Chinese teahouses have many things in common with western cafes. They are both the venue for leisure spending and | amusement. However, they have totally different atmospheres. A teahouse is bustling with activities while a cafe is quiet. Among the recreational activities in a teahouse are Chinese folk art performances such as comic dialog, ballad singing, and story telling. Tea drinkers enjoy the tea and the performances in the teahouse, spending their leisure hours happily.
Teahouse has a long history in China. It was recorded in the literature of the Tang Dynasty venue with richer and richer social functions. Teahouse culture matured in the Ming (1368-1644) and the Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. By the Republic of China, there was a clear boundary between the teahouses serving the people from different social strata. Some teahouses were for highbrows while some others for lowbrows. With more and more people coming to the teahouse, they found it a place suitable for more and more purposes. The businessmen, in particular, chose to meet guests and hold business talks at the teahouse. The stage play, Teahouse, by Mr. Lao She, the well-known Chinese artist, talks about the stories happened in a Chinese teahouse several decades ago.
Modem teahouse has even richer social functions. It is a venue for people to drink tea, have a rest, hold business talks, and experience tea culture. It has become a symbol of the local culture. Tea culture is demonstrated most directly by tea ceremony. Almost all modem teahouses are engaged in creating their own tea ceremonies.
Reconstruction of a scene of the stage play Teahouse (clay sculpture of a scene of Lao She’s stage play Teahouse)
The stage play Teahouse was completed by Mr. Lao She in 1957. By presenting the stories of rise and fall of a large teahouse in the old-day Beijing, it demonstrates the social conditions and the fate of the people from different social strata during the half century from the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911) to the victory of the Anti-Japanese War. It is one of the plays staged most frequently in China. It has been played and well received in France, Sweden, Japan, Canada, and Singapore.
The Lao She Teahouse
The Lao She Teahouse was built in 1988 and named after Mr. Lao She and his famous stage play Teahouse. Located at Qianmen, the Lao She Teahouse adopts the style and characteristics of the teahouses in the Ming (1368 – 1644) and the Qing (1644 – 1911) dynasties. It is full of the taste of old Beijing. Since the commencement of its operation, the Lao She Teahouse has received nearly 50 foreign state leaders, many social celebrities, and over two million visitors from at home and abroad. It has become a window to display Beijing’s cultural characteristics.
The Lao She Teahouse has inherited the charm and taste of the old Beijing teahouses in both form and function. Receiving the guests at the door are young waiters in blue mandarin jacket and with a white towel on the shoulder. They cry out for customers in idiomatic Beijing dialect. On the wall of the teahouse’s main hall are Chinese calligraphy works, paintings, and couplets. The interior decoration of the teahouse is also in the traditional Chinese style. With wooden corridor windows, red palace lanterns, mahogany tables and chairs, and fine porcelain tureens, the teahouse displays to its visitors the genuine folk custom of Chinese tea culture. On the second floor of the teahouse is a courtyard where the tea drinkers can have a first-hand experience of the classical courtyard life style of the old Beijing. Every night, the Lao She Teahouse presents various kinds of performances, including Peking opera, face change, Chinese gongfu, tea ceremony performance, comic dialog, two-man comic show, clapper talk, story-telling to musical accompaniment, magic, and acrobatics.
The Shunxing (Smooth and Prosperous) Old Teahouse
Located in Chengdu City of Sichuan Province, the Shunxing Old Teahouse demonstrates many elements of the society in the Ming (1368-1644) and the Qing (1644 – 1911) dynasties, including the architecture, mural carving, window decoration, wood carving, furniture, Gongfu tea set, costumes, and tea ceremony, making itself a classical masterpiece in inheriting Sichuan culture.
The Shunxing Old Teahouse has made extreme efforts in putting on a nostalgic atmosphere. The bricks and stones in the teahouse are collected from many urban and rural households in the province. They bear testimony to the vicissitudes of the time. Besides, the tables, chairs, wooden windows, teapots and gaiwan, eaves and wooden boards of the teahouse are all old things. The entire teahouse is covered in a thick nostalgic atmosphere.
Tea ceremony performance with long-spout teapot
At the Shunxing Old Teahouse, the tea drinkers can enjoy tea ceremony performance by waiters armed with long-spout teapots. Teahouse waiters patrol the teahouse carrying large teapots with a one-meter-long spout. They make their way through the crowded teahouse smoothly and pour water into the waiting teacups gracefully. They do not have to get close to the drinkers in need. The long spout enables them to pour the hot water from afar. They never miss the target and never waste a single drop of water. The performance is an attraction in its own right.