The Spread of Tea from China

Tea originated from southwest mountains and took root in regions inhabited by people of Han nationality, widely cultivated and made, whereas ethnic groups living in southwest China had to get tea from Han areas. Wherever tea arrived, it conquered local dwellers with its peculiar fascination, taking an irreplaceable position in their life. Tea was not only a personal taste or a communal habit, but was in direct connection with national security. Since tea became a daily necessity for Han people in Tang Dynasty, all dynasties in the following more than 1,000 years carried out exclusive sale of tea, and tea tax was a mainstay in each Dynasty,s fiscal revenues. With its entry into the life of northwest and southwest ethnic groups, it was also widely accepted and loved, so tea became a key factor in dealing with the relation between Han nationality and minor nationalities. After it went out of China into the world market tea concerned Chinese foreign trade and profoundly affected the foreign affairs and national fortune of China.

Tea Tax and Tea Trade System

Tea drinking was very popular in Tang Dynasty. As Old Book Tang had it, “tea is food, no different than rice and salt, It catches on far and near. It dispels tiredness and appeals to all. Farmers working in the field were particularly fond of it.” When tea became “food” “appealing to all,” the free trade and enjoyment of tea came to an aid. Noticing how important tea was for common folks, the ruling class realized it was a nice means of increasing financial income, so they began levying taxes on tea. In 780, Tang government levied tax on tea to augment military budget in order to suppress mutiny, and that was the earliest tea tax. But tea tax then was merely wartime expedient and was stopped after mutiny was put down. After 16 months, Emperor of the time issued an edict of self-criticism, which showed that the ruling class then didn’t think tea tax to be a reasonable measure. Nevertheless, at the end of Tang Dynasty, seeing the successive military chaos, imperial court had to put tea tax in their schedule again, even in an intensified form. Tea was levied according to its weight rather than actual price. Later, authorities implemented full-scale exclusive sale, not only untimely purchasing all tea to be made by government, but taking the cultivation of tea into exclusive possession of government, forcing tea farmers to transplant tea trees and bum their stored tea leaves. Through these measures the Tang government was in full control of the production, progressing and circulation of tea and made huge profits. The cultivation and making of tea In Tang Dynasty has reached a certain scale. A large many people of tea areas lived on tea. The completely exclusive sale of tea ridded numerous people of income and caused tremendous public resentment. Tea farmers in a region between Yangtze River and Yellow River announced in public that if the imperial court didn’t change its decision. they would launch a rebellion. Fortunately the chancellor who suggested entire inhibition of tea trade was killed then. His successor abolished the old system and adopted partial exclusive sale. From then on, although rulers of different dynasties adopted various policies about tea, tax levying and exclusive sale have always been in action and was only thoroughly cancelled until the middle of Qing Dynasty.

Bartering of Tea and Horse

Early Asian nomadic groups considered tea a catholicon that could cure all diseases. People ate tea leaves together with salt, garlic and dried fish, which was like what happened in Europe when tea first arrived there. Like Han nationality, minor nationalities of China also accepted and loved tea, They needed tea leaves from areas under Chinese government’s domination, so tea directly concerned the harmony among different nationalities. Dynasties after Tang all governed borderlands tea, believing that tea was “more powerful than thousands of soldiers.^ Song Dynasty even tried to force Yuan Hao (1003-1048) – king of Western Xia, a kingdom founded by a minor nationality – to surrender by cutting off its provision of tea.

Inland China produced tea leaves while northwest minor nationalities abounded in horses. In early Tang Dynasty Han people usually exchanged silk for horses from ethnic groups Tea was not in the major place in the bilateral trade, and leaves got by ethnic groups were only used for nobilities’ consumption. After its middle period, Tang Dynasty was busy suppressing incessant insurrections. It needed large amounts of horses, but exchanging horses with silk was a losing proposition so rulers decided to trade tea leaves for war horses in urgent need-Meanwhile, like in inland China, tea spread from nobilities to plebeians and merged into their lives. A story had it that Tang government wanted to exchange tea for horses with Hui He (a minor nationality in northwest China) but was refused. Hui He didn’t want tea leaves but preferred to offer 1,000 horses in exchange for Lu Yu’s The Book of Tea, Officials of Tang Dynasty looked all around for this book, In the end poet Pi Rixiu (c.834-B83) got one and solved this urgent matter. This story shows that drinking tea has become a fashion among ethnic groups then and tended to be more and more refined. Song, Ming and Qing dynasties after Tang all inherited the business pattern of trading tea for horses, so the history of bartering of tea and horse must have reached over 1,000 years.

