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Tales About Tea

There wore many tales about tea in different parts of China. Some of these tales told of the origin of famous teas with a view to both adding romance to the teas to make them more exalted and publicizing the beauty and prosperity of their hometowns. China was vast in territory and rich in resource, but almost nothing was liked by everyone and eulogized in different tales except tea and liquor. There were tales about grains and plants, such as the tales about the Goddess of Flowers, and the Silkworm Lady Meeting Qiu Hu in the Mulberry Garden. Tea stories, however, were more specific. All famous teas had their own graceful and romantic legends, through which people eulogized famous mountains and rivers, thus making them yearn for and admire famous teas all the more. Tea planters were good at making advertisements for their fine teas through legends. The origin of famous teas accounted for a large proportion of the legends about tea, and every famous tea seemed to have a wonderful history.

Maofeng Tea of Huangshan, Anhui Province, is one famous kind of tea in China, and its Tunxi green tea is praised as "green gold." The first-class Tunxi green tea is also called the treasure of teas, about which there is a beautiful love story. Once there was an orphan named Luo Xiang who lived at the foot of the Huangshan Mountain. The girl, tender as tea and beautiful as flowers, picked delicious tea and sang beautiful songs. High officials, noble lords, scholars^ sons of wealthy men, and rich businessmen all proposed marriage to her. Troubled by them, Luo Xiang told her fellow countrymen that she would be engaged through the treasure of teas she had picked. On March 8, at the foot of the Huangshan Mountain, the countrymen, among whom were many rich people and poor people unwilling to be left behind, gathered. Luo Xiang put a table in front her door, and placed a cup of treasure of teas she had picked. On March 8, at the foot of the Huangshan Mountain, the countrymen, among whom were many rich people and poor people unwilling to be left behind, gathered. Luo Xiang put a table in front of her door, and placed a cup of treasure of teas before each person who proposed marriage to her. She said, will choose my husband today, and I hope God will bless me. I have put my vital energy to the tea. The one in whose cup reveals my figure will be my husband." Hearing this, those who proposed marriage to her all watched the tea in the cups before them. But only in the cup set before the woodcutter, Shi Yong,did the fragrant vapors of the tea curl up, in the initial form of a green tea leaf unfolding and later turning into a tea tree. People could see Luo Xiang picking tea under the tree, with the girl inside and outside the cup, as well as the tea in the cup and in the mountain, all becoming an integral whole. As a result, Luo Xiang married the woodcutter. Then the news spread to local authorities. The county magistrate grabbed the treasure of teas from Luo Xiang and presented it to the imperial court It was fragrant but no soul could be seen in the cast iron tea cup. So the county magistrate arrested Shi Yong and tortured him to death. However, Luo Xiang saved his life with spring water from the Huangshan Mountain and the treasure of teas, which had a miraculous effect of saving one's life but only with the help of the spring water from the Huangshan Mountain.

Another legend about Maofeng tea of Huangshan is also thought-provoking. During the reign of Tian Qi in the Ming Dynasty there was a learned, refined and incorruptible county magistrate named Xiong Kaiyuan. Once he went to the Yungu Temple in the Huangshan Mountain with his page boy during a spring outing. The elder of the Temple presented him with a kind of fine tea which had sprouts on yellow leaves which looked like white hair. He made tea with the boiling water from a Huangshan Mountain spring, and found that not only did the tea have unparalleled color, fragrance and taste, but when it changed and rose the wonder of a white lotus appeared in the air. According to the elder, when the Holy Farmer got poisoned after tasting herbs, the Tea Fairy and the Huangshan Mountain God saved his life with the tea. Out of gratitude, the Holy Farmer left them a holy seat of lotus; so drinking this kind of tea naturally promised good health and longevity. Later, a county magistrate who madly desired an official position secretly presented the tea to the emperor so his meritorious deeds could be recorded. But since he did not know that the white lotus would not appear without the spring water from the Huangshan Mountain, he harmed himself in his greed far recognition. Seeing through the corruption of officials, Xiong Kaiyuan resigned and became a monk at the Yungu Temple, accompanied all day by Maofeng tea, spring water and his roommates. Superficially, there seems to be no difference between this story and ordinary folktales,but a careful study proves that it is not the case. First, included in it is the story of the Holy Farmer's tasting herbs, which repeats the lore that tea was used early in the Holy Farmer's time. Second, the legend that the white lotus would appear if tea was made with the spring water reflects the relationship between Buddhism, which revered the lotus, and tea. Elder Huineng and Xiong Kaiyuan, an elegant Confucianism practiced tea ceremony together at the Yungu Temple, which demonstrates that a real tea connoisseur must be a detached and virtuous man. As for the county magistrate who was always flattering the emperor, he had nothing to do with the graceful moral character of Maofeng tea of Huangshan. This ordinary folktale reflects many problems and shows the implications and depth of folk art.

