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Immigrants From Anxi Leave Their Mark On The History Of Taiwan

Author, Photos: Zhen Zhixian

Walking along the old streets of Dadaocheng, on Chongqing North Road you pass the 100 year old Wang You Ji teahouse as well as Jing Hou teashop. On Minsheng West Road, is the old Xinfangchun teashop. Walking a bit farther still, you reach Wang Jin Zhen teashop at the intersection of Huanhe North and Minsheng West Roads... At every corner in Dadaocheng, walking into any teashop or artisan tea factory, you may find yourself surrounded by people from Anxi.

Suppose you avoid the teashops and head directly to Nangang Tea Mountain. Here at the birthplace of Baozhong tea, you will find Wei Jingshi, Wang Shuijin, and the master of the ancient Yu family house near the Nangang tea test field, Yu Qinghe - their ancestors all come from Anxi. This is the area to the east of Taipei. To the west lies the home of Tie Guan Yin, Muzha's Maokong tea growing district. From Zhang Naimiao to Zhang Yin and Zhang Meijia, you will find the same thing. What a coincidence! These pioneering tea growers are all immigrants from Anxi.

A common Chinese saying goes: "those living in the mountains live off the mountain, while those living near the sea live off the tea." Anxi, in mainland China's Fujian province, is the home of Tie Guan Yin. In the past most of the mountain-dwelling locals were primarily involved in growing tea. There were too many people for the limited mountain resources, however, causing some to risk crossing the Taiwan Strait in order to open new lands. Since they had made their livelihoods on the mainland developing tea mountains, it was only natural that after arriving in Taiwan they would also live in and off of the mountains.

They made their way into the mountains and began farming. This likely explains why descen-dents of Anxi people are to be found everywhere in the Muzha and Nangang Tea Mountain areas. Even heading toward Pinglin and Yilan, which in the past were considered deep mountain areas, we also find a significant number of early Anxi immigrants who came to develop the land. People from Anxi cultivated many of the plains and mountain areas of northern Taiwan.

Another turning point, came at the end of the Qing dynasty and during the period of Japanese occupation. This was a booming and prosperous period for Taiwanese tea exports. Taiwan possessed three valuable exports: tea, sugar, and camphor. Tea was the largest of the three, and tea leaves became like black gold.

The port at Dadaocheng became extremely busy, as boats came and went. Tea brought an endless stream of people to the teahouses and tea refining factories located in the main collection and distribution areas of Guide Road, Minshseng West Road, Yanping North Road, Xining North Road, etc.

This let to urgent demand for workers including tea laborers, master tea bakers, tea pickers, carpenters. and of bamboo packaging Residents of traditional sources of overseas Chinese including the Fujian province cities of Xiamen, Anxi, Quanzhou, Zhangzhou, and Fuzhou decided to take advantage of the opportunity. They hoped to find a future filled with greater opportunities. Chinese tend to form networks of personal connections, as well as connection to their land, and connections to their ancestral hometown. They of course brought over more people from their villages, either one by one or a group at a time.

This was particularly true for those from Anxi, who made up by far the greatest proportion of people in the Taiwanese tea industry. They recruited more and more people to Taiwan. If you visit a tea mountain or teahouse, it is unusual not to run into people from Anxi.

Head of old Xinfangchun teashop Wang Guozhong, grew up following his father among piles of tea leaves. In the blink of an eye, over seventy years passed. The old teashop is a now hundred - plus - year - old established business. In the past Xinfangchun operated on a relatively large scale, and its Minsheng West Road shop is particularly spacious. Its interior is vast and towering with columns so wide that it takes two people to put their arms all the way around them.

He recalls that Yaoyang tea company had a. simple but impressive tea shop on an old street in Xiamen. When fellow villagers wanted to come to Taiwan from Anxi, they first gained experience working here for the Yaoyang tea company. After arriving in Taiwan, the Xin Fang Chun teahouse served as their base. There are still tea companies M Taipei run by men who started out doing business under the name of the Xinfangchun Tea House and later branched out on their own.

Master Guozhong enjoy a very senior position. Chinese people "value seniority above age."Even the now deceased head of Dihua Street's Anxi Fuji teahouse reached 100 years of age, he stMiusecl the honorific when addressing Master Guozhong. The current head of the Wang You Ji teahouse Wang Lianyuan is also not young, but he still refers itci Master Guozhong as "Great Uncle."

In that early period, a number of Chinese master workers were hired to come to Taiwan and roast tea. They all intended to return home eventually. Consequently, like birds they came in the spring and left in the autumn, returning to their hometowns to celebrate the Lunar New Year with their families. When the next year's spring tea harvest season came, they returned to Taiwan.

However, because of changing local conditions and bad weather, crossing the Taiwan Strait was a dangerous journey in those days. This meant some people were unable to return to mainland China. The Taipei Tea Merchants Association, in the past referred to as "Tea Merchant's Sea Goddess," is the oldest trade guild in Taiwan, It essentially grew up alongside the city of Taipei. Today it is over 110 years old. In the past the Tea Merchants Association established a "Spring Return office," which hired doctors and others to look after these tea worker. It also provided temporary lodging and job placement for these people who the waters to Taiwan to work in tea.

The was safely crossing water. In the past, they all carried incense for the Goddess of the Sea, which they burned in the Spring Return office after arriving in Taiwan. When returning home, they once again burned incense to ensure a safe journey. Later the Tea Merchant's Association welcomed the Sea Goddess from her native Fujian, performing ceremonies of worship. This explains the origin of its nickname, "Tea Merchant's Sea Goddess." Some bachelors were unable to return home and, due to misfortune, passed away. The Spring Return Office also assisted in making their funeral arrangements.