The Tang-Tibet Road and the Tea-Horse Road

Sichuan and Yunnan in southwest China are major tea producing areas since ancient time. So some people guess that Tibet which is near Sichuan and Yunnan had tea since Han Dynasty, However, the Tibetans, who held Princess Wencheng in high esteem, chose to believe that it was she who brought tea to Tibet. In early years of Tang Dynasty, Songzan Gambo (617-650), who just founded a slavery regime in Tibet, sent envoys to the capital of Tang to pay respect to Emperor Taizong (reign from 626 to 649) and asked for a marriage. Taizong deeded to pick a princess in his relatives and married her to Tibet. In 641, the team esorting Princess Wencheng to Tibet set forth from capital Chang’an (todays Xi’An of Shaanxi province), went along the north bank of River Wei and across Long Mountain to Qinzhou (today’s Tianshui of Gansu). Then they went on westward through Hezhou (todays Linxia of Gansu) and the Yellow River tmtil they reached QingJiaL They passed Longzhi to Shancheng (today’s Xining of Qinghai), along River Qiang (today’s Yaowang River) in the direction of southwest They climbed over Zi Mountain (today’s Bayankara Mountain) and went across River Maoniu (today’s Tongtian River), past Yushu region and over Dangla Mountain to Nagchu in north Tibet, At last they arrived at the Tibetan capital Lhosa (todays Lhasa), opening a new chapter in the history of amity between Tang and Tibet.

Princess Wencheng brought to Tibet medicine, calendar, vegetable seed, textile and brewing technique, and tea. It is said that on arriving in Tibet, princess Wencheng wasn’t accustomed to the climate and diet there. She drank half a cup of milk at and drank half a cup of tea to dispel the strong smell. Later she just mixed milk and tea together, adding pine nut core, ghee, etc., thus giving birth to buttered tea, a drink much loved by the Tibetans.

It is recorded in history records that some of the tea leaves introduced to Tibet at that time were produced in Anhui, Zhejiang, Hunan, Hubei and Sichuan. Starting from time when Princess Wencheng married to Tibet, envoys came back and forth between Tang Dynasty and Tibet, making frequent business. The Tang-Tibet Road quickly flourished in these circumstances. This road is not only for transportation and business between inland China and Qinghai and Tibet since Tang Dynasty, but is the only way from China to Nepal, India and other countries. It has existed for over 1300 years until this day.

The introduction of tea leaves greatly changed the life of the Tibetans. They have folk ballads like this – “food of Han partly fills your stomach while tea of Tibet keeps you full” and “one would rather starve for three days than not drink tea for one day. This is because the (Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is scarce in vegetable and natives there five on meat and milk, while tea does not only help digest but provides necessary vitamins for human body .

In response to the huge need for tea leaves, a trade channel like the Silk Road emerged. Among the mountains arid high peaks in the southwest frontier of China, people opened the most beautiful, most dangerous and most exciting road in the world. For thousands of years, innumerable horse teams come and go on this road. This is the historic “Tea-Horse Road”. It took its primary shaped in Western Han, when it was called “Shu Shen Du Dao,” meaning the road between Sichuan and India in Chinese. With the increasing frequency of business focused on tea leaves, this road bloomed since Tang Dynasty and kept being strengthened in later times, developing into the biggest and most complex business network in the Asian continent.

