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Food & Drink
Tea Culture


When the empire is peaceful, Sichuan is the first to have a rebellion;
When order is established in the empire, Sichuan is still in chaos.

The new moon a hook, the sky like water', TK (Feng Zikai), 1924 In Sichuan they call it 'laying out the dragon formation' 忙鈥溌好┞韭嵜┾€撯偓茅鈩⒙? An ancient military tactic famous in China's southwest, the 'dragon formation' has, over the years, became a popular expression used to describe the setting of verbal stoushes and gossip. In teahouses throughout the province, men and women have gathered over the years, often sitting on bamboo stools or reclining chairs, with small tables scattered about, tea cups and teapots mixed among clutches of locals, visitors and passers-by. Amidst the clatter and the long, slow sipping of tea, people discuss matters pertaining to 'All-Under-Heaven' 氓陇漏盲赂鈥姑ぢ衡€姑モ€︹€? Although the Internet has become the virtual space of choice for the movement of idle chatter in recent years, it is the heritage of tea and the teahouse that bound people in conversation and conviviality in the past.

 

In the teahouse people would engage in idle gossip 茅鈥撯€櫭€? chat 猫聛艩氓陇漏, rant 盲戮茠氓卤卤 and brag shamelessly 氓聬鹿莽鈥扳€? It was, and in many places throughout China, an environment in which tall tales 氓陇搂猫漏卤 and arrant nonsense 氓禄垄猫漏卤 can hold the day; it's also where the chatter on the streets 茅聛鈥溍伮矫┾偓鈥澝?is elaborated and circulates with the speed of a prairie fire. It is over tea too that people gather to play mah-jongg with clamorous concentration, although tea is just as much a boon companion that is suited to quieter moments of relaxed repose 茅鈥撯€櫭┞伮?and thoughtfulness 茅聺鈩⒚︹偓聺, as it is for conviviality and calm conversation.

As the Guest Editor of this issue Daniel Sanderson points out, this is the first time China Heritage Quarterly has focussed on a tangible consumer item, and it is a product, a drink and a status symbol that encompasses elements both democratic and autocratic. A few leaves brewed or steeped in boiling water create one of the most ubiquitous elements of everyday life in China. But the varieties and qualities of tea provide an equally unparalleled vehicle for the more noxious aspects of social behaviour, a civilizing process that relies on distinctions and discrimination. Tea is graded according to strict hierarchies relating to 'terroir', quality and price. In recent times lavishly packaged premium teas have become another means for people to engage in competitive displays of wealth 茅卢楼氓炉艗, to parade their profligacy 忙鈥溌好┾€斉?and to ingratiate themselves 茅鈥樎矫р€∨? be it with power-holders or business grandees. But, as our colleague Li Baoping 忙聺沤氓炉露氓鹿鲁 points out, 'tea contending' 茅卢楼猫艗露, or competitive demonstration of techniques of brewing or whipping premium-grade tea, often in rare and expensive tea bowls, has been commonplace in China since the Song dynasty.

Tea People Talk Tea 猫艗露盲潞潞猫艗露猫漏卤 published in Beijing in 2007, collects some of the most important essayists writing on tea, teahouses and the culture of tea in the last century, including the master of the elegant essay Zhou Zuoren's famous 'On Bitter Tea' 茅鈥斉撁︹€撀济ㄢ€孤γㄅ捖? In 1935, Zhou published a book titled Jottings from the Studio of Bitter Tea 猫鈥孤γㄅ捖睹ヂ郝得┡÷€? It included works in which the acerbic taste of strong tea is likened to a particular kind of mature prose style: se 忙戮鈧? an aesthetic that is simple yet demanding, one that imparts a lingering aftertaste. It is the kind of writing that is the natural enemy of New China Newspeak, a topic to which we devote an extended essay in Articles. Also in that section Mark Elliott contributes to our discussion of 'Prosperous China' 莽鈥衡€好ぢ糕€? while we commemorate the memory of the thinker, scholar and liberal Hu Shi 猫茠隆茅聛漏, who died half a century ago in Taiwan, in the words of Jerome B. Grieder, and discuss the social life of the most famous scenes of the Western Pavilions at the Garden of Perfect Brightness in Beijing 氓艙鈥溍λ溑矫ヅ撯€櫭ヂ棵β粹€姑βㄢ€? Also in Articles we continue our account of Mao Zedong's sojourns at West Lake in Hangzhou.

 

 
   
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