However, in the legends about tea there is more a flavor of fairies than of Buddhism. Fairies impress the Chinese people more than Buddhism does, for fairies, who are alive, stand for beauty and wisdom, qualities which are pursued by the Chinese people, especially laborers. Taiping Houkui tea in Anhui Province was, according to a folktale, given by two old monkeys which had attained the Way. But some people say that it was cultivated by a beautiful girl named Hou Kui with all her energy. Making tea with the Hou Kui tea leaves, one can see smoke curling up out of the Chinese teapot, and the figures of his family members in the smoke. There are also many legends about the Red Robe tea of the Wuyi Mountain. According to some, in a year with poor harvest in the Wuyi Mountain, an old and kind-hearted Lady Qin saved an old immortal man, who later inserted a stick into the earth and the stick became a tea tree. Afterwards, the emperor dug up the tea tree and planted it in his palace. But the fairy like tea tree rose sharply from the ground and flew to the Wuyi Mountain. Its red leaves were the flowing colored clouds, as well as the robe of the tea fairy. Some people, however, say that the emperor bestowed red robes on three tea trees, for the tea cured the queen of a disease. It should be noted here that many legends about famous tea include moving love about the treatment of disease. This theme stressed the medical value of tea and its pure moral character. An interesting legend about Junshan tea of the Dongting Lake tells of an old Taoist priest who gave advice to the queen mother of the State of Chu. Hie old queen mother was always falling ill, and the filial devotion of her son, king of the State, moved Heaven. An old Taoist priest with a white beard came to treat her. But he said that nothing was wrong with her except that she ate so many delicacies from land and sea that she was suffering from stomach trouble-Before taking his leave, he left a gourd of divine water, along with the following true sentences:

Two decoctions a day, and more vegetables each meal;
If you want a long life, walk a hundred paces after supper.

The queen mother recovered; but a high official of the state wanted to remove the divine water of Junshan Maintain to the royal palace- Angered at this, the old Taoist priest sprayed the Junshan Mountain with a pond of divine water, which turned into thousands of tea trees as effectual as the divine water. The king of the State of Chu blamed the old Taoist priest for the crime of "deception on the King," but the priest said that if the King had cleaned out the divine water, he had committed the crime of "deception on the people," for each place had its own way of supporting its own inhabitants. The king had to give in. From then on, he sent a hundred girls in red to pick tea in the Junshan Mountain every year. The girls, twenty in each group, were like flowers dotted on the rippling green mountain. Seeing the beautiful scenery, the king was in an exalted, poetic mood. "In the vast expanse of green bushes, the girls in red are picking tea leaves...." Chanting at this, he suddenly realized that in the Chinese character "tea," the symbol for "person" is between those for "grass" and "wood", and the original complex form of the stroke "grass" could also be written as a simplified form of the word "twenty," which was the way that the girls were organized into teams. Why did the King insist on removing the divine spring of the Junshan Mountain, since everything has its own natural reason? Cleverly contrived, the story satirized and gave advice to the rulers, and brought out the heme in the end with a maxim: After drinking a cup of tea, the King should be sober-minded, not taking too much or troubling the people too much.

That good tea is made with good water is the basic requirement of tea art. Chi this point the common people are the most qualified to speak, for they often live beside famous waters rather than assiduously seeking after them. Many stories exist about the discovery and protection of famous springs and waters. For example, the Hupao Spring in Hangzhou is said to have been dug out with superhuman strength by two brothers called Dahu and Erhu, who became tigers in order to save the local people.

In Guilin, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region,there is a tale about the White Dragon Spring and Liu Xianyan tea. It is said that the tea made with the water from the White Dragon Spring was fragrant and out of the vapor flew a white dragon. So the water was treated as a tribute specially paid to the Emperor. The Liu Xianyan tea is said to have been planted by an immortal called Liu Jing in the Song Dynasty. In fact, the so-called immortal was simply a living human being who had attained the Way. We can see from these examples that legends about tea and springs are simply twists on real life.

Some stories reproduce historical facts in a way people love to hear and talk about. Here is the story about an exchange of a horse for The Book of Tea. In the last years of the Tang Dynasty, monarchs set up separate regimes by force of arms and rebelled against the imperial court. The Emperor was badly in need of horses to put down these rebellions, so the imperial court exchanged tea for horses with the State of Huihe. In the autumn of that year, messengers from both the Tang Dynasty and the State of Huihe met again at the border. This time the messenger from the State of Huihe wanted to exchange a thousand strong horses for The Book of Tea. The author of the book, Lu Yu, however, had died and the hook was not vet universally known. So the Emperor ordered his messengers to use all possible means to search for the book in Tiaoxi, Huzhou, where the author wrote the book, and his home county Jingling (today's Tianmen County, Hubei Province), At last the great poet Pi Rixiu took out a manuscript which was later exchanged for the horses. From then on The Book of Tea was spread abroad. Irrespective of whether the story derived from the common people or from scholars, it was cleverly invented, for it linked the exchange of tea for horses with the spread of The Book of Tea. In fact, the Tang Government kept in frequent contact with the State of Huihe, for it was in the Tang Dynasty that The Book of Tea was spread to the northwest part of our country. This story gives us an important clue for the study of the history of tea culture in the northwest.

