A Foreign Infusion

As some of you know, doing research in history is my day job. I am happy to announce that a research article of mine, on the history of gongfucha (as a ceremony of sorts) is out in the current issue of the journal Gastronomica. The table of contents for this issue is here. I’m not sure if the print issue is available anywhere yet – the electronic version is on a 6 month delay at ProQuest and I think a 3 year embargo at JSTOR (to sell more physical copies). If you are interested, please check it out.

I am able to provide a low-resolution version of the article here. The full citation for the article is:

Zhang, Lawrence. “A Foreign Infusion: The Forgotten Legacy of Japanese Chadō on Modern Chinese Tea Arts.” Gastronomica 16:1 (Spring 2016), 53-62.

The YYX tastings are ongoing – will report on those soon.


Comments

A Foreign Infusion — 22 Comments

      • Nice article. I have some questions:

        1. It’s been said that during the Tang dynasty, compressed teas like bricks and cakes were popular. In Song dynasty, powdered tea and loose-leaf tea (steamed as in sencha) were introduced. During Yuan and Ming, roasting or pan frying were added to the production process (instead of steaming); and teas corresponding to today’s Chinese green, oolong, black teas were being made. This means that the Japanese preserved Song dynasty (matcha and sencha) forms of tea. If this is correct, then the late date given (17th century) for the introduction of sencha to Japan by the Chinese Fujian monk Ingen is “interesting”. Why would a Fujian monk bring Song tea to Japan in the 17th century?

        2. The Song court was highly aesthetic. The Southern Song made its last stand around the Pearl River delta; before many of them fleeing overseas. Any texts you can look into to see how they may have affected the development of Fujian & Guangdong tea practices, like in Chaozhou?

        • Thanks for the questions.

          1) The transfer I’m talking about here is about sencha – steamed leaf tea, which is steeped in pots instead of whisked as powder. Powdered tea went to Japan much earlier – Eisai is usually credited as having brought it over in the early 12th century. The cultural elite in China didn’t really adopt drinking leaf tea until the Ming. Commoners probably drank leaf tea all along but we have no good records of this practice.

          2) You’re probably thinking about Huizong, who indeed was very important. If you read Daguan Chalun, however, it’s very hard to relate any of what he says there to what is practiced in gongfucha. I think the local practice in Southeastern China probably developed organically as elites localized from the 12th century onwards and started spending their excess capital on these things. It’s hard to imagine it taking shape anything before about 16th century though given when steeped tea became widespread. Also, the earliest yixing teapots of the size and shape we would associate with gongfucha wasn’t until about the 16th century. There’s no written or material evidence to support anything earlier than that.

          • Thanks for the article and the reply.

            1. It is said that the Fujian monk Ingen brought sencha to Japan in the 17th Century. Perhaps green tea was still steamed in that part of China then. Though some say that green tea was generally roasted or pan fried by Mongol and Ming times.

            2. The aesthetics around the Song court was more than just Huizong. Huizong gathered art and artists around him; established schools etc. Among his later descendants was Zhao Mengfu.

            3. There is a Zhao Family Fort (趙家堡) in Fujian 2 hours away from Chaozhou. Other Zhao descendants supposedly live in South Fujian and Guangdong. Maybe you can go & find out whether they have something to do with the Chaozhou tea stuff.

          • Of course there was more than just Huizong, but he’s the most prominent example, and the most aesthetically minded of the bunch. If you read Cai Xiang and others we also see an emphasis on the tea but to try to read too much into a historical continuity with what came after is trying to read things backwards. There are Zhaos everywhere – and most of them claim to be descendants of the imperial clan from the Song, because they probably could. That doesn’t really prove anything.

            And yes, Chaozhou has their local pottery culture, but I don’t think we have any evidence of them making small teapots any earlier than we have extant Yixing examples either. If anything, the timeline seems to be later.

          • Of course you know that Chaozhou people make/use Chaozhou mud pots which are probably much closer to Japanese Tokoname stuff than Yixing, which had been generally much larger until quite recently.

      • The concept of “invented tradition” is a good one. Yixing ware has lots of “invented traditions,” especially when it comes to small pots or zhuni pots. Then these “Han” people… whoa… who came up with that one? It’s a lucky family if it goes back to the Song.

  1. Excellent article, thanks for sharing. I feel like this should be required reading for anyone who is curious about gongfucha.

  2. Very interesting paper. Since i discovered gongfucha i’ve always felt uncomfortable with the branding of the tea ceromoni as something quintessential chinese. In some ways of cource it is, but it’s wonderfull to get the historical facts straight and look trough the nationalistic picture that is created by a hidden discourse. It would be very refreshing if a paper like yours actually changed some peoples perception of gongfucha – it changed mine at least. I think your article also creates a chance to evolve the gonfucha, because it’s easier to dispute something that is based on arbitrary history writing than something more established in the culture, like the japanese tea ceremony.

    Congratulations with the paper, i think it’s very well done.

    Sorry for my spelling, english is not my mother tongue..

