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Lu Yu, the Saint of Tea

Chinese people always attach the same importance to the quality of their material and their spiritual lives. For instance, they eat and drink to satisfy their physiological requirements, and to refresh and form their minds as well. Drinking alcohol, always regarded as etiquette at banquets and sacrificial ceremonies, is also customary for soldiers who are to go into battle to show their heroism and boldness. Chinese people are particular about the aroma, color and taste of their food dishes, which are taken not only to fill the stomach, but also as objects with aesthetic value.

So naturally, tea, a drink specially advocated by intellectuals,became a material full of cultural and ideological meaning. It was the Tang people who further developed the art of making and drinking tea by gongfu tea cup, imbuing the whole process with the rhyme of a poem and making the drinker meditate on the philosophy of life. Lu Yu, the first person who perfected the art of tea, created the tea ceremony and promoted tea culture, was addressed respectfully as the Saint of Tea in Chinese history.

Lu Yu, born at Jingling, Fuzhou (present-day Tianmen Countyin Hubei Province), lived during Tang's flourishing ages of Kaiyuan and Tianbao. An orphan abandoned by his parents, he was taken in by Jigong, an elderly eminent Buddhist, and brought up in a temple named Longgai. Jigong loved tea very much and grew many tea plants around the temple. Little Lu Yu learned many arts of cultivating and making tea from Jigong, and gradually became an expert. According to legend, once when Jigong was called up to teach Buddhism at the imperial court, he felt quite disappointed at the tea there. But one day he was suddenly overjoyed after taking several sips of tea, saying, Ah, it's made by my disciple Lu Yu. He's come." It was true. Lu Yu had been specially summoned to make tea for him.

Though growing up in a Buddhist temple, Lu Yu was more interested in Confucianism. The reclusive life in a lonely temple was too much for him. So he managed to flee away and join a theatrical troupe. As he was clever, he not only acted but also wrote many humorous plays. Later he won the recognition of Li Qiwu, prefect of Jingling, who helped him to go to nearby Mount Tianmen to learn Confucianism from an old scholar. But the good times did not last long. Lu Yu's study was interrupted by An Lushan's Revolt in the north, which drove the emperor Tang Xuanzong south to Sichuan from the capital Changan. Lu Yu was forced to go with the fugitives to Huzhou, a tea-growing area in the south. There he collected much useful information about the cultivation, picking and baking of tea, and also made friends with the most famous poets, monks, calligraphers and statesmen of the period through their mutual love of tea. On the basis of profound discussion with his friends on the art of making and drinking tea and his own long-term exploration of the theory of tea culture, Lu Yu wrote The Book of Tea, the first treatise on tea and tea culture in the world.