A Magnificent and Moving Epic—The Development History of the Chinese Tea Ceremony

A Magnificent and Moving Epic—The Development History of the Chinese Tea Ceremony

The Chinese Tea Ceremony is a magnificent epic, a multivoiced part, with no conductor, it is an unaccompanied grand music of the Dong race, which has been played since ancient times but is still alive today.

Song Dynasty

Chinese Tea Culture rised in the Tang Dynasty, in the Song reached its peak dynasty. Because in order to pay tribute with tea, it is located in the Northern parts of Fujian's North gardens on Phoenix mountain where the “Dragon and Phoenix Tea Cake" is made, the cultural habits of this very popular tea are listed in Song Dynasty Tea Culture known as the Dragon and Phoenix Golden Age.

The development of the theory and practice in the Tea Ceremony in the Song Dynasty is mainly found in the following three aspects.

Song Huizong's “Perspectives on Tea” Greatly Enhanced the Status of the Tea Ceremony

Nearly all the rulers in history are fond of tea. The First Emperor Zhao Kuangyin of the Song Dynasty had been addicted to tea, since the beginning of the Song Dynasty,the atmosphere of drinking tea in the court was a strong impetus to tea production and the development of Tea Culture. Until Emperor Song Huizong (1101A.D. ~ 1125 A.D.), Tea Culture reached an extreme honorable reputation.

Emperor Song Huizong, Zhao Ji (1082 A.D. ~ 1135A.D.), is the Eighth ruler of the Northern Song Dynasty, who ascended the throne at the age of 18. Zhao Ji's was due to his failure on governing the country and being defeated by the enemy. However, Zhao Ji is an accomplished calligrapher, painter, poet and tea scholar. His "slim gold"style in Chinese calligraphy and his book Tea Theory are valuable legacies in art and culture.

Tea Theory was written in 1107A.D.. "Da Guan" is the title of the text describing the reigning years of Emperor Song Huizong. The book was written in “Da Guan” years, from which Tea Theory drived its name. This book is based on the rationale of Lu Yu's book The Classic of Tea, combined with the development and production popularity situation of tea in the Song Dynasty,systematically introducing an overview of 20 issues on tea art and tea culture in the Song Dynasty. First of all, he mentioned in the introduction that, "as tea, with a delicate and intrinsic character from Ou and Min mountain areas, helps to remove the sluggishness and make it clear", "clear and elegant". He regarded tea as a holy thing, which greatly enhanced the status of tea. He discussed that tea drinking is a way of self-cultivation and he encouraged people to engage in elegant tea activities.

In his Perspectives on Tea, he introduced the whole process of tea manufacturing and the criteria to judge tea's quality. In particular, he introduced the "white tea" in the Song Dynasty when talking about the categories of tea, about tea utensils. He introduced the tea roller, cup and spoon,etc., which give us an overview of the "spot tea" in the Song Dynasty. About the water to brew tea with, he proposed a criteria that “clear and light, sweet and pure are the tempers of water", which is still in use now. About the method of “spot tea”,he used over 470 characters to describe it in detail. About the standard of dividing tea, he discussed in three aspects: taste, flavor and color. He believes that "the taste of tea is vital, sweet, aromatic, tasty and smooth yet full of flavor", 'The true flavor of tea is not compared by heaven aroma.” About the “spot tea”, he said that “pure white is the most advanced tea color, turquoise white color follows, gray white color next, yellow white is the last.” These are all distinguished and precious historical materials for us to know about tea culture in the Song Dynasty.

Perspective on Tea does not only develop the theory of the Chinese Tea Ceremony, but also pushed the tea ceremony into a gracious entertainment fashion. A national "tireless need to drink tea" occurred in the Song Dynasty. The Tea Ceremony spread through all levels of society's daily life via people's enjoyment of tea.

Emergence of a Large Quantity of People and Books Talking about Tea

There were a lot of tea scholars in the Song Dynasty, like Ding Wei who created the “Round dragon and phoenix tea" and wrote Tea Note in the North Garden, Cai Xiang who created the subtle and cute “Little Dragon round phoenix tea” and wrote the book Tea Notes, Zhou Jianggong who wrote Supplementation of the Tea Notes, Liu Yiyu who wrote picking up from the North Garden, Song Zi'an who wrote Savoring Tea at the East River, Lvhui Qingyu who wrote Tea Notes in Jian'an, Ye Qingchen who wrote A Little Savoring of Boiled Tea, Huang Ru who wrote Tips on Savoring Tea, Bao Zheng who wrote A Discussion on Tea, Ouyang Xiu who wrote Visiting by Boat, Notes of Darning River, Shen'a Laoren who wrote Pictures of Tea Utensils, ect..

The creation of poems about tea in the Song Dynasty was unprecedentedly prosperous. Poets like Wang Yucheng, Lin Bu, Yan Shu, Song Qi, Mei Yaochen, Ouyang Xiu, Wang Anshi, Fan Zhongyan, Su Shi, Su Che, Qin Guan, Huang Tingjian, Lu You, Zhu Xi, Fan Chengda, Zhou Bida, YangWanli and Xin Qiji who all have works.

