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Tea and Arts

The arts have always been a part of life. As the tea culture evolved over thousands of years, a fusion with arts inevitably occurred. It is manifested in works of art from every dynasty. Tea's relationship with the arts has become particularly close,when tea surpasses the normal beverages and become an instrument to spirituality.

Every dynasty left behind art works with tea as the central theme. They are now much more than pieces of valuable works of art; they are reliable primary sources that documented the development of tea throughout history, In 1972, stone relieves from the Eastern Han period were unearthed in Dasi County of Sichuan Province. This is one of the earliest representations of tea in arts. These stone relieves depict scenes of a big banquet, where tea was served from a big caldron with a ladle. Such vivid representation gave a good idea about the customs of tea drinking two thousand years ago. During the thousand years since then until the Song dynasty,there were many paintings and drawings about tea. They primarily portrayed life in the imperial palace and the lives of intellectuals. The images often show the characters drinking tea in scenes of dancing and musical performances. It is apparent that tea was very popular among the upper class during those times.

During the Song dynasty, the popularity of tea was spread to the general public, resulting in a great deal of tea-fights during that period. A famous painting Tea Fight, a masterpiece by the renowned painter Zhao Mengfu (1254-1322 A.D.) in the Yuan dynasty, was a testament to the prevalence of the custom of tea fights. Through the Ming and Qing dynasties and into the modem times, generations of artists have been ardent tea drinkers. Their passion in tea has repeatedly been displayed in their art works.

The most extensive expression of tea culture appears in Chinese poetry. In the canon of Chinese classical poetry, there are more than 10,000 poems about tea. There are thousands of such poems from the Tang and Song periods alone. Besides the large number, poems about tea also vary extensively on their specific topics,ranging from planting, harvesting, processing, to drinking tea. The earliest of such poems is Beautiful Young Lady, written by Zuo Si in the Western Jin dynasty more than 1700 years ago. It depicted two beautiful young ladies in Zuo Si's household blowing on the burning stove as they were anxiously waiting for the water to boil so that they could infuse some tea. The most famous tea poem is undoubtedly the Song of Seven Bowls of Tea by Lu Tong of the Tang dynasty. Because of this poem, Lu Tong is revered as the Second Tea Sage. Qianlong Emperor of the Qing dynasty was very fond of tea. He officially reigned for 60 years before abdicating in favour of his son. According to legend, just before announcing his abdication, all his ministers pleaded him to stay by arguing that the country cannot exist a day without an emperor. Qianlong replied, "An emperor cannot live a day without tea." For a total of five times, Qianlong Emperor composed poems to honour Longjing tea. His passion for a single variety of tea is rare for an Furthermore, songs, dances, theatre, novels, and many other art forms all vividly portrayed every aspects of tea, including the joy and pleasure that tea has brought and all the hard work that were put into the production of tea.

There is a folk art in China called the "tea picking play". This is the only independent theatre format; in the world that developed from tea. There are also variants of it in different regions in China. "Tea picking play" evolved from the traditional tea songs and tea dances, It is not very complex, but has received continued popularity from the locals. It has also given another push to the lasting prosperity of tea industry.

Tea Picking Dance is a well-known folk dance in the Longjing tea producing region. It portrays the joyous scene of the tea picking season in the spring with girls running after butterflies and boys chasing one another up and down the hills. The fame of its tune is comparable only to most renowned Chinese folk song, Mo Li Hua, or Jasmine Flower.

The famous play Peony Pavilion, written by Tang Xianzu (1550-1616 A.D.), who was the most acclaimed playwright in pre-modem China,lively depicted scenes of picking tea, brewing tea, and tea fights. Teahouse, a classic modern Chinese drama by Lao She, portrayed a variety of characters who happened upon an old teahouse over a period of 50 years, reflecting the dramatic social transformation of China during the period.

Artistic representations of tea affairs are really a demonstration of the artists' passion for tea. Since the Chinese has elevated drinking tea to a spiritual level, drinking tea itself has already become an art, which consists of music, dance, theatre, poetry, visual arts, ceremonies and various other art forms. It is now much more than an experience of taste and smell. It is a comprehensive art that can also be experienced through sight and hearing.

Wherever there are Chinese people, there is tea, Regardless of rank or class, everyone drinks tea by Chinese tea set. People with better taste sample tea carefully, while those with less taste gulp tea like a fish, and there are also those who offer tea to passer-bys on the roadside. People living in the north get up early in the morning. As they greet each other on the road, they ask, "Have you had tea yet?" Tea is one of the seven things that a family cannot live without, it is life's necessity.