Fujian province lies beside both mountains and sea, and has consequently been described as the homeland for overseas Chinese. A significant number of people have immigrated to other countries, including crossing the strait to Taiwan. There are also those who have followed the example of Zhen He (15th century Ming dynasty naval explorer) and set at across the South Seas. In places such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand,Indonesia, Hong Kong, and Macau, here are numerous old tea companies founded by people from Anxi. Examples include Malaysia's Gaoquanfa, Jianyuan, Guanghuifeng, Ruizhen, and Gaomingfa teahouses; and Singapore's Linjintai and Yuanchongmei teahouses. All of these were founded by early immigrants who crossed the South China Sea, establishing roots in these places and creating names for themselves.

These immigrants from Anxi maintained connections with their counterparts in Taiwan who worked in tea companies and as tea traders. Whether based on hometown connections or family tics, they engaged in trade from an early date. They even imported tea from Taiwan, and the trade was quite frequent. Consider the Wangyouji teahouse as an example. This old tea company began in Anxi and rose to prominence in Bangkok, Thailand. Then from Bangkok it moved into Taiwan to expand its scope of business.

Today it is over one hundred years old and is still going strong in both countries. The primary focus of Xinfangchun was on export to Thailand and the South China Sea areas. The Yaoyang tea compay, on the other hand, ran teashops from Anxi to Xiamen and then later Hong Kong and Taiwan. The former head of the Yaoyang tea company was once mayor of Anxi's Yaoyang Township. Consequently, he chose to name the tea company after the place. It stands as a testimony to the efforts of the Anxi people.

Of the early Anxi immigrants, some headed to the mountains to produce tea while others ran teashops in cities including Dadaocheng, Taipei, Tainan Fucheng, and the Jaiyi Zhuluo county seat. Those with vision and minds suited for business grew their operations, opening tea processing factories or expanding further into large-scale tea businesses.

Businesses such as the old Wenshan tea company, Yanping North Road Jinxiang tea company, and Guide Road Jinji tea company, are no longer in existence, but to this day we can still find the beautiful buildings they left behind. They stand as testimony to an exciting time in Taiwan's history.

Recently, Taiwan's Da Ai TV has been broadcasting a miniseries called "Guigu Ama." The subject of this reality-based story is the Daodaocheng and Xindian Ankeng area Wenshan Tea House." The heads of this old tea company, including Wang Shuiliu, Wang Tianding (Huoding), and Wang Jinyi, were all influential members of the early Taiwanese Tea Merchants Association. Wang Tianding (Huoding) also served as chairman of the association, and, due to his considerable talents, was elected to the provincial senate. However, his cynical views caused him to become a victim of the 228 Incident (violent 1947 Taiwanese uprising). Wang Jinyi, on the other hand, went to Japan as an exchange student. Upon return home he was sent to Northeast China to expand the tea industry. As a result, he brought back numerous tea samples, which became an important part of the cultural collection of the Tea Merchant's Association. He served as general secretary of the Tea Merchant's Association for over a decade. In his old age he still helped the Association manage its cultural artifacts. The Association has preserved so many historical tea relics, thanks in large part to his efforts. He passed away only a few years ago at the age of 105, making him the longest living member of the Tea Merchant's Association. Wenshan teahouse primarily sold tea to mainland China's Northeast as well as Southeast Asia. Guigu Ama tells the story of the teahouse's beloved daughter. It is set around 1930 and recounts an impressive period in Taiwan's tea history.

People from Anxi worship Qingshui Zushi (Zushi refers to the founder of a sect in Buddhism or Daoism), commonly referred to as Heimian Zushi or Zushi Gong. People believed that Zushi Gong's nose would often drip to warn against impending local disasters, giving him the name "Runny Nose Zushi." A number of temples devoted to Qingshui Zushi are located in the Taipei area. In the earliest developed area, the Mengjia district, a Qingshui Zushi temple was built in 1787 during the Qing dynasty Qianlong period. Today it is a level three historical site. Due to the craftsmanship of master artist Li Meishu, the Zushi temple in Sanxia has achieved even greater fame at home and abroad. It has also become the spiritual center of Sanxia. The construction of these temples is another prominent mark left by people from Anxi.

Heading between Taipei and Muzhu on Xinhai Road, another Zushi temple lies on a mountainside of Shenkeng. This road was an early tea road. Tea farmers from Pinglin, Shiding, Shenkeng, and Muzha all had to climb this ancient path carrying their tea. They walked all the way to Dadaocheng to sell tealeaves and purchase household necessities to carry back into the mountains. This temple along the path gave believers a place to worship and say a blessing for a safe journey. In the past, it was filled with the constant scent of burning incense.

In former times, a stream of people came and went along the tea road. After the public highway opened, human activity gradually died out along the ancient path. Today a portion of the mountains is set aside as a cemetery. Walking again along the tea road, we cannot help but sigh at the changes in the world and be impressed at the hardships endured by these people of the past.

The huge amount of foreign currency brought in by early tea exports has played an indelible role in Taiwan's current economic success, creating its important position in the world economy. Beginning in 1869, the first shipment of tea was exported to the United States, paving the worldwide tea road for Formosa tea. Taiwanese tea has been exported to the US, to Southeast Asian, to Europe, and even has far as North Africa, and Saudi Arabia.

The forerunners of this trade were the tea company heads, the teahouse managers, and the tea factory founders. They came from all over mainland China, Especially important were Fujian cities such as Xiamen, Fuzhou, Zhangzhou, and Quanzhou, and Guangdong cities such as Chaozhou and Shantou. But more than from Anxi. Their contribution to the history of the Taiwanese tea industry and to the modern history of Taiwan is worth remembering Immigrants from Anxi left behind a proud page in the history of Taiwan.