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A Splendid Pearl - The Classic of Tea

The Classic of Tea is a treasured pearl in Chinese traditional culture. It was the first monography about tea in the world. It not only established the theoretic basis of the Chinese Tea Ceremony, but also has an epoch-making significance in the Tea Ceremony Culture of the world. Japanese tea expert Dr. Jiayuanqianzongshi, the Fifteenth generation of the famous Jia family in the Japanese tea ceremony, said that "The Classic of Tea is certainly the most advanced and ancient classical work about tea in the historical significance of the bible of tea and the Japanese tea ceremony. The American tea expert William Wilkinson pointed out that the first book about tea benefited vastly a lot of people in China's farm industry and the worlds". Hence the eminence of Lu Yu’s work is absolutely undeniable.

Why does this pearl, The Classic of Tea, have such brilliance within history and have been adored by people related with tea all over the world? Perhaps, besides the detailed description of the whole production process, art and culture about tea with theoretical thoughts could be a vital reason.

The Pursuit of Humanity as a Disciplined and Moral Action

The Classic of Tea directly states "he most cold taste fits well the person of virtue". Lu Yu was the first person who connected morality to tea drinking. He thought that tea is more than just a drink. People could enhance their temper and personality through drinking tea. "Disciplined morality" is the ideal character of a human being, he deems honesty, politeness and discipline as the best interpretation of which he can implement via the tranquility ideology in the book.

To corroborate his view on tea drinking, he discussed a large quantity of historical materials in The Classic of Tea. He explained "Shennong started tea drinking and it was known by the Duke Lu after, Yan Ying in Qi, Sima Xiangru and Yang Xiong in the Han Dynasty, Wei Yao in Wu, Liu Kun, Zhang Zai, Yuan Zuna, Xie An and Zuo Si in the Jin Dynasty all were drinking tea by Chinese tea cups. People he listed above are all the apotheosis in his eyes.

Duke Lu Zhou is Duke Dan in Zhou, who was a famously virtuous MP. He was entitled Duke Lu Zhou after he was given the territory of Lu by his father the King Zhou Wen and his brother the King Zhou Wu. It was recorded in history that "his filial piety to his father distinguished himself from the others when his father was the king, and his support and assistance to his brother made him highly esteemed when his brother was the king". He also gained great reputation because of his loyalty to the King Cheng, the son of his brother. A lot of stories and idioms about him like "easy to get to", "getting out three times from bath", "stopped three times from dining" have been preserved.

"Easy to get to" quotes from the Biographiesfamily Epics, the Duke Lu Zhou. "Easy to get to, makes them return to you”, which implies a nice attitude and politeness. "Getting out three times from bath", “stopped three times from dining could be interpreted as a compact term “hold hair and stop dining", which originally was a warning from Duke Zhou to his son when he asked his son to be polite to the virtuous. He said "I am still worried about losing those sages even when I showed my respect to them from quitting what I was doing", which means he emphasize
to treat virtuous people with ample politeness.

Yan Ying, a famous politician in the late Spring and Autumn Period, had been MPs for Duke Qi Ling, Duke Zhuang, Duke Jing, which was nearly a forty yearslong political career. Lu Yu quoted the stories about him in The Classic of Tea from Yan Zi Chronicle. When Yan Zi was the MP for Duke Qi Jing, the food he ate was just ordinary rice with some vegetables and pork. The life he led was quite simple even though he had been MP for three Kings, "not much meat in food and no luxury silk clothes were allowed to be worn by his family". This was implicated in his daily life. Once he was provided a new house, good clothes, new vehicle and horses by the King but he accepted none of them. He was even given the opportunity to many the King’s daughter to replace his old and ugly wife, but he refused politely. Confucius praised him "helps the public politely, assists the Kings well and what a nice gentleman he is". Sima Qian even said "I would be greatly pleased even if I could just be his car driver".

Lu Na, lived in Eastern Jin, had been the Governor of Wuuxing City and been promoted as General Secretary in Central Government. He was well-known for being persistent and punctual, as well as a virtuous confucian. luYu recorded his story in The Classic of Tea from the Chronicle of Jin, " Lu Na was the Wuxing, where the Guardian General Xie An had visited him a lot. The son Na's brother was not very happy because Lu Na didn't prepare much for Xie visit. He then secretly prepared a lot of food to serve Xie An. But Lu Na actually treated Xie An with only tea and fruit. After Xie An left, Lu Na blamed his nephew for spoiling his business." Lu Yu respected Lu Na's personality very much and called him "further ancestor".