According to one legend, there is a big camellia in the Luliang County, Yunnan Province. It was more than two zhang (6.6 meters) tall and one arm span around, and each of its flowers had nine stamens and eighteen petals. People called it the King of Camellias. The legend about the tree, however, is linked with the history of Wu Sangui's governing of Yunnan. It is said that because Wu Sangui plated to be Emperor after having dominated Yunnan, he built a palace in the Wuhua Mountain and the Axiang Garden by the Lotus Pool, and searched everywhere for exotic flowers and rare hobs. Then he forced the transplantation of King of Camellias in Luliang County to his palace. It turned out that the tree had an iron will, growing leaves but not coming into flower in spite of scars of the wounds inflicted on it by Wu Sangui's whip. Three years later, Wu Sangui wanted to kill the gardener in a fury. Then the tea fairy came into his dream, singing:

"Don 't be drunk, Sangui.
The gardener is innocent, but you are mistaken.
As a girl from a peasant family,
I don't seek wealth and rank.
I only wish to go home And spend the rest of my life."

Hearing this, Wu Sangui wielded his sword, but instead of killing the tea fairy, he cut off the dragon's head of a dragon chair. Then he heard the tea fairy singing:

"Mean, low and notorious,
You have betrayed your master for glory.
You disreputable gang is completely absorbed in Building your palace,
With your throne stained with blood.
Since what you did has caused Widespread indignation and discontent,
Ghosts will haunt you and punish you."

Hearing this, Wu Sangui was dizzy, and broke out in a cold sweat all over from fear. Suddenly he woke up and found that he was having a dream in Nanke. Fearing of the haunting of ghosts, his adviser suggested that he "relegate" the King of Camellias to Luliang County. This story mainly illustrates the inflexible character of tea by cleverly quoting the historical fact that Wu Sangui rose in rebellion and declared himself Emperor. Actually, there are many such historical stories in Yunnan. For example, many stories tell of Zhuge Liang, who taught people how to plant and use tea, directly stressing the blending of foreign culture with Chinese culture. Zhuge Liang was also known as Kong Ming, so in many places in Yunnan Province, people call some big tea trees "Kong Ming Trees." We do not know whether people in Yunnan learned to plant and use tea only after Kong Ming reached Yunnan. But spiritually, people of different nationalities value historical figures for different reasons.

Some stories, whether made up by scholars or by common people: sound interesting. For example,, the story about "serving tea according to loneliness and nobleness" is of great interest Zheng Banqiao, a great painter and calligrapher, as well as one of the '"Eight Strange Persons" in the Qing Dynasty, always pursued his studies in Zhenjiang. One day he went to the abbot's room in the Jinshan Temple to enjoy calligraphy. At first, the snobbish abbot did not even glance at Zheng Banqiao, who was in plain clothes. He reluctantly told Zheng to sit down. Then he said to the little monk attending, "Tea!" During their talk, the abbot learned that Zheng and he were from the same town,so he said, "Please sit down!,Then he cried to the little mont "Serve tea!" But when he learned that the visitor was the well-known Zheng Banqiao, he was so delighted that he said quickly, "Please take the seat of honor!" And he hurriedly ordered the little monk, "Serve fragrant tea!"Having drunk tea, Zheng stood up and was about to take his leave.

The the old monk asked Zheng to bestow on him some couplets or treasured scrolls of calligraphy or paintings. Zheng waved his hand and wrote the first line, "Sit down, please sit down, please take the seat of honor!" And the second line was, "Tea, serve tea, serve fragrant tea!" This pair of couplets fitted wonderfully, the words matching well,and had a strong ironical flavor. Another story tells of Zhu Yuanzhang,who bestowed a cap and belt on a waiter in a teahouse. Once, the founder of the Ming Dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang, was inspecting the state institution of higher learning after an evening banquet. A cook presented him with a cup of scented tea. It happened that Zhu was thirsty at the time. The more he drank the tea, the mote fragrant he felt the tea was. So he granted the cook a cap and belt on a sudden impulse. Unimpressed by this a tribute student in the yard sang loudly, "Ten years of studies in spite of hardships is no match for a small cup of tea." All were surprised at the tribute student's offending the Emperor. But Zhu said the second line with a smile, "He has less knowledge than you,but you have a worse fate than he." The story showed Zhu's liking for tea. Also, it is consistent with history. Being of low origin, Zhu was considerate of laborers. And since he almost had no schooling, he laid stress only on practice to the neglect of knowledge.