In history, Tea-Horse Road has had three major trunks—the Tang-Tibet Road (todays Qing (Qinghai)-Zang (Tibet) trunk) and the two lines later called Dian (Ymtnan)-Zang (Tibet) trunk and Chuan (Sichuan)-Zang (Tibet) trunk. Dian-Zang line starts from Xishuangbanna and Simao in south Yunnan, through Lincang, Baishan, Dali, Lijiang, Zhongdian and Deqin to Changdu, Linzhi and Lhasa of Tibet. Ghuaii-Zapng line sets out from Ya’an of Sichuan, through Kangding to Changdu to meet Dian-Zang line and then radiates to the whole Tibet through Lhasa. After that tea leaves are sold to the outlet side of Himalaya – India, Nepal, and other south Asian countries. Among these three Tea-Horse Road, the Tang-Tibet Road developed early. The other two got to be rapidly developed because Tibetans were more and more Interested in tea from Sichuan and Yunnan. They were not just for bantering of tea for horses either. Gangs of horse team shuttled back and forth, dealing in tea leaves and food from Sichuan and Yunnan, medicine and wool of Tibet, and jewelry and spice from India and other countries. To make transportation easier, Yunnan tea leaves were mostly made into bricks or blocks, which were tidy and nice and easy to be packaged and loaded. For thousands of years the Tea-Horse Road has become a key band in the cultural, economic and religious trending of all nationalities in Yunnan Sichuan and Tibetan areas. It has also become a crucial charnel for Chinese tea and Chinese culture to be spread to the worlds because through the hands of one merchant after another, the Chinese,, the Indian, and the Persian carried tea leaves to the faraway West Asia and Europe.

Popularization of Tea Leaves In the World

The diffusion of tea from China to the whole world has always been through two means – by sea and by land. Landway inclues the tea road to middle Asia, West Asia and Europe that overlapped with the old silk road after Tang Dynasty, the business roads to south Asian countries with the Tang-Tibet Road and the Tea-Horse Road as two major trunks, and a tea road to Russia through the Mongolian Plateau exploited during Ming and Qing dynasties. Seaway consisted of three. One set from tea areas of Jiangsu, Anhui, Zhejiang and Fujian to Japan and the Korean peninsula through Yangzhou and Quanzhou ports in Tang and Song dynasties. Another started from tea areas of Jiangxi, Zhejiang and Fujian to America through Ningbo, Quanzhou and Guangzhou ports and across the Pacific Ocean. Hie last one went from Nan Yang to America and through India to Europe.

During Song, Yuan and early Ming dynasties, China strictly banned tea, which prevented its popularization. On the 3rd year of Yongle in Ming Dynasty (1405), Zheng He (1371 or 1375-1433 or 1435) went to the west with a huge store of fame tea from various places as gifts. This opened the export of tea leaves in Ming Dynasty. In early Qing Dynasty, since title output of tea leaves increased, the ban was basically cancelled and government permitted civilians to carry on tea business. Before seaway was started. tea groups made up of Shanxi merchants traveled by land. They traveled to Wuyi Mountain to collect tea leaves, “across Fenshui Pass, outside Jiujiang, past Shanxi and Urga (today’s Ulaanbaatar) and north to Kiakhta (meaning business city in Chinese, once a major business port in China for Sino-Russian business), covering a distance of nearly 6,000 kilometers and then passed Siberia to Europe. This is the international business road that input Chinese tea to Russia or even the entire Europe, Tea Road. When tea leaves were exported to Russia by land, they were not so likely to get damped and went bad as by sea, so leaves arriving in Russia were better m quality than those transported by sea. The leaves to Russia were mostly in the form of tea bricks. Very soon the Russians accepted and loved Chinese tea. As a contemporary writer said, tea has become a requisite in Sino-Russian business because they have got used to drinking Chinese tea with Chinese teasets and it was hard to give it up.

In 1729, China and Russia signed Kiakhta Frontier agreement, formally settling Kiakhta as the place where merchants of the two countries could do business, making it an important collecting and distributing place of tea and tea business prospered with speed. At the end of 18th century, the Tea Road witnessed its peak, effectively promoting the business of other goods along the road and pushing the economic communication between China and Europe On this road, vehicle groups, horse groups and mule groups knew no end. When it came to the 1830s, exportation of tea leaves accounted for 93% of the Sino-Russian trade volume.

