Scholars of the Han Dynasty and Tea

Generally speaking, the use of something and the formation of a contract begins with the common people. But it i& of interest to note that tea’s being used as a drink started among a group of high-level scholars.

Tea drinking was formally recorded in Chinese documents. “A Contract with a Child Servant,” which was written by Wang Bao in the year 59 B.C. in the Han Dynasty, tells an interesting story. In the Western Han Dynasty,there was a man named Wang Ziyuan from Sichuan who went to Chengdu to take an exam. He put up at the house of Ms late friend,where his friend’s widow, Yang still lived. Perhaps Yang Hui adored Wang Ziyuan for she received him warmly, and let her child servant, Bian Liao, serve the guest with considerate actions, such as buying and brewing tea. Unhappy with this, Bian Liao ran to his late master’s tomb, complaining tearfully. “My good Master, you bought me and let me look after your house as a child servant, but you did not let me serve your wife’s lover!” Learning about this, Yang Hui and Wang Ziyuan became very angry. They decided that Wang Ziyuan would spend 15,000 coins to change Bian Liao’s status to that of a servant of Wang Ziyuan so that Bian Liao dared not revolt. Wang Ziyuan drew up a contract to buy a servant titled A Contract with a Child Servant,” which stipulated what Bian Liao should do every day, including buying tea at Wuyang Market and brewing tea by gongfu tea set carefully and then carefully cleaning and putting away the teasels. The details of the contract show that at the time scholars were very Particular about drinking tea.

Besides Wang Ziyuan, many famous writers in the Han Dynasty took a liking to tea. The prose-poetry, which was popular at the time, was an ancient style with its own aesthetic ideas and meters. Sima Xiangru and Yang Xiong, two famous experts in prose-poetry, liked drinking tea very much. When still unknown to the public, Sima Xiangru was involved in a charming love story. According to the Chinese feudal code of ethics of the time, one’s ,marriage, especially a girl’s marriage, should be decided by his or her parents. But Sima Xiangru met a girl with different ideas named 23iuo Wenjun, who bravely ran away with him. Being badly off, they ran a shop selling food. Their experience is told in the well-known story Wenjun in Charge of Her Shop. The story gives no account of whether he sold liquor or tea, but Sima Xiangru wrote about tea and even if he did not sell tea, he at least showed Merest in drinking it. The second famous expert, Yang Xiong, wrote about tea in his Dialect. Of course, famous men of letters like Sima Xiangru often entered the royal court, where drinking tea had become a fashion. An ancient Chinese novel relates an interesting tale about drinking tea in the royal court. After the Cheng Emperor of the Han Dynasty died, his concubine Zhao Feiyan met him in a dream. As she presented tea to him, the Emperor’s attendants said that he must not drink it as she had failed to wait upon him respectfully and carefully. Zhao Feiyan cried out in her dream and then awoke. The story shows that early in the Han Dynasty serving tea was regarded in the royal court as a serious matter of etiquette and that badly behaved people were disqualified from serving tea.

Zhu Geliang, Prime Minister of the State of Shu during the Three Kingdoms Period (A.D. 220-A.D. 280), is known to almost every household. His wisdom and civil and military abilities are still respected by later generations. Tradition says that Zhu Geliang popularized tea cultivation in Yunnan Province and other places.Since Zhu Geliang was also called Kongming, people from Yunnan Province to this day call the ancient tea shrub Kongming Tree.

In the Jin Dynasty (A.D.220-A.D. 280) poet Zhang Zai wrotein his A Poem at Chengdu Tower,” On drinking tea, I think of theelegant living rooms of the experts at prose-poetry Yang Xiong and Sima Xiangru, and their forceful and beautiful proses and verses.”

Why was drinking tea initially stressed by great scholars? Perhaps it was because they drew their inspiration from drinking tea or that tea reminded them of beautiful mountains and waters or that it calmed them and helped them in their philosophic thinking about the cosmos. Whatever the reason, as soon as tea was used as a drinks it blended with the spirit of scholars as if it itself had had sagacity. According to Buddhism, all things on earth have sagacity, and man can communicate with nature. So perhaps tea is the most sagacious representative of plants.

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