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Milky Tea on Plateaus and Grasslands

After tea arose in Yunnan and Guizhou provinces, it gradually began to be used in other places. It was largely used in two ways. One way was that it was used as medicinal herbs, a practice which then evolved into a tea cultural system, in which tea was drunk without refreshments. For instance, various schools of tea culture in the Central Plains of China, such as the Taoist tea culture, the Buddhist tea culture, and the Confucian tea culture, which was the mainstay of the tea cultures, along with the people of Korea, Japan and other countries in Southeast Asia believing in Confucianism, drink tea without refreshments. The other way was that tea was used as food, whence evolved a tea cultural system, in which tea was drank with refreshments. For example, people south of the Yangtze River drink tea to go with condiments, while people in the northwest part of China and in some countries in Western Europe drink battered tea or milky tea to go with brown sugar. It is reasonable for some people to hold that the culture of the northwest grasslands can be called the "milky tea culture," a title which reflects the connection between the life style of the people of northwest China, who made a living by grazing and hunting and who fed on mutton and beef, and the mountain forest farming culture. In some sense, tea played an epoch-making role for herdsmen and hunters after it entered grasslands and pasturelands. It is often said that people make a living according to given circumstances. On high mountains and grasslands in the northwest part of China, a large quantity of cattle, sheep, camels and horses, are raised. The milk and meat provide people with much heat but few vitamins. So tea supplements the basic needs of the nomadic tribes, whose diet lacks vegetables. Therefore, the herdsmen from Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and the Xinjiang and the Inner Mongolia autonomous regions follow the tea cultural system, in which they drink tea with milk, and make milky tea the most precious thing for the people in the northwest of China.

In the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, each person consumes one jin (500 grams) of brick tea annually on average, and in the pastoral areas as well as the farming areas and grasslands, each person consumes 5.4 jin of brick tea annually on average. The herdsmen eat tea leaves while they drink tea. Many ethnic groups in the Region cannot go without pancakes of wheat or cornflour, or milky tea when they have meals or receive guests. In celebration of the Id al-fltr and Corban Festival, people present tea to each other as gifts, which stand for loyal sentiment. sincere wishes and pure friendship. For the Huis,tea symbolizes purity apart from a daily necessity.

The Mongolian grasslands are full of a rich flavor of fragrant milky tea. In spite of their frequent removal on their felted carts to where grass is luxuriant, the Mongolians never forget to boil milky tea. I, the author, was lucky to enjoy the Mongolian milky tea in the west of the Mongolian Grasslands. It was a late summer. Most of the grassland had turned yellowish, and only in a few low-lying places at the foot of the mountain was there still some green grass. In the northeast part of Shangjing of the Liao Dynasty were tile tombs of Shengzong and other emperors, and on the undulating hills south of the tombs were scattered the tents of Mongolian herdsmen, and of a small number of Han herdsmen, who were perhaps Chinese-featured Qidan descendants. Our investigation group entered four or five Mongolian yurts. These days, the herdsmen have permanent residences, where they put valuable so each tent is simply furnished. About one chi (one-third of a meter) above the ground in the north was a heatable earth bed, covered with felt and quilts. Along the inside walls of the tent were ample articles of daily use. At the center of the tent was a stove, on which was a big kettle full of milky tea. To make tea, they first pound brick tea to pieces,then pour in water and boil the filter dregs, add the appropriate amount of milk, continue to boil, and frequently ladle out some and pour it. The system is much like Lu Yu's way of making tea. On arrival, we sat beside the host according to their status and generation, while their Mongolian guide sat in a right-hand seat. The women operated near the far end of the seats. First, the hostess put before us a small table on the felted mattress, and placed several bowls on the table. They contained millet stir-friend milky beancurd,salt and sugar. Then the hostess put several bowls of brown milky tea before us. The guests should not drink the tea up at one gulp, but allow the hostess to continually add tea to their bowls, in the same way as they drink buttered tea. The herdsmen generally add salt when they drink milky tea, but when treating guests to tea they add white sugar and salt to show their special respect for the guests. The stir-fried millet. called broom corn millet by the Mongolians, is hard to chew. The guide said that, according to the hostess, we could drink milky tea to go with the millet. Large cakes of milky beancurd, like exceptionally big cakes of soap, were hung out on the tents to dry, After eating only a small cake of it, you will not feel hungry for half a day. When they entertain guests, the herdsmen cut the milky beancurd into square pieces, and let the guests eat it with white sugar. If you only eat it occasionally, you will not be accustomed to its bitter taste, but the fragrance of milky tea can help remove the bitterness. After having had these foods, I further understood why the herdsmen think of tea as life. Milk, milky beancurd and increase vitamins. The stir-fried millet is not often eaten, except for long journeys or the entertainment of guests. The milky beancurd, as a fine quality dairy product, is also precious. Therefore, milky tea becomes the Mongolians' main food After blessing the hostess, the guests can drink up the last bowl of milky tea. Then, the guests make a bow to express their thanks, and the host and hostess go out of the tent and see them off, thus putting an end to the entertainment of guests with milky tea. When we walked out of the tent and seeing the blue sky, white clouds, cattle, sheep, and lash grass, we had gained a new understanding of the milky tea culture on the grasslands.

On the Mongolian grasslands, milky tea is used not only In daily life and the entertainment of guests, but also in grand festivals. For example, after the Mongolians ask Lamaists to chant scriptures, they present hada and several pieces of brick tea to the Lamaists. In autumn, at temple fairs or the Nadam Fair, people will entertain customers with milky tea, and brick tea is of course on sale on a large scale .

Likewise, other northwest ethnic groups also like to drink milky tea. As well, they use milky tea in weddings.

It is noteworthy that milky tea is also served to Buddha and gods because most northwest ethnic groups believe in Buddhism, which is irrevocably committed to tea. Confucianis of the Central Plains examined themselves with tea and obtained spiritual strength from it. while northern ethnic groups serve tea to Buddha and gods and seek to free themselves from worldly worries. The spiritual sense of tea is stressed by all ethnic groups of China, a rare occurrence in world dietary history.