The oldest cultural principle in China is Taoism, which has a much longer history than Confucianism. Taoists hold that man is an integral part of nature, and stress that man is in harnony with the universe and nature. In the Han Dynasty, Taoist thoughts developed into Taoism. Taoism advocated overcoming the common people’s mortal failings and tapping special intellectual resources through the training of one’s body and soul. The Chinese people call those who succeed in practicing asceticism immortals, and think that they have special wisdom and miraculous powers like God. Later, Indian Buddhism spread to China. Since the Chinese people did not fully understand this early Buddhism, they took it for granted that Buddhist and Taoist immortals were alike when they saw Buddhists sat in meditation like Taoists. They regarded all Taoists and Buddhists as immortals. During the Southern and Northern dynasties,Confucians, Taoists and Buddhsis debated their belief. It is interesting to note that no matter how much their ideas were opposed, none excluded tea and they all liked to make friends over lea. In literary works and fairy tales of the time there were many lories about immortals and tea. According to Chinese Ancient Books and records, during the reign of Yuan Di Emperor in the Jin Dynasty, there was an old lady, who often sold tea at the market, Though the tea was poured into cups from morning till night, her Kettle was full all the time. The old lady helped the poor with income from her tea sales, but local authorities were displeased with her and put her into prison. But at night the merciful old lady flew away with her teasets from the window of the prison. Chinese ancients held that immortals could fly, so the old lady was of course thought of as an immortal. Other Chinese documents relate that in the Southern Dynasty a monk Fa Yao, who liked to drink tea, died at the age of ninety-nine. His vast age was due to the magical properties of tea. A man of such advanced years was treated as an immortal, since in ancient times living conditions were harsh and there was no modem scientific medical treatment. Also, according to documents, Dan Qiuzi and Huang Shanjon recast themselves and lived as famous immortals due to drinking tea.
Why did the Chinese people connect tea with immortals? Because, according to the Taoists’ theory of keeping good health, man’s vitality lies in collateral channels, which tea helps to dredge. In addition, tea, which could keep people sober-minded and quiet, was deemed a necessity to practice Taoism or Buddhism as both advocated sitting in meditation. Thus, the effect of tea drinking was connected with the oldest oriental philosophy, rules of keeping good health, and an elevation in the spiritual sphere.
From the above, we can see that tea has survived more than three thousand years since it was discovered and used, first as a medicinal herb and then as a common drink.
From the Han Dynasty, tea has been planted and formally used! as a drink. Owing to its special functions and its spiritual effect, from the beginning it was stressed by scholars and thinkers. Writers, talkers, meta physicians, statesmen, and people in religious circles took a liking to drinking it. Its sweet scent, mildness attracted people.
However, the spiritual and cultural effects of tea were not catalogued at that time. Ways of drinking tea had not become an art form as they were to later; nor did they form a philosophy that enlightened people’s thought and emotion. Tea culture was embryonic from the time of the Han Dynasty, when tea drinking formally appeared in records, to the Southern and Northern dynasties, when tea was used by philosophers and immortals. It was in the Tang Dynasty that the real Chinese tea culture, including tea art, the tea ceremony and a complete expression of cultural philosophy, came into being.