“Tea and Zen Affinity” Enriched the Philosophy in the Tea Ceremony

"Tea and Zen Affinity" is the common philosophical theme between the Chinese and Japanese Tea Cultures and the Buddhist community of monks. Professor Shi ZhaoPeng and Professor Liu Zhonghua argue that, the master Shan Hui during Emperor Tang Gaozong's time established the Jiashan Lingquan temple in the Eleventh Tang Xiantong years(870 A.D.), having been living there over 30 years. He firstly proposed the "Tea and Zen Affinity". The Chinese Tea and Zen Association Manager Mr. Wu Limin also wrote an inscription that reads: Tea and Zen shares the flavour in the Jia Shan Temple, while the source of the Tea Ceremony is the green rock note.

Jia Shan Temple in Hunan Shimen county used to be called the Ling spring Buddhist Temple and is also known as the "Fairy House", which is named after its beautiful environment, in the Eighth Xiantong years (867A.D.) of Emperor Tang Yizong. A high priest Shan Hui (804 A.D.~ 881A.D.) taught and lived there and created a world of agricultural Zen. People called him "the monk of Jiashan." He “never envies the king’s entertainment”, just enjoyed his study and bitter tea. He called himself “The sun of Buddha”. Someone asked him “Where is the sun?” He responded “On the top of the hill.” That person asked again “How is it?” He answered "Monkeys running around holding baby monkeys in the mountain the birds picking the flowers near the spring." This is the most famous poem about the Jia Shan temple and the source of the idra "Zen and Tea share one taste".

"Monkeys running around holding baby monkeys in the mountain, the birds picking the flowers near the spring." These two sentences contain an abstruse thought, implies the rules of nature, tell the truth about everything, disclose the Zen thought and Tea ideas in a poetic way and give people unlimited inspiration.

At Jia Shan Temple, the mountain is not tall but green, with lots of lush trees, flowers and sceneries; the water is not dangerous but quiet; the water of spring, pure and clear, washes away the dusts. What a place of nature, which reveals the genuine character of everything and the pursuit of "Zen and Tea share a taste".

During the Zheng He years (1111A.D. ~ 1118A.D.) in the Song Dynasty, Master Keqin lived in the Jia Shan Temple. His family name is Luo, from Sichuan Pengzhou. He called at many virtuous master, but finally followed the fifth general master. Once by accident, he heard that the fifth master was teaching an retired official and asking him "When you were young, have you ever read any amorous poems? There was one quite similar, 'calling Xiaoyu frequently was impunity, only if you recognize the voice'. "All of a sudden Keqin understood, went out of the master's room quickly, came across a chicken flew up onto the railing, opened the wings and singing. Keqin talked to himself and wandered. "Is this the sound of it?" So he submitted his poem to the general master:

"Aromatic golden duck designed quilt, returned drunk after entertainment. It was a merry fare when young, but only known by the beauty alone."

The Fifth General Master was surprised and knew that he understood thoroughly, encouraged him that “Buddhism is a grand event, it couldn’t be accomplished by inferior root, congratulate you".

After that, the Zen Master Keqin was in charge of the Jia Shan Temple. He developed the monk’s Shan Hui's theory of “Zen tea” and wrote the first book in Zen Green Rock Notes. This left the future generations with a lot of phrases to study, such as “no difficulties on supreme ways, but only to choose", "normal attitude is the way, “every day is a good day", "go with the fragrant grass, back with the falling flower".

Master Keqin was famous at that time, Emperor Song Gaozong gave him a purple gown (in Ancient China, purple is an honorable color and could only be worn by certain people) and called him "Yuanwu Zen Master", hence people called him Yuanwu Zen Master Keqin. His calligraphy script the “Zen and Tea share one flavor" was brought to Japan. Firstly this was preserved by monk Yixiu. Then, it was passed to his student Cuntian Zhuguang as his certificate of graduation. Cuntian Zhuguang hung it up in his tea room, studying it all day and practicing tea concentrately, finally realizing that “Buddhism is in tea”. Afterwards, the calligraphy script became the treasure of the Japanese tea ceremony, which is the widely known legend of the Japanese Tea Ceremony, the "foundation from the calligraphy script”.

In our country, "Tea and Zen Affinity", means “nothing troublesome, comfortable at ease” implied by Yuanwu Zen Master Keqin. It indicates that “normal attitude is the way, just like to eat when hungry and to sleep when sleepy". Just let everything be, no forcefulment, no indulgence, completely shake off the paranoia of being human, to embrace all things in the world, to ecstatically enjoy and study "Green Bamboo, full of disciplines; blossomy flowers, no more than Prajna". "Tea and Zen Affinity" has greatly enriched the ideological contents of the Chinese tea ceremony and the Japanese tea ceremony.