The popularization of tea in Britain didn’t differ much front that of other countries, also from royal families and nobilities to common folks, and tea leaves quickly became a necessary in the daily life of British people. Britain started importing tea leaves from China by sea since 1637, when British merchant ships arrived at Humen, and took 112 pounds tea leaves. At first tea leaves imported to Britain were mostly green tea, but because their quality couldn’t be guaranteed, black tea leases took their place, which directly affected the tea-drinking habit of British people.

British demand for tea grew bigger and bigger and Sino-British trade gradually came focus on tea. Because of its huge request for tea leaves, Britain suffered an annually larger trade deficit in its trade with China. At the end of 18th century, Britain 40,000 Liang silver to import tea leaves from China through East India Company year. It exported woolen goods, metallic goods and cotton to China too? but the total worth of those three items only amounted to 1/6 of the worth of tea. British merchant ships were often loaded with silver to purchase tea leaves in Guangzhou. In order to change this situation, Britain levied heavy import tax on tea leaves, the tax rate over 100% from 1806 to 1833, Meanwhile, East India Company was actively seeking other sources for tea. However, at that time very few places other than China produced tea, and China banned exportation of tea seeds and tea-making techniques for the sake of interest protection. In 1834, Bentinck – British governor in India organized a tea committee to study the possibility of planting Chines tea in India. Due to file fact that Qing government forbade foreigners from entering China, Gordan – the committee secretary came to China in disguise and managed to buy large amounts of tea seeds in Wuyi Mountain, which were secretly shipped to Calcutta in 1835 and were cultivated to 42,000 tea tree saplings, scattered in Assam, Kumaon etc. Later the committee invited Chinese tea master to produce the first batch of finished lea (8 boxes) with the technique of Wuyi Rock tea in 1838, Those were shipped to London and made quite a sensation in the government as well as the public laying the foundation for tea industry in India who is the number 1 tea-producing country in the world now. In 1867, offspring of those tea trees were introduced to Sri-Lanka and made it the 3rd tea-producing country in the future. Since the 1860s, Chinese tea was confronted with the competition from tea of India and Ceylon in world market. Its market share shrank little by little and lost its dominance completely in the 1880s, whereas India became the biggest supplier of tea leaves.

Chinese export of tea leaves to Britain gained China a large trade surplus, so British government ordered its East India Company to carry opium to China in secret, so that Sino-British trade was basically reversed. To prevent silver from outflowing, Qing government implemented a policy of banning opium-smoking and opium trade, severely attacking opium importation. This is the immediate reason for the breaking out of the Opium War between China and Britain in 1840. After the war, as the winner, Britain asked for business at five ports,” two of which were in Fujian, Britain’s aim was still to control the tea areas in Fujian. Wuyi tea went on being import in large amount through Xiamen, Fuzhou and Guangzhou ports. Under the blow of the ‘business at five ports,” road of tea leaves that sold to the north was replaced by the “sea road of tea leaves.” Shanxi business groups dealing in Wuyi tea dispersed. After the Opium War, China lost its sovereignty and territory day by day, starting its 100-year-long history of humiliation.

Similarly, another world-changing war was also related to tea and Britain. Tea leaves imported from China to Britain were further sold to other places, and North America was the largest market for the entrepot trade of tea leaves. Britain levied special tax on tea leaves in its northern America colonies and sold its unsalable tea leaves there, which caused fierce resistance. In 1773, “Boston Tea Party” members took hold of three tea ships of East India Company and sank 342 boxes of tea leaves worth pounds to the bottom of sea for ever “Boston Tea Incident” was a fuse for the American Independent War, and the tea that was sunk was the long-reputed Chinese Wuyi tea. After America obtained its independence, Sino-American tea trade thrived for a while, Americans exchanged ginseng, sealskin and sandalwood for tea leaves in Guangzhou, and took the leaves back to America for sale. A number of people millionaires in this way; In coastal areas of America, many people dreamed of getting rich through tea trade in China. As long as they got a sailboat that could contain five people, they planned to sail to Guangzhou to import tea.

The Opium War and Independent War of North America were all related with tea. The tiny leaves calmly and quietly changed the power structure of the world. Nevertheless, while the Opium War led to the accumulated poverty and weakness of a 1,000-year-old country, the latter signified the rising up of a modern power What is implied in this is well worth the consideration of everyone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*