    Regards from Denmark

  3. Thanks for providing us with a PDF.

    Questions/notes

    – If Wuyi is where the first recorded occurrence of something resembling gongfucha took place, why is “Chaozhou Gongfucha” thought of as the origin of gongfucha?
    – Are there texts about practices similar to Chaozhou Gongfucha in Fujian and Guangdong but outside of Chaozhou (e.g. Wuyi/Anxi) that are specific and authoritative like Weng Huidong’s?
    – I only found a 夢廠雜著 Mèngchǎng Zázhù online – is “Mengcang zhazhu” an alternative pronunciation or a spelling error? (My level of Chinese is pretty much that of an absolute beginner’s)
    – Are tea boats mentioned in the text by Weng Huidong?
    – How widespread was oolong outside of Fujian, Guangdong and diaspora prior to the recent popularization of gongfucha, or was it gongfucha that really popularized oolong outside of SE China and diaspora? Would people outside (and inside, too) of Fujian and Guangdong just drink it restaurant-style, i.e. continuously steeping it inside a large pot?
    – I thought most Taiwanese were Hokkien and Hakka rather than Teochew?
    – I sure would like to read these old texts and learn more about lesser known tea practices (e.g. haven’t heard of dawancha before). It’s too bad they don’t have English translations. Gotta learn more Chinese lol

    • 1) History is full of examples like these. Pu’er tea isn’t made in pu’er either. Besides, the reason this was recorded in Wuyi was because Wuyi was a place that literati might visit – and these were people who might write things down that get passed down to us. So just because it was recorded there doesn’t really tell us where it was most prevalent. Other factors suggest that Chaozhou was in many ways the tradition with the strongest traits

      2) None that I have discovered that pre-date Weng. Lin Yutang, who I referenced, is from a town near Anxi.

      3) That’s a typo on my part it seems, one that I missed

      4) Yes, briefly

      5) Not very common – Beijing and most of northern China, for example, never started drinking oolongs until at most 15-20 years ago. People from Shanghai and surrounding areas are all green tea drinkers and again, oolongs were at most drunk occasionally.

      6) I didn’t say most Taiwanese are Chaozhou. I said this is where the tea tradition had links – and besides, there’s a significant population of Chaozhou people in Taiwan who are no longer distinguishable from Fujianese for various historical reasons. Hakka, on the other hand, always maintained that separate identity and many of them are also from the Chaozhou region.

      7) Then go learn more Chinese! It can only help.

      • Thank you for the replies.

        1) Right, hadn’t thought about that. But, even if one can’t know where gongfucha originated or was most prevalent because of a lack of written evidence on those topics, there has to be another reason why Chaozhou Gongfucha specifically is often cited as the ancestor of what people today generally call “gongfucha”, right?

        If I read your paper correctly, is it just that of probably various related local traditions in Fujian/Guangdong, for various reasons it was specifically the Chaozhou method that got popular – and thus became the direct ancestor of what people now call gongfucha? Do you with “strongest traits” mean e.g. a comparative abundance of steps and tools (relative to related methods), which were seen as an especially fertile ground for the later development of chayi?

        Your account of Weng Huidong’s text does involve many actions that I’ve read about online, and many of the tools, whereas Lin Yutang’s description – I found his book in my local library – seems more pared down, though of course we can’t know if he left things out.

        I found it interesting that Lin mentions that the color of the liquor should be a clear, pale golden yellow and that experts advocate you only infuse the tea twice (even if the pot is filled to one third?!).

        2) Since apart from Lin Yutang’s there aren’t any texts older than Weng Huidong’s text about related traditions, are there any that are similarly descriptive and newer but still came before chayi/nationalization? Kyarazen posted various local methods two years ago on his blog with photos that seem like they all came from the same book, but some of them involve aroma cups and pitchers, so it must be a comparatively new book.

        4) Are tea boats and waste water dishes also part of Yu Jiao’s description?

        5) Do people in Fujian and Guangdong not drink green tea much?

        7) I am! 😀

        • Thirst,
          Regarding only infusing the leaves twice (I’ve also heard that three infusions was a common standard) I believe it was explained to me that in these early days of oolong tea, with gongfucha, the goal was mostly to pull the tea oils off the surface of the leaves. The kneading/rolling/twisting of the leaves squeezed the oils to the surface during production. One reason such a large ratio of leaves to water was used was to ensure enough tea oils could be extracted for a strong and potent cup, while simultaneously preventing the leaves from unfurling/expanding too much and releasing more unpleasant levels of bitterness from within the leaves. After two or three infusions there wouldn’t be much of these oils left on the leaves. It’s reasonable to assume that tea producers have honed and advanced their skills over many generations and that the oolong tea of a few hundred years ago wasn’t quite as forgiving as it is today.

  4. Thank you for this excellent article! I read it carefully today and it is a great help to me in a writing project I have underway. It taught me much indeed. Bravo! Perhaps with this essay you have the beginnings of a book for a fuller and more expanded investigation? I find your central thesis so right on– traditions are always richer and more complex than they first seem. Would be delighted to hear more on the subject.

    Cheers and thanks,
    Francis

  5. Hi, fascinating article! Thanks for sharing a link. It wasn’t available on my university’s library database. Loved the info!

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