The history of airlines in China before World War II is shadowy, but it started surprisingly early. During the Chinese warlord period after the fall of the Empire, war surplus twin-engine bombers flew the skies of China, and some level of civilian aviation was up and running by 1925. The fact that China’s inland cities were built along rivers made seaplane travel practical, as seen in this letter from 1932 that shows the eight stops between Chengdu and Shanghai. The romance of air travel was played up in this timetable, which is from the same period.
CNAC had technical assistance from Pan Am, while their competitor, Air Eurasia, was a subsidiary of Lufthansa. Unfortunately I have been unable to find any pictures or descriptions of meals aboard either airline, despite contacting eminent historians of flight in Asia. Gregory Crouch, author of “China’s Wings,” a history of CNAC, found a mention of a “boxed lunch” in notes about an Air Eurasia flight, but the person who wrote that letter didn’t give any further details. Crouch also mentioned that CNAC outsourced their catering to an entrepreneur who became quite wealthy as a result, but he has never seen any menus. If anyone out there can find any descriptions, photographs, or menus from China in the 1920’s or 1930’s, please share them with me.