Specifically, Fujian’s ports in Xiamen and Fuzhou had close trading ties with Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines.

Those ties also led to significant emigration from Fujian to the Philippines, creating today’s sizeable Chinese-Filipino community.

But back to corn. In parts of China like Guangzhou, and Chinese territories like Hong Kong, sweet corn is commonly eaten boiled, or steamed on the cob.

But in Fujian, you’ll find it commonly roasted over charcoal, as it was in Central America hundreds of years ago.

A common Chinese soup, with corn in it.
A common Chinese soup, with corn in it. / Photo: Shutterstock


Chinese ingredientsImmigrantsCornCentral America