Xie An (320 A.D. - 385 A.D.), also named An Shi, was born in a big family. His grandfather, a famous Confucian, was a National Ceremony Host in the Eastern Han Dynasty; his father Xie Pou was a Senator in Congress. Xie An was a talented person and did not want to gain success by relying on his family background. He was provided opportunities and positions in the government, but he refused. He spent his youth in mountains with personages studying Taoism, calligraphy and tea. It was recorded in history books that he refused an official assignment, people were arguing about what a pity it was if he was not coming out to do official work for the people.

In the Fourth year of the Shengping Years (360 A.D.), Xie An finally took the jobs of Department Executive, Department Director and Administer in the government. Later, he became a General Senator of the Central Government which actually was the real power of the country. During the period of his management, he used the right people for the proper positions regardless of their background and balanced the contradictions between powers. In 383 A.D., he led an army of only eighty thousand and successfully defeated the attack from Fu Jian with an army of eight hundred thousand, which created the most classical battle example of less military force defeating a larger one.

After that famous Fei River War, Xie An achieved an enormous reputation. Yet he didn't behave proudly but resigned from his position. He just wanted to have a retired life. It was a pity that he died soon after his resignation from the government at the age of 66. He was provided a funeral ceremony of a King and a death title of "Gentle Devotion".

Xie An had a big influence on Chinese Culture, and there are at least tens of idioms related to him. For example, "bob up like a cork" was describing his second time coming out to do a government job; "be passionately devoted" was talking about when he thought Huan Ziye was a very true person. Those phrases have been quoted a lot by Chinese people since then. Lu Yu listed so many celebrities related to tea that it was in order to make people get sample spirit from them to promote disciplined morality.

“Harmony” - The Core of Philosophical Thoughts via the Chinese Tea Ceremony

The thought about "harmony" in The Classic of Tea is mostly discussed in the Fourth chapter, Boiling Utensils. Lu Yu was very mean on words but he used 244 characters to describe the wind stove he invented, which reveals his harmony thoughts. He especially described the three legs of the wind stove, one leg casting on characters "above is Kan, under is Xun and in the middle is Li", the second leg having the characters "body holds Five-elements dispels diseases" and the third leg having "we will have a better time of gracious Tang and the Hu will end up next year". Kan, Xun and Li are factors in the Yinyang system, in which Kan means water in the teapot, Xun means the air and Li means the fire. The teapot was made of metal and bums wood to heat water and tea so that all the five elements are contained in the Tea Ceremony System, which implies harmonious thoughts. The five-elements are contained and run smoothly in human body so that people can keep in good health, thus revealing harmonious thought as well. The final words showed his political wish for the country, which actually is social harmonious thought.

“Duke Yin Soup, Saint Lu Tea”-The Positive Social Spirit in the Chinese Tea Ceremony

On the three windows of the wind stove, there are the six characters "Yin Gong",. “Geng Lu” and “Shi Cha", which read connectively are “Duke Yin Soup, 'Saint Lu Tea". Lu Yu mentioned his tea in the same breath with Duck Yin's soup, which matters significantly. Duke Yin is a polite name for an outstanding politician called Yi Yin from the Shang Dynasty. It was said legendarily that Yi Yin was an abandoned baby but was adopted by a mulberry-leaf-picking lady from a mulberry garden near the Yin River. She consecrated the baby to You Shen. You Shen then asked a chef to bring him up. Yi Yin was really good at cooking after he grew up and being talented as well. this brought him a good reputation. Shang Tang was looking for a talented person eagerly and he asked for Yi Yin from You Shen but was refused. Finally he played a smart trick by marrying the daughter of You Shen and asked for Yi Yi as a gift to be their family servant, thus Yi Yin had to come to Shang Tang.

After Shang Tang got Yi Yin, he held a lustral ceremony very ceremonious meeting with him. He enquired him of the ways to manage the country with an open mind. Yi Yin interpreted his idea of balance and harmony through the example of how cooking needs a balance of the five flavors, which inspired Shang Tang a lot.

Shang Tang assigned Yi Yin the position of MP and established the Shang Dynasty under the help of Yi Yin.

Lu Yu mentioned his tea in the same breath with Duke Yin's soup, which means obviously that he was trying to interpret the principle that managing a country was just like cooking. They were both abandoned but chose a similar way to explain their political wishes and ideas. It is very important to understand this point that we would not think purely that The Classic of Tea is just an ordinary tea book, but actually it has deeper philosophical thoughts behind the words.