Today is Double Ten — 10th day of the 10th month, which is the National Day for the Republic of China. Do not confuse this with October 1st, which is the anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Confusing, perhaps, especially if you haven’t figured out the rather convoluted history of China’s past century, but an important distinction this is.
On 10th October, 1911, a bunch of young officers in Wuchang (a part of contemporary Wuhan in central China) started an uprising that eventually caused a domino effect that brought about the fall of the Qing dynasty, and with it, 2000 years of imperial rule in China. Although the name Republic of China is now under considerable debate in Taiwan, there’s no realistic way of dropping it any time soon, since it is essentially the most important defense against an invasion from the PRC, oddly enough. Should the government here ever decide to, for example, change the name to the Republic of Taiwan, missiles will fly over the Taiwan strait and all hell will break loose. Yet, this year at the celebrations, the president, who hails from the party that favours eventual independence, didn’t even mention Republic of China a single time. It’s a political mess that nobody knows how to solve.
The division of the country which happened when the Kuomingtang forces fled the mainland and retreated to Taiwan after losing the civil war to the communists in 1949 meant that there were two governments that claimed China as its own. This issue has persisted to this day, and is the reason why, say, wrappers with “Yunnan” printed on them couldn’t be shipped to Taiwan with the tea cakes they came with, or why yixing pots with “Yixing, China” stamped on the bottom had to be smuggled in using fishing boats during the 60s and 70s. While things are a bit more open now, flying from Taiwan to Shanghai, which should only be an hour direct, still takes you through a detour to Hong Kong, Macau, or Okinawa, and shipping stuff across the little Taiwan strait is still never a guaranteed thing.
Still, the division probably kept tea culture alive in a way that it wouldn’t have otherwise. While China went through the turbulent 60s and 70s, Taiwan was making quite a name in the tea trade with its high mountain oolong and developments of new techniques and processes to make tea. After China opened up in the late 70s, many Taiwanese tea makers eventually made their way across and provided expertise in tea making, capital, and marketing. Tenfu, probably the biggest privately owned retailer of tea in China, is run by a Taiwanese businessman, and they’re hardly alone. I was told that many farms in Fujian are Taiwanese owned, or at least have some Taiwanese involvement. Many well known Yixing pot dealers are Taiwanese. In the mid-90s, it was largely because of Taiwanese interest in puerh that drove it to what it is today. Whether that’s good or bad is up for individual assessment, but one cannot deny that it has been an important and close relationship between the two sides in terms of tea production and changes in the market. The fact that both sides share the same language and heritage (while some might argue this part) has made this all possible.
How this will eventually be resolved, nobody knows, but until then, let’s drink a cup in celebration, and hope for the eventual and most importantly peaceful resolution of a 60 years old problem.